Recently, Spain’s far-right party Vox upended Spain’s already fragmented political system, winning seats for the first time in Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region. It was the worst showing for the ruling PSOE socialists and the second-worst showing for the center-right People’s Party (PP) since the return of democracy after Franco in 1975. Likewise, the Alternative für Deutschland made great gains in the Hessian and Bavarian state elections, while the fierce anti-immigration rhetoric of Lega Nord’s Salvini has made him Italy’s most popular politician, ahead of Five-Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio (who won Italy’s March 2018 general elections).
What does this mean?
When we analyzed the 85th Eurobarometer, we found that one could discern three forms of European populism: a northwest, southern and eastern European type. Back then, we stated that the southern flavor was mostly defined by its grudge against European demands for austerity and economic reform, much less than by its nationalist rhetoric, as was the case for the western flavor or anti-communist sentiments in Eastern and Central Europe. This doesn’t seem to apply to Vox, however, or to Italy’s populist government, both arguing against (Muslim) immigration to Spain and Italy.
A little more than 40 years after Franco’s reign, a far-right party has re-emerged in Spain, just as far-right nationalism is making a comeback in Germany. These examples show that this type of populism is becoming more mainstream across the European continent, as both countries have struggled for decades with a collective consciousness of fascism (Spain) and far-right nationalism. This means that European populism has a much broader base to unite in the upcoming European Parliament elections in May 2019. Eurosceptic alliances might use this momentum to organize, such as the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe that was established last month. This would make life more difficult for pro-European politicians wanting reforms, such as Macron, and would mean a break with the four-decade rule of European social-democrats, which might arrest the expansion of the political bloc (e.g. accession of countries such as Turkey, Albania) and halt the transfer of authorities to the European supranational level.