The renovated political landscape in Spain: new parties, same ideas
Spain will face new elections next month after its main political parties failed to form a government since the last elections in December. But Luis Pablo de la Horra doubts whether new elections will bring Spain the change it needs.
The December elections in Spain resulted in the end of the two-party system that had dominated the political arena for more than three decades. The traditional parties, socialists and conservatives, have seen their hegemony threatened by the emergence of two new players: Podemos and Ciudadanos.
Podemos, the leftist radical party inspired by Latin American populist movements, has undergone a successful political facelift with the aim of appealing to a larger segment of the electorate. This strategic move from the radical left towards social democratic positions has placed them on the verge of achieving the hegemony on the left, in hands of the Socialist Party for the last thirty years. In fact, it is not unlikely that the new elections planned for June (resulting from the inability of the four main parties to agree on the formation of a new government) entail the end of the Socialist Party as the predominant force on the left side of the political spectrum. In a way, the rise of Podemos in Spain resembles the emergence of Syryza in Greece: both moved from political irrelevance to becoming important political actors in a short period of time.
Ciudadanos, the liberal-democrat party that recently made the leap from regional into national politics, has placed itself in center of the political spectrum. In less than a year, Ciudadanos has become the fourth political force by introducing in the political debate the vague idea of regenerating the political institutions, which have been severely hit by the plague of corruption. In addition, they have made some timid proposals to try to fix the dysfunctional labor market that has led Spain to the second highest unemployment rate of the Eurozone, only behind Greece.
Despite this apparent breath of fresh air in the Spanish political landscape, the new parties do not represent, in essence, a real alternative to the social democratic status quo. The renovated political spectrum does not result from a 180-degree turn in the social democratic mentality of the Spanish population, but from the inability of traditional parties to steer the fragile economic situation through reforms that liberalize the economy and limit the size and scope of the public sector. These reforms that all parties refuse to bring to the table involve the flexibilization of the labor market, the balance of the budget, the removal of obstacles and regulations that prevent businesses from generating wealth, the reduction of the tax burden that Spanish citizens have to endure and, in the long-term, the replacement of the government by the free market as provider of welfare services.
Nonetheless, it might seem odd that, despite sharing the same statist ideological substratum, the four main parties were not able to reach an agreement that allowed the legislative period to begin. What is the reason behind this lack of agreement? The fact that all parties coincide in the defense of the Welfare State does not necessarily imply that they have the same interests and political agendas. After all, political parties are organized groups that compete with each other to become the dominant extractive elite. The struggle for power is usually not based on profound ideological discrepancies, but on different political, economic and social agendas aimed at benefiting certain pressure groups or lobbies. The search for the support of these lobbies, which usually have conflicting interests, is what drives the actions of politicians; actions that ultimately result in the expansion of the scope of government in the form of new laws, regulations or subsidies.
Unfortunately, the end of the two-party system in Spain has only reinforced the unanimity around the necessity of an over-dimensioned government and a strong Welfare State. In practice, the new parties represent the same old, same old. It is not expected that any coalition of parties emerging from the forthcoming elections will challenge the social democratic path that Spain has been wandering over the last decades.
Luis Pablo de la Horra is a finance student at Vlerick Business School. Originally from Valladolid (Spain), he has lived all around the world, from California and Liverpool to Brussels. In California, Luis Pablo had the opportunity to do some coursework at Stanford University. After receiving his Bachelor in English Language at the University of Valladolid in 2015, he is now doing a master’s degree in Brussels. He will be blogging for ESFL on politics and economics. You can follow him on twitter at @luispablohorra