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 Hannah Soraya

Last Sunday Catalonia held its regional elections with the purpose of choosing its regional parliament. The electorate, however, headed out to the polls with one prevalent thought in mind: Independence, yes or no?

These elections were not called as a referendum on independence (such as the one illegally held on November 9th last year). However, Artur Mas -the president of the Generalitat of Catalonia- considered them a “de facto referendum” on the breaking away from Spain. Madrid, on the other hand, has not had the best response to these demands for independence, being firmly against any negotiations regarding the separation between the region and the rest of the country, with one of the greatest arguments being that it is simply unconstitutional.

The arguments for independence revolve around two issues: self-government and economic and fiscal policies.

The Spanish Constitution grants each region the right to self-government, but this self-government is nowhere near the central power that Madrid has. The regions do have certain autonomy on matters such as language and culture. However, they have no say in economic policies, which is the main issue for secessionists as they feel they are carrying the burden of Spain.

Catalonia is a wealthy region that manages to produce nearly one fifth of the Spanish GDP with a growing tendency throughout the years, despite the country being immersed in a deep economic crisis. A much repeated argument in this debate is that Catalonia has no responsibility for Spanish debt, and therefore leaving would actually be beneficial to Catalonia’s economy.

What the pro-independence platform Junts Pel Sí (Together For Yes) left aside during its campaign was the rest of the issues that deeply affect Catalan society. Mas has been praised from all political sides for being able to bring the national debate to his side. The secessionist leader has managed to ingrain the independence issue in the voters while at the same time forgetting to address many pressing problems: the alarming growth rates of child poverty in Catalonia (20%) since the beginning of his administration; the unapologetic austerity measures that have harmed social services with deep cuts and privatization of the public sector; the increase of wealth disparities or the corruption scandals inside his party.

On September 27th the main political platforms that stood for the parliamentary elections were: Together For Yes (a centre-right pro-independence coalition led by Artur Mas), Citizens (a neoliberal non-nationalist party), Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (openly federalist and social-democrat), People’s Party (the current Spanish government with a conservative and unionist ideology), Catalonia Yes we Can (a leftist coalition that supports the right for Catalans to choose) and lastly, Popular Unity Candidacy (a left-wing pro-independence party).

The secessionist coalition –Junts Pel Sí (JxSí ) – won 62 seats, but we must differentiate between seats and votes: secessionists won in seats but clearly lost in votes. This means that the majority of Catalans does not want independence or, at least, the issue is not within their priorities. The main political force in the opposition is now Citizens, with Albert Rivera as its front runner. Their outcome (25 seats) was impressive for such a new party.

This leaves us with a very difficult scene to form agreements among the parties, as there has not been an absolute majority for either of them. Allying with CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) is the last chance for the secessionists to form a government, but their deputy David Fernández has already claimed that no one from his party will ever back Artur Mas. A coalition formed by non-nationalist parties could also be a solution, but just like an agreement between JxSí and CUP, it would be very difficult due to the disparity of ideologies. In the worst case, we would be witnessing a repetition of the elections, just like what happened in Andalusia last May.

Since knowing the results, several political analysts have affirmed that Mas will try to negotiate once again with Madrid. If Spain gets a more flexible government after the upcoming general elections in December, we could witness a new Fiscal Agreement between the regions. However, a domino effect is also very possible. If Catalonia reaches such an agreement with the central government, the Basque Country and Galicia would possibly try to demand the same for them. In this case, what the government should do is a constitutional reform in regards to Spanish federalism.

This effect could also transfer to other European countries that have had issues with inner nationalisms such as Scotland in the UK, Padania in Italy or Flanders in Belgium. The simultaneity of the rise of nationalisms and the economic crisis could create a very dangerous geopolitical landscape that we have already seen in Europe and that did not end up very well.

If one thing we know for sure, it is that these parliamentary elections have served as a first round to the upcoming Spanish general elections and there will be two possible outcomes: Either a reinforced Spain in an each time more German-centric EU or a fragmented one that could create an easy way for other nationalisms to emerge.


Picture by SBA73, taken from flickr