surinenglish

the euro zone

Back and forward

In this, the last column of 2019, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the last twelve months as well as looking forward to 2020. What have we learned about Spanish politics this year and what should we expect to happen (or not to happen) in the one that's just around the corner?

First off, 2019 has shown that Spain isn't immune to the far-right ideology that's seeped into the politics of Italy and Germany, where Lega Nord and AfG, respectively, have made recent and substantial gains. Many commentators believed that the memories of Francisco Franco's forty-year dictatorship were still too raw, and that Spaniards wouldn't vote for a force any further right of centre than the corruption-riddled Popular Party (the PP, itself founded by a former minister in Franco's regime).

But in the 10 November election, right-wing Vox upped its share of seats in congress from 24 to 52 - a rise that can be attributed largely to its tough stance on Catalan separatists and immigration. The surge of Vox has also caused the PP to reassert its rightist credentials in an attempt to retain voters who might be tempted towards the newcomer - something that its leader, Pablo Casado, will have to do throughout next year to avoid haemorrhaging support. Vox is now the third most powerful force in Spanish politics and cannot be ignored.

Secondly, another general election early next year - which would be the fifth in just over four years - is distinctly possible. Just as in 2015 and 2016, the two national votes held in 2019 (the first was on 28 April) resulted in political fragmentation, with no single party possessing anywhere near a parliamentary majority. But this, in itself, is not what's denying Spain a stable government: the real problem is that Spanish politicians are unaccustomed to the power-sharing arrangements that have become necessary. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez will try and be sworn in as prime minister again early next year, but his chances of success are only slightly better than they were back in the summer, when his failure to secure sufficient support triggered the November election.

Thirdly and finally, the battle between Madrid and Catalan separatists will rumble on into 2020. Last week, the Catalan Regional High Court banned Quim Torra, the region's separatist president, from public office for eighteen months and fined him 30,000 euros. His alleged offence? Failing to remove street banners calling for the release of imprisoned secessionists during an election campaign in March. Clearly, the Spanish judiciary is in no mood to relax its draconian stance on Catalan secessionists, which will only spur them on. We can be sure, then, that the year to come will be just as fascinating, complex and shocking as the one now ending.