Sunday

22nd Apr 2018

Focus

Populist Spanish parties test water in EU elections

  • Different national identities within Spain make it 'complicated' to tie xenophobic speech with nationalism (Photo: Xurxo Martínez)

Mainstream political parties in Spain are set to lose ground to smaller populist movements in the May EU elections, which are seen as a test ground for next year's local and general votes.

Although economic growth has picked up a little, the reality of life is still harsh for many Spanish people. Unemployment is the second highest in Europe with over 25 percent out of work compared to the EU average of around 10 percent.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Some 1.8 million households have nobody bringing in an income; severe budget cuts have strained the education and health systems; and people continue to feel the economic crisis right up close.

This, coupled with a surge in political corruption cases, has increased dissatisfaction with the Spanish two-party system that has dominated domestic politics since the late 1970s.

The two parties in question – the governing Partido Popular (PP) and the opposition Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) – are expecting citizens to register discontent with their EU vote.

Combined they are set to gain 54.4 percent of the vote, according to a Metrocopia opinion poll in January.

This would be the lowest since the 1989 European Parliament election in which together they got 61 percent.

The PP is set to lose eight seats, going from 24 to 16, while PSOE looks likely to lose six seats, down from 23 to 17.

These predictions have galvanized politicians into action.

Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has appointed Elena Valenciano, a close associate and Socialist party vice-president, to head the party's list.

A socialist MEP from 1999 to 2008, Valenciano has been the vice-president of the Party of European Socialists since 2012.

She wants to turn the tide of Europe’s economic crisis by returning to a more left-wing discourse.

"We have lost a lot of time and a lot of ground in the fight against the crisis in the last few years [...] with terrible consequences for the lives of many citizens," she said recently.

The EU parliament elections "are key for the recuperation of Europe".

The socialist's high profile appointment is putting pressure on conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who has yet to make any public statement as to who will lead the Partido Popular’s list.

The former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, who has been a conservative MEP since 2004, has declined to head the list as he did in the two previous European Parliament elections.

A new party to the right of the right

Both the PP and the PSOE are facing difficulties. While Rubalcaba is failing to recover his socialist party's shrinking support, Rajoy’s conservative party is facing a creeping crisis of ideology and is losing support among some of the party's most conservative members.

José María Aznar, conservative prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004, has publicly criticised Rajoy and his policies.

Furthermore, a few party militants have resigned and joined a new right-wing party, Vox. They accuse the conservative government of being too "soft" on separatist regions and on ETA, the Basque separatist group that announced a ceasefire in 2011.

At their formal presentation in January, Vox members said they aim to participate in the European Parliament election. One of the party's leaders is conservative MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras, who is currently EU parliament vice-president. He quit the PP earlier this year.

While it is too early to judge what kind of party Vox really is, its leaders are keen to make the most of the current changes in Spanish politics.

"It is a protest vote from the right of the PP," says Xavier Casals, a university professor and specialist on Spain's extreme right.

Vox could eventually capture Spain's small number of extreme right voters, he says.

Extreme right and hate-speech in politics

There are a few extreme right and ultra right parties in Spain and although they are growing in members, the parties are still very marginal.

"The extreme right is fragmented. It is tied to small territories and it doesn't have a leadership. Furthermore, it has difficulties in competing in the electoral market because there are other ideological options for the protest vote,” says Casals.

Despite the extreme right's marginal position, there has been an increase in xenophobic statements in Spain over the last few years.

"We have to worry and be alert in Spain," says Ricard Zapata, a university professor specialising in political hate speech.

"Compared to other countries, xenophobic rhetoric has not resulted in a specific political party with this specific discussion, but it has rapidly been incorporated by a party that at the moment is in power, the Partido Popular," he notes.

At the height of Spain's two-party system in the mid 1990s, Aznar's Partido Popular was able to unite the entire spectrum of right-wing ideologies from the most liberal, to the Christian democrats, to the extreme right.

"Partido Popular is a conglomerate of many right-wing ideologies," says Zapata.

In contrast to other EU countries, xenophobic rhetoric is still concentrated at the local level in Spain and has not yet coloured regional, national or European politics.

There is also no link between populist statements and anti-Europeanism, like there is in many other EU countries.

"Because isolation from Europe was so long during the Franco regime, anti-European speech has failed to take root," says Casals. Indeed anti-Europeanism does not have great support in Spain, he adds.

"It is perfectly possible to be xenophobic and pro-European at the same time," he says.

Another fact that differentiates Spain from other EU members is that, in general, political extremist rhetoric has not been linked to national identity such as in Denmark, France, and the Netherlands.

Zapata argues this could be a reason why the extreme right in Spain is still marginalised,

The different national identities within Spain itself makes it "complicated" to tie xenophobic speech with nationalism. Rather, hate speech in Spain is populist, he explains.

Spanish politics versus European politics

As dissatisfaction with Spanish politics deepens together with the country’s social crisis, voters are set to use their vote to protest against the country's political establishment. And this will also be the case for the European Parliament elections.

According to the Metroscopia poll, 72 percent of Spanish voters will vote – or abstain – for domestic economic and political reasons, rather than for any reason to do with the EU.

Turnout is expected to be around 46 percent, similar to the last European Parliament elections in 2009.

Spanish voters will elect 54 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on Sunday 25 May.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  2. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  3. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  4. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  5. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  7. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  9. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  10. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries