On 21 and 22 March the Spanish Parliament debated a motion of no confidence submitted by Vox. It was the second time in this legislature that the far-right party allied in Europe with the Brothers of Italy had attempted, rather than to bring down the government, to gain media visibility and put the Popular Party (PP). The result was obvious – only the Vox deputies voted in favor – but, unlike the previous time, at the end of 2020, on this occasion the popular abstained.
Who presented himself as a candidate to replace the socialist premier Pedro Sanchez – in Spain the no-confidence motion is constructive – it was not Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, but an elderly ex-communist leader from the years of transition to democracy, Ramón Tamames, who had already moved into the conservative world in the 1990s.
Polls in the year of the vote
There is no doubt that Vox’s failed motion will be nothing more than a footnote in the history books of the future. However, it is symptomatic to understand some of the political dynamics that mark the Iberian country in an election year par excellence: we will vote in May for the administrative offices e in December for the legislatives.
First of all, the motion shows not only the strong polarization that exists, but also how politically the country is divided into two blocks, despite the fact that the era of bipartisanship has been over for a decade and parliamentary fragmentation has increased significantly. On the one hand, the increasingly radicalized right with Vox stable in the polls al 14-15% and the PP al 28-32%, while Ciudadanos, a party that set out to emulate Macron but has taken increasingly right-wing positions, is on the verge of disappearing. On the other, the left, represented by Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)given to 26-30%e United We Can at 10-12%to which, however, must be added the majority of regionalist and nationalist formations, which, although not part of the current executive, support it externally.
The ‘social’ agenda of the Sánchez government
Secondly, the motion of no confidence is a further demonstration of how, despite everything, the government is more solid than what is said. Despite governing in the minority, despite having to negotiate from time to time the parliamentary support of different formations and despite having experienced tensions, sometimes even very deep, within itself, the executive led by Sánchez has managed to create a bold progressive agenda which most considered unfeasible at the beginning of the legislature. But that’s not all: he was also able to dispel the ominous omens about the stability and duration of the government in an international situation, moreover, extremely complicated, marked by the pandemic crisis, by the energy crisis and by the war in Ukraine.
Legislative activity has been notable above all on social measures, including the price cap on gas prices which made it possible to halve bills compared to other European countries and substantially reduce inflation. These reforms derogate from the neoliberal ones approved in the time of Mariano Rajoy – such as those of work or pensions – and a series of laws that expand rights, fromeuthanasia all’equality of transgender people, from the crackdown on gender-based violence to the law of democratic memory, just to name a few. And all this, also thanks to the European funds of which Spain is the second beneficiary after Italy, obtaining excellent macroeconomic data: GDP grew by 5.5% in 2022 and the unemployment rate, while still high, an endemic problem of the Spanish economy, is the lowest since 2008.
Perhaps it is precisely the awareness of the fragility of the majority that has ensured its stability. Along with another factor: being aware that the only existing alternative would be a government like the Polish, Swedish or Italian one. This has allowed both the Basque nationalists, both from the center – the PNV – and from the radical left – EH Bildu – and the more pragmatic sectors of Catalan independence – Republican Left of Cataloniacentre-left – have almost always supported the executive.
The right towards an alliance?
Thirdly, Vox’s motion of no confidence actually gave the executive a breather, allowing it to find unity and momentum, as well as getting out of the pincer move carried out by a mostly conservative judiciary and a media system dominated by right-wing media who see as smoke screens a government with ministers from the radical left, the only one currently in office in the EU. The beginning of this 2023 was indeed very difficult for Sánchez with the rejection in the Cortes of the reform of the security law approved by Rajoy or the inability to reach an agreement on the reform of the law full guarantee of sexual freedom after the unexpected reductions in sentences decreed by the courts for hundreds of rape convicts.
Fourthly, as mentioned, the traditional right of the PP has become radicalisedcontinually goaded by having a competitor to her right. Abstaining in a truly surreal motion was further proof of the popular people’s inability to distance themselves from the illiberal positions represented by Vox who has been protesting since the beginning of the legislature against a supposedly illegitimate government that would like to convert the country into a new Chavista Venezuela. On the other hand, locally the populars govern in various municipalities with the external support of Abascal’s party and in the Castilla y León region they formed a coalition executive. Not even the election a year ago as leader of the PP of a leader considered to be a member of the moderate wing, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has substantially changed the line of the party which is experiencing a process of “torisation” similar to that experienced in the United Kingdom by the Conservative Party.
The ‘ultra-conservative wind’
In short, on the horizon you don’t see an alternative to these two blocks. And the polls, for better or worse, show that the result will probably depend on a handful of votes. The administrative result will weigh: A right-wing victory in key regions like Valencia could tip the balance ahead of policies. But the ability of the radical left to be able to agree around the new platform will also weigh, summerwhich the Minister of Labor is building Yolanda Diaz. There are tensions with Podemos: the risk is that, if it comes in two sections, the left will come out with broken bones. And that Sánchez, who will assume the six-monthly rotating presidency of the European Council in July, does not have a partner necessary to keep himself in government.
One of two things: either Madrid will continue the experience of the progressive coalition government at the end of this year – mindful of the multinational dimension of the country – or Spain will also align itself with the ultraconservative wind blowing in Europe with an executive that could mark the way, after Italy and Sweden, to thealliance between Popular and European Conservatives and Reformists ahead of the European elections in spring 2024.
Cover photo EPA/CHEMA MOYA