A conversation with Jordi Vaquer Fanès

After the crisis happened in 2008, the “New Normal Spain” does not fit anymore in global standards as a rich and dynamic country. (unemployment from 8% to 26%)

Spain’s politics in a European context, is a wide puzzle, a complex system that mirrors the effects of the crisis. The rights of “los ciudadanos” are important and need to be respected even though a difficult period in which the nation has lived. Global Governance students have explored this new world thanks to a special guest, Jordi Vaquer Fanès.

jordi-vaquerHe is the regional director for Europe at the Open Society Foundations and a co-director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. In these positions, he works to advance the values and institutions of open society in the cities and countries of the European Union and the Western Balkans.

After a decade of crisis, 1/6 homes fell under the poverty line, middle class accounts for 10% less of total income than in 2000, 30 % of children are at risk of poverty, salaries are still under those of 2009

He claimed a lack of populism rights, we are talking about examples of equal rights for LGBT people. Spain is one of the most liberal societies in Europe and there is the socio liberalisation and a continuous growth of liberal state. One of the most relevant social work concerns the integration of migrants: it was quite successful; the housing policy was bearing the fruits. Mr. Fanès believes that activist movements were ambitious and very effectively connected in ideological terms and were connected, organized and mobilized through the streets.

Another issue that the guest commented concerns young generations in Spain. Being young means not having a good position in labour market, companies are looking for experience and “fresh” minds, but they do not accept people without it because it is needed for every job. There are low salaries so as a consequence, young boys and girls leave their home too late. In fact, the average age for leaving home is 29.4, three years more than the EU average.

There is the possibility of making a comparison among three different national and global issues: gender equality, LGBT and homosexuality and migration. Three problems were analysed with three different perspectives according to the reality of Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Concerning the first and the second issues, Spain and Italy are not regressive, they are compared with the European average of acceptance and understanding. Women are fundamental for the society and in the contemporary era, the majority of them is joining the political career  However, 6 out of every 10 workers are in a vulnerable position, they are women and the problem of unbalanced salaries is still alive.

10th Rainbow event.

The third issue is migration. “to what extent the country should allow people of a different race or ethnic group from most people”. Portugal and Italy are not so open to host other people in their country, on the contrary the Spanish rate is so high.

A remarkable comparison that can be made is between Spain and Italy: unemployment, the impossibility for young generations to have a stable job without experience, a massive depopulation in central Spain as in Calabria (south region of Italy).

Both Nations need a “breath of fresh air” to fix these problems, young generations are the future and they can change the status quo of the world. Secular values can be upgraded when it is needed.

An interview with Jordi Vaquer

1) What do you think about European elections’ results in Spain? 

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s decision to hold a national election on April 28th, less than a month before the European Parliament elections, deprived the European elections of most of their political weight. In fact, Spanish newspapers, analysts and politicians are more centered on the aftermath of local and regional elections that also took place on May 26th, and the dozens of pacts that will be needed to form governments. This being said, the elections did confirm and, in fact, magnify the trends of the national election. Sánchez’s Socialist party (S&D in the European Parliament) came out as the clear winner, with almost one-third of the votes and far ahead of all its competitors. The Popular Party (EPP) came a distant second (almost 3 million votes less), but at least it could reassert its predominance in the Right. Ciudadanos (ALDE) had a disappointing result: in April their score was almost the same as that of the Popular Party (Ciudadanos got 220,000 votes less), but this time they were far behind (1.8 million less votes). Also disappointing were the results of Unidas Podemos (GUE and Greens, 10% of the vote, down from 14% in April) and the new extreme right, Vox (no group, 6%, down from 10% a month before). The two Catalan pro-independence parties had good results: the more moderate leftists, ERC (EFA), got a better result thanks to their alliance with Basque and Galician pro-independence parties, while the more radicalized JxCat (no group) managed to have three members of the former Catalan Government who now live in exile to escape prison elected. Often, European Elections favor more radicalized parties at the fringes of the political spectrum. This time, that was not the case in Spain (with the exception of Catalan independentists). The opposite was true: the biggest winner was the Socialist Party, and the other party that recovered some ground after the national election was the Popular Party, so the traditional big two in Spanish politics.
2) In your opinion, what will be the future of Spain with these results?

For Spain, these EP results, combined with the local and regional elections (where Ciudadanos and Unidas Podemos fared well behind the big two, and will only govern a handful of cities and towns), will slightly correct the result in April by returning the Popular Party to its position as leader of the opposition, and strengthening Pedro Sánchez’s hand.

All parties except the Socialists need to deeply re-define their positioning and strategy. Sánchez will still struggle to cobble together a stable coalition to form a government before summer, but few doubt he will eventually manage. He now has many cards to exchange with Ciudadanos, Unidas Podemos, and region-based parties, including the Catalan pro-Independence ones. The next weeks will see frantic negotiations to form the majorities to elect and sustain not just the national government, but also that of important regions (Madrid, Aragon, Castilla-Leon, Navarre, the Canaries, and more) and cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Alicante, and many more).

