November 15, 2022 - 7:15am

Following her departure from the party, former Vox party stalwart Macarena Olona has decided to take Spain’s culture wars abroad. Through a new non-profit, Olona wants to combat the excesses of feminist ideology across the Spanish-speaking world by advocating for due process for men accused of domestic abuse.

It is a rather surprising turn for someone who shot to fame during a landslide victory in Andalusia’s 2019 elections. But Olona’s failure to capitalise on that election win in June this year portends a bleak scenario for the Spanish Right. Provided that the votes of Right-wing parties Partido Popular (PP) and Vox add up to a majority at the general election next year, it is unclear whether the two will even be able to strike a deal.

As shown by the recent French election, where the splintering of the Right-populist bloc into the respective parties of Zemmour and Le Pen made Macron’s runoff win in May easier, socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s quest for a second term will be aided by a disunited opposition.

But after the electoral upsets that brought together big-tent coalitions of Right-liberals with hardline conservatives in Sweden and Italy, Spain could become the next country where a Left-wing government is replaced by such an alliance. At next year’s general election, a winning coalition of the neoliberal PP and the conservative Vox parties could definitively reaffirm Europe’s Rightward shift by bringing the share of the continent’s people governed by Right-wing ministries close to half.

The two parties share a clearly defined common enemy. Upon taking office in 2018 as part of a coalition with the far-Left Podemos party and a motley assortment of Left-regionalist parties, Sánchez’s government embarked on an agenda that combined the Left’s old-fashioned statism with an emphasis on feminism and environmentalism in social policy.

Sánchez has maintained this uneasy alliance for over four years, but that is partly thanks to the weakness of the Right. The current PM did, after all, rise to power on the back of corruption charges against his predecessor, the PP’s Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy was replaced as party leader by Pablo Casado, who was deemed by Spain’s disaffected voters to be more of the same, thus swelling Vox’s ranks.

Earlier this year, however, Casado was replaced by Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, who is somewhat further to the Right. Feijóo faces a choice: opting for a coalition with Vox patterned on Italy and Sweden, or strong-arming the socialists into defenestrating Sánchez and pursuing a GrosseKoalizione in the style of Olaf Scholz. 

Neither option is ideal. If Feijóo helps sanitise Vox’s image as a junior partner it will dismay centrists within PP, while intra-government clashes over immigration and the EU will still loom over the coalition. If he chooses to Macron-ise Spanish politics by creating the country’s first alliance of the two major parties, this will cast Vox as the only real alternative to the bipartisan stranglehold.

Vox, meanwhile, exudes populist energy but may be hitting a glass ceiling. With all potential former PP voters already in its ranks, some may even be tempted to reverse back to Feijóo’s party.  Most polls give Vox no more than 20% of voting intentions. And in Madrid’s regional election last year, a big win for the lockdown sceptic Isabel Díaz Ayuso, laid bare the PP’s potential to be a rallying force against Sánchez that circumvents Vox altogether.

The dilemma facing Spain as a whole is correspondingly stark. In one scenario, the PP heeds the Von der Leyen-style warning and vows to turn its back on Vox’s national-populism, instead advancing a centrist agenda with a sanitised socialist party (PSOE). Alternatively, the party meets its voters’ expectations by aligning with Vox for a more explicitly Right-wing agenda. 

Which way Feijóo chooses to go will largely depend on Spain’s regions, where PP and Vox govern jointly in Andalucía and Castilla y León, and may do so elsewhere following next year’s regional races in May. It is still too early to say, but after Italy and Sweden, the European Right’s next victory may come from Spain.

Jorge González-Gallarza is the executive director of the Madrid-based think-tank Fundación Civismo and co-host of the Uncommon Decency podcast (@UnDecencyPod)