There’s danger at the door for Spain

In continental Europe the issue is no longer where the populist right predominates, but where it does not. Portugal anyone? The Czech Republic did well in combating the crisis in January. There are buckets hanging. We have seen all this since 2016. And before that, you can add previous incarnations of Silvio Berlusconi, Austrian and Dutch, for good measure.

However, something different is happening now. Not only are the once-respectable Christian Democratic parties moving into a nationalist-populist space, but some of them are openly embracing extremist groups.

Spain is a test case, which is why the events of the last few weeks and now the next three months are so important. After the ruling Socialists (PSOE) suffered a devastating defeat in regional and municipal elections, Sánchez’s announcement blindsided most of his ministers. His foreign secretary, José Manuel Albarés, had arrived in Bratislava for a security conference and was settling in for dinner. He had to return to Madrid for an emergency cabinet meeting.

Sanchez’s decision was born not a little impudence, nor a little rashness, but also calculation. The initial reaction was: what on earth would make him think that voters would look more kindly on him on July 23 than they did before? After all, none of the economic or social fundamentals would have changed by then. Elections are always a referendum on leadership.

Internationally, this is a highly risky and potentially harmful move. The elections will take place just as Spain takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union from Sweden – a privilege and responsibility that comes less than once in a dozen years to each of the 27 member states. For the institutions in Brussels, this is the last thing they wanted. The EU is already reinventing itself under the leadership of Poland’s wild card from the summer of 2024 and Hungary in January 2025. This assumed the more reliable and predictable six months under the Spanish.

Sanchez, unlike most of his counterparts on the left side of center, does not play safety first. A relative unknown at the time, he took office by engineering in June 2018 and then won the first no-confidence vote in Spanish history, ousting then-PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy after striking a deal with the Catalans and Basques.

The fragility of his government forced him to call mid-term elections twice in 2019, ruling at different times in different combinations, sometimes with the more explicitly socialist group, Podemos, and sometimes with regional parties. with. Last November, Sánchez announced plans to reform the crime of treason, which has been used to imprison Catalan independence leaders. He even forgave many of them. The nationalist right was in arms.

Much of his tenure has been marked by crisis management. Spain initially had the highest Covid mortality rate; It recovered quickly due to some of the toughest restrictions on the continent. The economy has fluctuated between a growth spurt and a downward spiral.

Instead of making layoffs, he’s quite happy to take possession. In October 2019, the government moved ahead with its plan to exhume General Francisco Franco from his grand mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen, northwest of the capital – a pilgrimage site for many of the fascist leader’s supporters. Sánchez rightly declared that it would end a “moral disgrace”, and wrongly, that it would lead to national reconciliation.

A man who doesn’t shy away from taking risks, he is now taking what could be his biggest yet. He wanted to complete his term by the end of 2023, but felt that if he did nothing, it would just end.

Sanchez is counting on three things: that he’s misplaced Wright, which he has, but they’ll get into gear quickly; that he would force Podemos and another small left-wing group, Sumer, to rally around him. but will? Podemos was the biggest loser in the regional elections, but was all but wiped out in several regions. Without its current leadership, the fight is unlikely to give up. Sumar, which means to unite, is the bright new movement.

His biggest card, so he hopes, is fear of the extreme right in a country where memories of Franco and the civil war still run deep. The more PP presents the idea of ​​deals with Vox, the more undecided voters may choose to hold their noses and vote for Sanchez. Think of the ghosts of Joe Biden and Donald Trump (though Sanchez is much smaller and meaner than the US president).

This notion of “heterogeneous mobilization” relies on motivating a wide range of potential voters in center- and left-wing sectors and hoping that they will be more motivated than their opponents. The fact that the election is scheduled to coincide with Spain’s long summer holiday makes voting and results even more unpredictable.

Just how dangerous is Spanish? Always eager to irritate the liberal mainstream, Viktor Orban tweeted his congratulations to Vox leader Santiago Abascal within minutes of the results being announced. “Right-wing reconciliation continues in Spain,” the Hungarian prime minister wrote alongside a photo of the couple shaking hands. He ended his message by saying: “Next step: parliamentary elections in July. Vamos, Santiago! Vamos, Vox!

After winning outright control of two regional administrations, Madrid and the city of Andalusia, the leader of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijú, held up the possibility of a coalition with Vox to run in six more – Valencia, Seville and the Balearic Islands – in places such as Abascal. . He responded by saying that his party was ready to create an ‘alternative’ movement to the socialists.

Three scenarios are likely to emerge after the general election, two of which may enter the far right in some form or the other. The most benign outcome would be a Sanchez victory, but it would be a surprising reversal of public sentiment.

Unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority, the PP could do at the national level what it already plans to do at the regional level and align itself with Vox. This would be a first for modern Spain, but hardly a first for Europe.

If the PP fails to win, Núñez Feijo will almost certainly be ousted and the way will be cleared for the far more charismatic head of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a woman who is close to Giorgia Meloni (or for that matter Liz Truss) makes for. sophisticated. Ayuso, three years younger than Trus, came to prominence during the pandemic when she took an aggressive stand against Sanchez’s heavy-handed lockdown.

Ayuso either love it or hate it. The T-shirt has been presented by his supporters as the Virgin Mary. She is surrounded by a crowd, Libertad, admired for her embrace of freedom. While residents of other Spanish regions were ordered to stay at home, it allowed restaurants and bars to remain open with fewer restrictions. As a result, madrileños fled – and died in overwhelming numbers. She remains defiant: “I would do it again,” she says.

He has adopted a Trumpian (and to an extent Johnsonian) approach of humiliating his opponents wherever possible. She is known for lines such as: “When they call you a fascist, you know you are on the right side of history. £ She called Sanchez’s left-wing coalition partners, Podemos, “worse than the virus”. Prominent Podemos figures hit back, calling him a “health-care terrorist”. And this, to remind, is a politician from the PP, which is allegedly considered mainstream centre-right.

Ayusho still has a few cycles to go through before he can snatch the top prize. For starters, she is not a member of the national parliament, the Cortes. And his party still has its leader, which will regard any victory in July as proof.

Sanchez won’t give up without a fight, but the odds are hardly favorable. Spain would then be the next domino to fall, not for a centre-right, once-respectable political movement, but for yet another expression of alt-right “national conservatism”.

Across Europe, the lines are now blurring between traditional conservatives and far-right populists. Elections in Spain will be followed by all-important elections in Slovakia in September and in Poland later in the autumn. Next year there will be another round of elections, not least for the European Parliament in June. Danger is right at the door.