When Vox, Spain’s right-wing populist party, gathered 10,000 people in a rally in Madrid last October, it made the headlines in every national newspaper. After all, the far right had been irrelevant in the Spanish political landscape since 1980. How was it possible that an extra-parliamentary, far-right force possessed such convening power?
Now we know the answer: it was extra-parliamentary because there hadn’t been any election since it started to gain visibility a few months ago. Last Sunday, Vox obtained 11 percent of the vote and 12 seats in the Andalusian elections. With these results, Vox is bound to play a key role in the formation of a new regional government, the first not led by the socialist party in 40 years.
And this is only the beginning. If Vox continues to grow at the same pace, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a major political force on a national level. But what explains the rise of right-wing populism in Spain? Mainly two factors. First, the situation in Catalonia has awakened the chauvinistic sentiment of a fraction of the population, who have sought refuge in a party with a strong nationalistic discourse. Second, Vox has benefited from the rise and consolidation of far-right parties throughout Europe over the last years, joining the anti-immigration populist wave that emerged in the aftermath of the refugee crisis.
Where does Vox stand in comparison with its far-right colleagues in Europe? Vox makes use of the same xenophobic, anti-immigration rhetoric that has led right-wing populists to positions of political strength in other countries. More specifically, Vox has focused its fear-of-the-immigrant discourse on the Muslim population, demanding the construction of a border wall à la Trump in the south of Spain.
Its economic agenda differs substantially from that of profoundly interventionist parties like France’s National Rally. Yet Vox is far from belonging to the classical liberal tradition as it advocates a top-down approach to immigration and industrial policy as well as government payments to families with newborn babies. Neither is it liberal in social terms: Vox opposes surrogacy or adoption by same-sex couples, among other things.
Does Vox represent a threat to civil liberties in Spain? It is extremely unlikely that it will ever reach a sufficient majority on a national level that allows it to implement its full political agenda. Yet a party doesn’t need to hold power to influence the political debate. In fact, we have already witnessed this in other European countries with strong far-right political organizations. Inasmuch as Vox succeeds in spreading its anti-immigration message across different segments of the population, other parties will follow in an attempt not to lose votes, radicalizing their positions on immigration along the way.
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