- - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Europe seems to be in turmoil because it seems to be reverting to form. The continent that produced two catastrophic world wars in a single century looks to be rebelling against the political, cultural and economic status quo. Ruling elites just aren’t popular anywhere.

Parties of the extremes, right and left, are thriving in France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary and Austria (where the extreme right is always surging). The British are leaving Europe, there’s rioting in the streets of Paris, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has had enough and she’s quitting the good fight.

Though those look like clouds on the horizon, Spain has seen them before and it has been an isle of stability on a fractious continent. The center-right People’s Party governed Europe’s fifth-largest economy from 2011 to 2018 under the leadership of Mariano Rajoy. For the last three years it governed as a minority government. Even as the Spanish economy swooned and unemployment surged, the immigration crisis bubbled, a secessionist movement in Catalonia gathered speed, and a corruption scandal engulfed the People’s Party, Mr. Rahoy held on. When he was booted from office earlier this year, he was replaced by a conventional figure, Pedro Sanchez of the center-left Socialist party. Spain has looked like a beacon of stability on a continent wracked by political upheaval.

But a regional election last week threatens to put paid to the notion that Spain will remain isolated from events in the rest of Europe. As the left-wing London Guardian put it mournfully, the election results “ended four decades of Spanish exceptionalism and showed that the country’s fabled immunity to far-right politics had finally given out.” “Fable” is apparently the right word.

In that election, the Socialists lost Andalusia in the southern region where they’ve governed without interruption for 36 years. As an anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-tax, anti-feminist and anti-Islamic party, it gained seats in the regional parliament, winning 11 percent of the vote and 12 percent of the seats in the parliament. A party called Vox will join the People’s Party and a smaller centrist party to form the governing coalition. The Socialists scored their weakest result ever, winning just 28 percent of the vote.

Marine Le Pen of the National Front next door in France could scarcely contain her enthusiasm, congratulating “our Vox friends, who have achieved a really significant result in Spain for a young and dynamic movement.” Vox is in fact a young party. It was founded only in 2013 by defectors from the Popular Party who said the establishment center-right grouping had grown wobbly. Vox’s support has grown in tandem with the Catalan secessionist movement. Spanish conservatives have flocked to it on account of its uncompromising nationalist views. That Vox espouses views on the role of women in society and on gay marriage that were commonplace only 20 years ago but are “politically incorrect” now, only increases its appeal to the masses.

Prime Minister Sanchez, in office only six months, is struggling with scandals that demolished his popularity, fueling the surge of Vox. Mr. Sanchez nevertheless sees no need to alter course. “My government will carry on with its pro-European renovation project for Spain,” he tweets. “The results in Andaluca strengthen our commitment to defending democracy and the constitution in the face of fear.”

This is what Vox wants to hear. Javier Ortega, the party’s secretary-general, is determined that his party will stay the course. “We put on the table the need to control our borders and end illegal immigration, end abusive levels of taxation and the need to put an end to ideological laws relating to gender,” he said. A regional election demonstrated that if a party offers the people what they want, they’ll vote for it.


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