Spain vote a wake-up call for Europe’s right wing

Spanish right-wing opposition party Partido Popular (PP) leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo (C) adresses a press conference with PP's Secretary General Cuca Gamarra (C-R) and PP's General Coordinator Elias Bendodo (C-L) a day after Spain's general election at the party's headquarters in Madrid on July 24, 2023AFP

Spain’s election, which was won by the right-wing Popular Party but without enough support to govern, marks a rare setback for the growing influence of the political right across Europe, analysts say.

With barely a year until European elections in June, the PP’s inability to win a governing majority, even with its far-right partner Vox “means the radically conservative, far-right wave has not managed to cross the Pyrenees,” said Steven Forti, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

“The signal Spain is sending to Europe is that this wave can be stopped”, he told AFP.

On paper, the PP won the vote with 136 of the parliament’s 350-seats, followed by the Socialists of outgoing Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who won 122.

But for Forti, it amounted to little more than a “pyrrhic victory” and even a “political defeat”.

Polls had repeatedly predicted a PP victory, suggesting it would be able to amass an absolute majority with Vox, a troublesome ally due to its extreme positions but nonetheless an essential one if Alberto Nunez Feijoo’s party was to govern.

Such an outcome could have brought the far right into Spain’s government for the first time since the Franco dictatorship ended in 1975.

An embarrassment

Many in Europe thought that Spain was heading down the same path as taken by Sweden and Italy last year, or Finland earlier this year, countries where the right and the far-right have come together to rule.

And in Rome, far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is prime minister, heading Italy’s most far-right coalition since World War II.

But whether the right’s setback in Spain is likely to prompt a rethink in Europe is doubtful says Thierry Chopin, a special adviser at the Institute Jacques Delors.

“It’s not at all certain because each national situation is very different,” he told AFP.

Vox, which emerged out of a split within the PP in 2013, has “a fairly outrageous narrative” and a form of radicalism that is “far from the strategy of trivialisation and respectability” exhibited by similar movements in other European countries, he said.

Throughout its campaign, Vox embarrassed Feijoo with its extreme positions ranging from a refusal to acknowledge gender violence, to its rejection of LGBTQ rights, or opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

Ideological convergence “has not worked” in Spain “as it did in Italy or in northern Europe,” Chopin said.


Sunday’s debacle triggered recriminations between the two parties, with Vox’s secretary general Ignacio Garriga accusing media outlets close to the PP of “demonising and manipulating Vox’s message” in order to win over voters.

But to assess the impact at a European level of Sunday’s right-wing failure in Spain, Forti says it will be necessary to see whether Sanchez and his radical left-wing Sumar allies manage to cling onto power.

If not, Spain will likely head into new elections towards the end of the year, or in early 2024 “just before the European elections” in June, he said.

Ahead of the European elections, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which includes the PP, has been in talks with the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), which includes Vox and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, over a new political alliance within the parliament.

But the outcome of Spain’s election has “really complicated that strategy”, Forti said.

“What has happened in Spain reinforces my opinion that this alliance isn’t a foregone conclusion and that it won’t happen,” he said.