Politics & The World

It is well-known that Spanish politicians have been unable to reach an agreement after nine months of political uncertainty and instability. The Spanish political landscape which had been dominated by two parties was shaken up and party leaders were unable to produce a compromise which would allow to build a coalition government. It is worth looking at these developments quickly before coming to the central question: how do we, the youth, feel when seeing that the leaders, we are supposed to look up to, cannot reach consensus and resolve this chaotic situation?

Spain had its national elections on December 20, 2015. For the first time, not two, but four potentially governing parties were competing; it was not only about Conservatives (PP) and Socialists (PSOE) anymore, but also about two new parties: Podemos (left-wing and similar to Syriza) and Ciudadanos (liberal Citizens). Mariano Rajoy, the PP’s leader, came out with most votes, but without a majority big enough to govern. The actual result? Six months of confusion and no real agreement. Even though some parties held talks, none of them came close to creating a sufficiently large coalition.

Six months later, on June 26, 2016, Spaniards were called to vote again. Things did not change much; the two established parties had a bigger share of the votes, but it still was not enough to govern. However, this time they came at least a bit closer: Ciudadanos agreed to support PP in in exchange for the promise to pursue stricter laws to fight corruption. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez in the meantime, kept repeating he would always say “no” to Mariano Rajoy, regardless of Rajoy heading the party with most votes.

Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias, has not played an important role since the second elections. However, since neither the PP and Ciudadanos coalition nor the PSOE and Podemos coalition are able to reach a majority alone, the question could be if Socialists and Podemos will reach an agreement with the support of other leftists and nationalists parties (something similar to what happened in Portugal).

Now, what feeling does this political deadlock convey to the population and most importantly, the youth? There is a strong feeling of hopelessness and annoyance towards our political leaders. People ask: How can any of these parties pretend to be able to lead a whole country if they cannot even talk among themselves? Although this chaos has completely blocked the state institutions and slowed down foreign investment, some politicians prefer to look after personal interest and party considerations. Only one single agreement has been reached and credit shall be given for that: to change the date of the possible third national elections, in case they have to be invoked, since by following the amount of days stated in the Constitution the elections would happen on Christmas day and, of course, going on vacation is more important than having a government.

Meanwhile the population gets active in other ways: An online platform has gathered over 140,000 signatures demanding politicians to stop earning a public salary until they actually start working. Socialist Felipe Gonzales, Spain’s longest president (from 1982 to 1996) has also suggested that all parties must replace their leaders if Spain has to go to third elections.

In the end, Spain’s political scenario today looks quite absurd. Some of the parties that did not win are eager for power and apparently will not stop until they get it (a coalition of ‘losers’ sounds undemocratic to me). On the other side, the one who won is sank in dozens of corruption scandals that are coming to light every now and then, putting into question the quality of the Spanish system. All together, no political party seems to be taking the chaos seriously enough to actually talk, negotiate, and bring us a president. What remains is to protest against this incompetence at highest level and to hope that, at least, our generation does not repeat these failures. Hopefully one day they will feel pressured enough to put the national interest ahead of their personal one.

Politics & The World

by Hannah Soraya

This is a question Spaniards have been hearing since the last general elections on December 20th, 2015. What happened to Spain? The rise of new political forces, the general discontent with the old political class, a society worn out by austerity and more than 300,000 emigrants are a few ingredients to the mix that made the results so uncertain.

Since the early eighties, not too long after Franco’s dictatorship had ended, Spain has primarily had a two-party system consisting of the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) alternating in governments.
This scenario quickly changed in 2014 with the rise of two political forces: Podemos on the left and Citizens in the centre. This broadening of the political spectrum has made the last elections the most competitive ones since the Spanish transition to democracy.

On the 20th of December, 2015, Spaniards decided not to give an absolute majority to any of the parties, forcing them to negotiate. This is an undusted, scary territory for everyone, including the politicians themselves.

The scenario

Some explain this phenomenon as an angry vote on the people’s behalf. Spain has been severely hurt by the economic crisis and the harsh austerity measures that have led the government to cut on social services. A mixture of high unemployment, massive migration to other EU countries, the privatization of the public sector and internal corruption inside the central government is at the root of these results.

This explains why the vote so many people casted in December could have been a vote of protest, a vote that said “enough is enough” to the current social and political situation. However, voter turnout didn’t change that much in comparison to the last elections -only by four points- so the vote of “change” (whether it was for Citizens or Podemos) wasn’t big enough to rule out the classic parties PP and PSOE. Also, there are at least 400,000 nationals that have fled the crisis, all of whom have had a very difficult time to cast their vote, a bureaucratic negligence that has already been sanctioned by the UN.

