A possible Spanish Spring?

The financial crisis and its long-lasting effects do not seem to dissipate. This situation forced the liberal-democracies to deal with a fatal challenge for the western political system. If the national State cannot withstand the devastation caused by the economic plunge, would it be wise to pursue a new course made of a more regulated laissez-faire (which would be a paradox), or would be better to re-think the capitalist system itself?

In the present case, like many European States, Spain is struggling to define its own future. Nevertheless, it is not clear which path should be undertaken. The only certainty appears to be the collapse of the Spanish people’s confidence towards the traditional parties, which have led the Kingdom of Spain’s politics in according to a two-party mechanism until now.

Firstly, the financial market crisis, originated in 2007, pushed the Spanish electors to put their trust in the center-right Popular Party (P.P.) during the anticipated general elections held in November 2011 under the proposal of the former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The newly elected Head of Government, Mariano Rajoy, took office in the aftermath and swiftly tried to align his government’s policies to the ones of the European Union [e.g. austerity policies]. However, the high social costs of this kind of policies (which are severe taxation, an increased unemployment rate, a significant reduction of the purchase power for the middle and the lower classes), combined with copious charges of embezzlement within the P.P. and the failure of the executive to fight the rampant corruption in the public sector, caused a dramatic plunge in the Party’s electorate. In numbers, the rightist Popular Party lost about 26% of its preferences (from 44.6% to 18.6%), whereas the socialists lost around 8% (from 28.7 to 20%).

Cui prodest?

Given the collapse of the Spanish two-party system, the electoral body has reoriented his votes mainly towards two new political entities that have strongly affirmed their commitment to rewrite Madrid’s political tradition in spite of divergent methods. The strongest of these ‘newcomers’ is Podemos (we can). It was founded in January 2014 by some of the activists related to the movement of the ‘Indignados‘. The Party is now led by Pablo Iglesias (a television presenter) and won 5 seats in the European elections held in May 2014, reaching a final 8% of the preferences. Podemos has gathered both the votes of the so called euro-skepticals and those of the citizens who, even if not willing to withdraw from the E.U., seek a more reasonable post-crisis setting.

Podemos’ political agenda specifies its main proposals:

● a wider and more efficient protection for the workers;
● public relieves for small and medium-sized enterprises;
● a complete nationalization of strategic sectors such as communication, transports, energy, education, health-care, pharmaceutical industries and more;
● institution of a minimum wage, reduction of working hours per week;
● creation of a democratic control over ECB and formation of an European rating agency.
There are also projects to revise the Treaty of Lisbon and to introduce a compulsory referendum in the EU Member States, if a new European act produces substantial modifications in the members’ internal law. Today Podemos is believed to have an amount of preferences near to 27.7 % among the Spanish electors.

Many compare Podemos with Alexis TziprasSyriza and with Beppe Grillo‘s Movimento Cinque Stelle. There is a significant fil rouge between the three parties, considering that each one aims to highlight the insufficient capacity of the modern capitalism to provide adequate economic solutions to western citizens. Further, it is stated that a free-market economy cannot naturally act for the benefit of the citizens’ interests, but for its own interests and the profit of a too limited set of rich investors, entrepreneurs and speculators. The system is definitely uneven with a very poor capability of redistributing the wealth produced.
The second of the new parties is Ciudadanos – Partido de la Ciudadanía (Citizens – Party of Citizenship). Unlike Podemos, it existed before the crisis. In fact, it was founded in 2005 in Barcelona and has maintained a strong anti-separatist feeling, intending to oppose any attempt to separate Catalonia from Spain by referendum or any other means. According to surveys of the weekly The Economist, Ciudadanos would have an electoral potential of about 13%, effectively acting as a fourth political force in the country. It is characterized by a more centrist and moderate approach than Podemos. More specifically, Ciudadanos aims to give new impetus to private initiative through tax reduction, simplification of bureaucratic procedures necessary to create an enterprise and support to both fiscal (tax relief) and financial (smaller interest rates on loans) to small and medium-sized enterprises [PYMES in the Spanish acronym].
Not secondary is the willing to devote at least 3% of GDP to the areas of research and development of new technologies. Although it is not specific on this point, Ciudadanos does not reject Europe (at least according to the official website). The party focuses on the citizen and aspires first of all to preserve and protect individual rights which should be guaranteed by means of a constitutional reform of justice.

Despite the fact that Ciudadanos and Podemos are confined on two exactly dichotomous poles, both represent the heirs of the traditional parties now in heavy difficulty. The next turning point will be the general election of November 2015 during which we will finally witness the affirmation of a probable four-party system. The question is whether the new parties are an interlude which will end with a “recovery” of the P.P. and the P.S.O.E. (Spanish Socialist Worker Party), or are we in front of a handover, which is the demolition of the usual parties and their replacement with new ones? One possible scenario would be to secure a medium-term coexistence of the four political forces until the crisis along with the anger, frustration and despair that it has generated will have abandoned the Iberian Peninsula (and hopefully Europe).

Master’s Degree in International Relations (LUISS Guido Carli)

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