Spain: 4 reasons why far right populism can’t flourish

María Crespo breaks down a new study –‘The Spanish Exception: unemployment, inequality and immigration, but no right-wing popular parties’ ­– in El Mundo.
Spanish far right
The dictatorship of General Franco lasted from the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939 to his death in 1975

Three things tend to trigger far right sentiment, ‘high immigration, economic crisis, and loss of confidence in traditional parties,’ writes María Crespo. And in Spain, conditions are perfect.

Between 2000 and 2009, half of all the migrants arriving in the European Union went to Spain. Most found work in low-skilled posts, often in construction.

When the housing bubble burst in 2007, three million jobs were wiped out, and the ensuing crisis saw a drastic increase in poverty throughout the country.

In 2014, ‘the gap between the richest and poorest in Spain in the widest in all of Europe,’ and frequent political scandals mean people mistrust Spanish politicians, who are blamed for the crisis.

So why has the far right not made any gains?

First, the dictatorship of General Franco, which lasted from the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939 to his death in 1975, has not been forgotten.

Franco’s use of patriotic rhetoric and hijacking of national symbols like the flag, the national anthem, and even the word ‘Spain,’ mean that today patriotism suffers from a ‘severe lack of legitimacy.’

“This heritage will take a long time to disappear,” says Carmen González Enríquez, author of the study, “because many people who witnessed Francoism directly are still alive, and many are still young.”

“Spain was excluded from the EU and globalisation at a time when being European meant being modern and secular,” she adds.

The country joined the EU relatively late, in 1986. Nowadays the Spanish are the least in favour of leaving the Union. Only 10% wish to break away from the bloc, compared to 25% in France.


Second, González Enríquez argues, over the past 15 years, Spain has become more accepting of immigrants, ‘especially from Morocco, Romania, and Sub-Saharan Africa.’

This has been influenced by several factors:

Immigration has been concentrated to a few geographical areas, the Spanish remember their own migration – to other European countries and to Latin America – and because “the Catholic church has historically been strongly supportive of immigration, as many of the newcomers were Catholics.”

This means Spanish politicians have “done all they can to avoid xenophobic rhetoric.”

Peripheral nationalism.
Thirdly, Spain has learned not to make the ‘erroneous link’ between immigration and terrorism.

“Because of the existence of ETA [a violent Basque separatist organisation], Spanish people are able to distinguish between terrorism and the town terrorists come from. They have never blamed everyone in the Basque region for ETA’s terrorism.”

Centrist electorate.

Finally, González Enríquez argues, the Spanish electorate is fundamentally centre-left.

“When we compile the data on where they position themselves on the political spectrum, very few say they are far right.”

Spain, unlike many other countries, is a nation that seems to have learned from its mistakes.