The Rise of Vox
Vox – no, I’m not talking about the news website. I’m talking about a Spanish far-right political party that has been in the news recently.
Founded in 2014 by former members of the People’s Party following a split within the organisation, Vox has emerged as a growing party within Spain. It came to light recently, after the party entered the regional parliament of Andalusia for the first time, securing 12 parliamentary seats in the regional elections.
Its policies synchronise with other far-right parties across Europe, such as UKIP, taking a strong anti-Islam stance that is infused with opposition to mass immigration. Sovereignty is paramount to the party, believing that no political power or control should be conceded to the European Union. In contrast, however, they support the removal of autonomy across Spanish regions such as Catalonia and the Basque region, thus centralising government in the hands of Madrid. They support Spanish claims to Gibraltar, arguing that Spain must recover its “sway in Europe and the world.”
With 12 seats secured, Vox now controls 11% of the 109 seats in the Andalusian parliament. Francisco Serrano, a candidate for Vox, had argued that the party’s political gains were the start of a “reconquest” of Spain. Its rise has been fuelled firstly through its tough anti-immigration stance, which has also helped other far-right parties across Europe, but secondly its strong opposition to Catalonian independence, which has plagued Spanish politics for the past year.
They have also attracted the attention of the far-right elsewhere in Europe. Marine Le Pen, who is widely seen as the figurehead of far-right politics in France, congratulated the party on its victories. So it’s not like this is a minor event, this could be the start of a return of European far-right populism after its year-long slumber.
Or did it ever disappear in the first place?
Is far-right populism returning in Europe? Does this indicate a resurgence of far-right politics in Spain, and indeed across Europe? I wouldn’t go that far, yet. Many would have argued that 2016 and 2017 were the years that gave the greatest opportunities for the far-right to succeed. Marine Le Pen, whose Front Nationale reached the final round of the French presidential elections in 2017, secured just 33.9% of the vote, compared to Macron’s 66.1%, securing just two departments. Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, another far-right, populist party, like Le Pen failed to meet expectations, securing just 20 seats out of 150. And UKIP, who emerged as a legitimate threat in the UK General Election in 2015 and looked to secure gains in 2017, has since descended into a colossal mess. Its former leaders, Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, recently announced they would be leaving the party, signalling the end of a once-threatening far-right party in the UK.
However, it’s important that the mainstream political parties do not underestimate populism, especially on the far-right. Whilst it has arguably subsided over the past year, it doesn’t mean it cannot return, and on a stronger footing, mind you. Vox emerging in Spanish politics could indicate that far-right populism hasn’t disappeared just yet. If anything, it could return once again. Moreover, the so-called ‘compromise,’ centrist parties in Europe aren’t exactly winning the hearts and minds. Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings have dropped to 26%, and early opinion polls for the 2019 European Parliament elections are indicating that Le Pen’s popularity is improving. Angela Merkel’s support has dropped, whilst the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained popularity. Internal divisions combined with a continued row over immigration continues to plague Merkel’s time in power. The extreme wings of politics will thrive on the dysfunction of the mainstream government.
In short, the emergence of Vox coincides with a potential return of far-right populism in certain parts of Europe. We have to be careful about populism, it can latch on to crises and it can potentially fill the vacuums created by the failures of centrist, mainstream politics- just as it almost did several years ago. Of course, the popularity of certain parties varies according to the country. France and Germany look to have the greatest resurgence at the moment, as its figureheads struggle to maintain control and pressing issues of immigration and, most recently, fuel tax in France create discontent amongst the electorate. Though the latter has recently been resolved, with a fuel tax rise being dropped in the upcoming French budget, it nonetheless showed that the government isn’t doing very well.
It could mean the resurgence of populism, but if the mainstream parties are firmer and deal with the big issues of the day, it will stop the extreme parties such as Vox from using it to fuel its own rise.