The results

The Spanish parliament doesn’t look pretty for either of the parties. The results spoke for themselves: PP (with 28% of the vote) has the most seats in parliament but not nearly enough to reach a majority of parliamentary votes in favor of another PP administration with Mariano Rajoy at its front. PSOE (22%) has had the worst results in its history and became the second political force. Podemos (20%) has been reprimanded by several critics that their refusal to form a coalition with the other national left-wing party (United Left) has restrained them from reaching a greater result. Lastly, Citizens (14%) were visibly disappointed by the result as they expected to occupy Podemos’ place.
But it does not end there, if that wasn’t enough, we must add all the votes that went to secessionist parties in Basque Country, Canarias and especially Catalonia, which is going through its own process of investing their president after months of negotiations.

The problems

Problems arise when the idea of forming a government seems nearly impossible. PP, as a conservative party, doesn’t have much options left, it could either negotiate a new government with Citizens and PSOE or form a grand coalition with PSOE, leaving out Podemos, Citizens and the secessionist parties.

PSOE, however, has repeatedly said no to any kind of agreements between them and PP, claiming to be a party that will bring change to the country which, to them, is incompatible with a conservative party on their side.
On the other hand, Podemos has been the first political force in Catalonia to whom they promised a referendum on independence. This is the reason why one of their main requirements to form a government is to respect Catalonia’s self-determination, something that PP, PSOE and Citizens overtly disagree on.

And now what?

Pressure has been exerted from Brussels, the IBEX35 (Madrid’s stock Exchange) and even the Episcopal Conference to form a government that will bring stability to Spain.

The countdown, however, will start on January 13th in case parties haven’t agreed beforehand in forming a new government. After King Felipe VI will choose a candidate, negotiations between the King and the parties have to be held, if this candidate isn’t backed by the majority of the parliament. And if after said negotiations no agreement has been reached, Spain has to prepare itself for a second round of elections in which the party with most votes wins instead of the one with most deputies in congress.

Image by Jordi Boixareu, taken from flickr

Politics & The World

by Arne Langlet

While the article on “Populism in Europe” (published on this website some days ago) discusses in a useful way some features of the rise of new parties in Europe, it falls victim to a dangerous fallacy. It departs from the flawed (but very mainstream) assumption that new parties in Europe can and should be classified together under the name of populism. A more critical analysis of this phenomenon leads to a very different conclusion however.

It is true that those parties commonly referred to as ‘populist’ parties may have some similarities, such as oversimplifying the political matters, addressing the ‘common’ man (if he exists) and possibly recent voting success. However, these similarities are ‘surface’ similarities. They describe superficial characteristics but do not touch the core of the political ideas of these parties.

Is it not of incredible importance that we judge political parties by their political ideas or programs, and not simply by some superficial characteristics? If we include voting success as unifying characteristic then all currently winning parties in Europe would be populist?

Nationalism on the other hand, is certainly not a unifying theme between the recently emerged parties. If we look at the party programs, the recourse to nationalism is not similar to left-wing and right-wing parties.

In the program of Syriza they envision a “European Debt Conference” or a “European New Deal”. Also Podemos foresees a common European solution to economic problems and aims to change the “current governance of the Euro” with the other European countries (Interestingly, many of the proposals actually involve transferring more power and sovereignty to Europe, even over sensitive fiscal issues).

Hence, both (supposedly clear examples of “populist” parties) see their country deep within the EU and envision a common European solution to problems. Not much nationalist propaganda to discover.

In the meantime, the Front National propagates “anti-immigration” and “anti-government” positions. Furthermore it calls for economic protectionism and hostility to the European Union and the Euro. The AFD calls for the dissolution of the common currency and re-introduction of national currencies and foresees a Europe containing only the common market. These role model right-wing populist parties hence put forward nationalist solutions in open opposition to the European Union.

If we compare these parties on the surface we could find similarities but comparing the surface would be quite a ‘populist’ perspective, hence a very oversimplified analysis!

It makes more sense to distinguish the quality of their political ideas.

And here lies the most important difference. The quality of ideas that propagate economic equality is completely different to the quality of ideas that propagate discrimination and isolation against other nationalities.

Even if you characterize promoting quality as discrimination against “richer” people, there is still a difference. While wealthy people are usually enjoying a privileged position in society, immigrants rarely do. Adding to the fact that ethnicity is an attribute firmly connected to a person through birth, impossible to get rid of.

