Opinion: recent elections has seen the rise of a new hard-right party in Andalusia and their success in the south may well go nationwide

Last weekend, regional elections took place in Andalusia. For those not familiar with Spanish politics, Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions. Each autonomous region (comunidad autónoma) holds its own parliamentary election and has its own government headed by a First Minister (Presidente). These regional governments have powers devolved in certain areas specified in their statutes and always within the framework of the Spanish constitution.

Andalusia is the region with the largest population, some 8.5 million inhabitants. It also has one of the largest unemployment rates (23 percent) and lowest living standards in the country. Since the beginning of the democratic period in Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, Andalusia’s government has always been in the hands of the Socialist Party, PSOE, who also currently controls the Spanish government. 

But after last weekend's elections, the Socialists will be unable to form a government for the first time in Andalusia. Although they obtained the highest number of votes, they lost 14 seats. Even a coalition with left-wing Adelante Andalucía won’t be enough to make up the numbers. 

People casting their vote during the regional elections in Andalusia

One of the biggest surprises from the election is the rise of Ciudadanos (C’s), a party slightly further to the right of PP, who've gone from nine to 21 seats. Then, there's the entry to the political arena of the unashamedly far-right Vox, with 12 seats. Vox tick all the extreme right boxes: anti-immigration, Eurosceptic, homophobic, anti-abortion, anti-gender politics and obsessively nationalist. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign strategist, has been openly supporting Vox, as he has done for other European parties with a similar ideology (UKIP in Britain, Rassemblement National in France etc). 

Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, the PP has managed to encompass a wide spectrum of right-wing ideologies, from moderate conservatives to far-right and everything in between. After all, most of their original leaders, and a good number of their successors, had connections with the dictatorship. Although there was a far-right party, Fuerza Nueva (New Force), present at the beginning of the transition to democracy, it had fizzled out by the 1980s. It was too extreme for the new democratic times. 

But things have changed since then. Spain has been a democratic country for over four decades now. It has gone from being "last in line" in western Europe to a country which, due to its size and economic weight, must be taken into consideration in any EU decisions. The fat-cow years of the second half of the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s changed the sociological face of the country. Over four million immigrants (10 percent of the population) mostly from Latin America, Romania and Morocco, have settled and work in Spain. Like Ireland, Spain has had to adapt quickly to a multicultural society that did not previously exist in the country to such a degree.

But Spanish right-wing parties can also point the finger at a domestic enemy which they perceive as determined to destroy the "sacred" unity of Spain. Enter Catalonia

However, the "lean cows" of the crisis came home around 2010. Since then, despite the politicians’ talk of economic recovery, a large percentage of the population has only experienced austerity measures. These have deeply affected education, healthcare and social services, leading to house evictions and long queues for food banks. The young generation faces the prospect of precarious employment that rules out the possibility of starting a family. The unemployment rate is still too high (15 percent) and the birth rate is so low (1.3 children per woman) that the future generation replacement rate and payment of pensions is bleak. 

Once welcomed as an asset, immigration is now perceived as a liability with people blaming migrants for the lack of jobs, reduction in social benefits and increase in criminal offences. The continuous landings of boats carrying illegal migrants on the southern coast have elevated this fear to a red alert of invasion. As is the case in many other countries in Europe and beyond, the foreign scapegoat for domestic problems has been identified and the far-right will feed on it. Long forgotten are the banking crisis and massive bail-outs which have indebted Spain and other European countries for generations to come, all of which were the cause of the austerity measures that reduced public expenditure, landing us in the precarious situation we are now in. 

But Spanish right-wing parties, due to the plurinational make-up of the country, can also point the finger at a domestic enemy which they perceive as determined to destroy the "sacred" unity of Spain. Enter Catalonia. Since the illegal referendum on independence last year, the short-lived declaration of independence days later, the exile of ex-First Minister Puigdemont and five of his ministers and the incarceration of other members of the Catalan government, the Catalan secessionist roller-coaster has been in full motion. Catalonia was mentioned continuously by the PP, C’s and Vox during the Andalusian electoral campaign, together with well-deserved criticism for the ruling Socialist Party in Andalusia for corruption and incompetence. 

Thousands of peope attend a demonstration in Madrid cagainst Catalan separatists

Control of immigration and suppression of Catalan aspirations with an iron fist are the solutions offered by right-wing parties to the bleak economic and social situation Andalusia finds itself in. A quick fix to problems whose roots are embedded in centuries of under-investment, a situation of large estates owned by absentee landlords in need of a thorough agrarian reform, a culture of clientelism, precarious jobs in the tourist industry, and a general lack of vision for the future of this large region of Spain.

What is more worrying is the prospect that Vox may have entered Spanish politics to stay, not as a mere regional exception. This will be revealed when the next general election takes place, something the right-wing parties are enthusiastically pushing for. Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians in Europe keep on sleepwalking, hoping that the growing disillusionment with their policies felt by their most deprived citizens won’t translate into further advances for the extreme right.

READ: The rise of populism on the Danube and Vistula

European left-wing parties have lost their way since the collapse of the Communist bloc. They have been unable to offer any real social reform policies that can redress the worst excesses of the greed of corporations and neoliberal elites. It is hard not to see what is happening all over Europe as a wake-up call. The "right-ing" is on the wall.   

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