The explosion of the new extreme right of Vox has been contained, at a level clearly below that of the first emergence of both Podemos and Ciudadanos, but they have achieved enough institutional posts to consolidate their organization and public presence. This is a novelty in Spanish politics, and it is hard to predict how it will play. Their voters may come back to the Popular Party and leave Vox as a marginal, radical voice with an influence only where the Right needs them to consolidate their majority. Or Vox may re-invent itself and not only consolidate their space but grow into other parts of society, as parties of similar ideology have managed to do in most EU countries.

In Europe, we should expect a more proactive Spain. Sánchez formed last year a government with extraordinary EU expertise. With the perspective of Brexit and the growing isolation of Italy, due to Salvini’s positions, Madrid sees a great opportunity to be the third leg of the Berlin – Paris axis, to recover positions of power in Brussels, and to move a pro-European agenda forward. Due to the deep crisis of French Socialists and the weak performance of German Social-Democrats, and with Italy’s PD still recovering, the Spaniards are now the large contingent in the S&D group at the European Parliament. Pedro Sánchez emerges as the most visible leader of the Social-democratic family in Europe, along with his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa. He can connect to Social-democrats and Greens in Western and Northern Europe on issues of values and liberalism, and with southern and central Europe on issues of territorial cohesion, solidarity on incoming extra-EU immigration, depopulation and emigration, and others.


3) Results in Italy are not being accepted by the majority of people, what do you think about the outcome? 

 The results in Italy should be read in the context of the Lega – M5S domestic competition within their joint government, and the winner is clearly Matteo Salvini and his party. He also won the battle for the hegemony of the Right with Forza Italia (even with Berlusconi on the ballot) and Fratelli d’Italia. But, paradoxically, this strength of Salvini will be Italy’s weakness. By aligning himself with the illiberal, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic leaders in government (Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Poland’s Jarosław Kaczynski) and in opposition (France’s Marine Le Pen, Austria’s HC Strache, Spain’s Santiago Abascal, and many more), and by picking unnecessary fights with Emmanuel Macron and with the European institutions, he has been burning bridges with the centers of European power. He and some of his allies are strong at home in some countries (Italy, Poland, Hungary), but very far from being able to govern almost anywhere else, so Salvini is styling himself as the leader of a disruptive fraction, thus placing Italy at the margins of European politics. Additionally, the populist radical right is not an easy group to bring together. For instance, Salvini’s closeness to Russia makes him hard to accept to the parties in that ideological space in Poland, Scandinavia and the Baltic States.
4) Can you make a comparison between Italy and Spain (actual political situation and  European seats). 

Italy and Spain, countries of similar per capita income and not so different in size, share many crucial challenges: competitiveness, youth unemployment, regional disparities, rapid ageing, low educational levels, corruption, depopulation of some areas, and more. They also have a lot in common when it comes to history, geography and culture. However, their politics are radically different.

The results of the election illustrate this difference: the largest nationalist contingent in the European Parliament will be Italian, while the largest social-democratic one will be Spanish. In the two largest groups, EPP and S&D, Spaniards have larger numbers than Italians, despite the fact that Italy sends almost 20 more MEPs than Spain. There will also be green, liberal and left-wing Spanish MEPs sitting with their respective groups in Strasbourg. Italy has not elected any MEPs who will sit in any of these groups, so Italian voices will be absent from some of the most pro-European and socially progressive groups.

This political divergence can be better understood looking at the divergence in values of the two societies. Since its accession to the EC in 1986, Spanish society has been converging with other Western European societies towards more progressive values on social issues such as immigration, gender equality or LGBT rights. Italian society, by contrast, shows attitudes that are more conservative and hostile to diversity in survey after survey. Whereas the positions on these social issues in Spain now compare to those of Belgium, the Netherlands or the UK, Italians responses place them closer to countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland.

5) What are your predictions about the role of European politics in the member states?

One of the paradoxes of the current political moment is that the governments of Poland and Hungary, which are at odds with the mainstream of the EU and, increasingly, with the institutions, preside over pro-European societies, in particular Poland. This is less the case in the two other countries where the clear big winner, far ahead of any other, is a Eurosceptic nationalist group: the UK and Italy. In the UK, the nationalist victory in June 2016 unleashed a political crisis of unforeseeable consequences, altering the party system, plunging the Parliament into near paralysis, and dividing society to unprecedented levels. In Italy, this shake-up of the party system preceded the national-populist victory, and public opinion is now amongst the less euro-enthusiastic in the EU. These four countries, which include three of the EU’s big six, are going to experiment internal tensions directly correlated to their governments’ conflicts with the EU. Beyond governmental positions, we must pay attention to how the values and attitudes of their societies evolve, and what that means for the future of a Europe that remains united, prosperous and at peace.


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