In many cases, people who come into a country as foreigners possess less (economic) resources than the nationals of the host country. In most cases they also have a lower social status.

Therefore these individuals should enjoy the same or greater protection through society. Right-wing parties however propagate discrimination against foreign individuals. Hence, they put the role of the scapegoat on the more vulnerable persons of society and subject them to discrimination.

Violence obviously is not mentioned in any of the party programs and it is a popular argument that both extremes (left and right) might lead to violent outbreaks. But burning a Porsche does not have the same quality as burning a house full of asylum seekers.

If we use the word “populism” in order to describe both sides, we put them rhetorically on an equal level. Yet, the quality of their ideologies is completely different. If we follow both extremes, we arrive at completely different scenarios. By highlighting the potential danger to democracy in general we mislead.

Democracy is normally associated to values such as “inclusion” and “social equality (to varying levels)”, while “hostility towards foreigners” and “distrust in state (or EU) institutions” are not part of our understanding of democracy.

Although this sentence is highly exaggerated you could make a strong argument that left-wing parties are more democratic than right-wing. They are per se more inclusive than right-wing parties. By putting them under the same umbrella we risk increasing the influence of potentially anti-democratic and violent groups to the public discourse of our society. So please never refer to left-wing and right-wing parties commonly under “populism”.


Image by William Murphy.

Politics & The World

by Louise Bicknese

Populism in Europe is on the rise. In times of hardship, for example when there is an economic or a refugee crisis, calls for a scapegoat and for the strengthening of democracy whip up a lot of support. There is an interesting divide in the populism of nowadays: in Northern Europe, the populists are rather right-wing, while the populism of the South is integrated with a left-wing ideology. Why, and what are the consequences for European democracies?

First, let’s discuss what populism exactly is. Even though the parties are ideologically very different, there are a couple of things they have in common. Most of all, their appeal lies in their return to nationalism. They target the ‘common man’ among the voters, those who feel betrayed or cheated by other groups in society. This is usually paired with a severe suspicion against Europe; everything is decided by ‘Brussels’ and the loss of national sovereignty is mourned, which poses difficulties for European integration in the future. This stance may be rooted in the austerity measures by the EU, which have alienated the (self-perceived) victims of these measures.

The difference, however, lies in the choice of the scapegoat. While the North often points towards immigrants as the main culprits, the Southern populism is much more anti-establishment, as the original populism used to be. In assessing the Northern parties, I am for example talking about the Sweden Democrats, UKIP, Front National, the Dutch PVV etc.. Southern parties would include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Five Star Movement in Italy. Especially the latter parties enjoy major support in their respective countries, with some even in the government (most notably, of course, Syriza). Even though populist parties sometimes have huge ideological differences, their nationalism can work as a connective factor: think of Syriza forming a government with the right-wing populist party Independent Greeks.

However, populist parties do not just wreck havoc and get a lot of headlines; they also change the political discourse throughout Europe. Theirs is a discourse of anger and fear that reaches even the people who are not among their voters. Populism assumes a divide in society: one between the people and the ‘oligarchy’. They force the governing, stable parties to defend themselves against claims of elitism. Their party programme may not be the most well-grounded, but this is compensated with charisma and an aggressive rhetoric. With these characteristics, populists tend to take over debates, especially during election campaigns. Is that dangerous?

Most prominent politicians tend to think so. Herman van Rompuy called populism ‘the biggest danger to Europe’, with others calling it a ‘virus’. This distinctly negative view of populism may result from a history of totalitarian populist regimes, or from frustration of the establishment. However, there might be some advantages to populism. It reaches layers of society that normally do not participate actively in democracy. By expanding the interest of the public in their own democracy, by expanding their participation, parliament (as the outcome of their votes) can come to represent a larger part of the population, thereby increasing its own legitimacy.

It’s safe to say that populism has good effects as well as bad effects on democracy and political discourse. On the one hand, it may increase the legitimacy of the democracy, but on the other hand, the discourse of paranoia and suspicion it spreads may lead to a divide in society and an increase in tension, especially the Northern, right-wing populism. The marginalization of minorities is an important aspect that cannot be overlooked and the over-generalizing division between two seemingly homogenous groups can be dangerous in a multicultural society. A politician shaking things up a bit might not be the worst thing every now and again, but populists thrive more as opposition parties. Governing parties ought to stand above these kinds of discourse and be a little more serious.


Picture by Bloco, taken from flickr