Vox Setback and PP Disappointment: The Lessons of 23-J Have Impact on the European Right’s Strategic Dilemma

the Legislative elections held on Sunday in Spain – With the setback suffered by Vox and the insufficient triumph of popular victories – it yielded a result that changed a clear trend of the rise of the far right and the triumphant coming to power of conservative formations registered in Europe in recent months. The result has clear ramifications on the European chessboard, not only of course in terms of pure strength, adding or not adding capital from Madrid’s weight to the right flank, but also by influencing the strategic dilemmas of the various European wings in a period marked by several important elections. The storm was caused this weekend by the leader of the German Christian Democratic Union with his I threatened to partially break the sanitary cordonwhich he later corrected, exemplifies the depth of the discussion.

The Spanish result emerges from a strong trend: in April 2022 Viktor Orbán reasserted his mandate with a devastating victory in Hungary; September of that year saw the success of the Brotherhood of Italy (26% government leadership) and the Sweden Democrats (20% crucial foreign support); In April of this year, the Finnish far-right made another 20%, and later entered the government; In June, the Greek legislatures in power, alone, confirmed the popular local power, but three extremist formations managed to enter the Congress. In Portugal, Chega’s far-right had a lower score than Vox in January’s legislative elections — 7% — but the data was a huge improvement over its predecessor. In Germany, the AfD has risen in the polls. On the other hand, Vox in Spain fell – moderately in percentage (from 15.1% to 12.4%), and very significantly in seats (from 52 to 33) – and the People’s Party advanced, but in a way that seemed insufficient to govern.

The implications in terms of power are clear. Adding Spain to the governments of various right-wing nationalist-flavored shades of leadership in Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland would have carried significant political weight, especially given the European elections in June 2024 and the consequent change in European leadership. But the abstract political impact should not be underestimated, and the lessons that the various actors in the conservative arc will draw in the coming weeks from the Spanish result in the midst of the great debate among the masses over whether and to what extent to cooperate with the ultras.

Of course, each national scenario has its own specifics. In the case of Vox, there is an absolute differential fact in its genesis: the reaction to the Catalan independence movement. This represents a defining feature of its development that cannot be projected onto other cases. However, this does not prevent the Spanish extreme right, and the popular right in its relationship with it, from sharing many things with other countries, and from speaking to others about its vicissitudes.

A key piece of thinking revolves around the particularly extreme characteristics of Vox even within the European extremist family and the crowd influence that such extremes produce on the other side, especially if it gains mass acceptance.

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“Fox is a younger party, less mature than the rest of his family in Europe,” says Alberto Alemanno, professor of European law and politics at the Graduate School of Commerce in Paris. “One of their main strategies for gaining support is to get out of the political correctness that the dominant parties have imposed on themselves for a long time. Vox says things that many people still think but dare not say. Spain has gone from being a very conservative country to a very progressive and liberal country. Vox believes that there is fertile ground there. But this finding calls into question the radicalism of this system, ”says the expert.

“If they hadn’t done what they did in local administrations, censoring films, removing LGTBI flags, if they had chosen more realistic positions and aimed for consensus, Meloni-style, maybe they would have done better,” continues Alemanno, who lives in Spain. Instead, their extreme stance set off a wake-up call that confirmed Sanchez’s narrative, the idea that if they came to power, they could dismantle everything. They were immature. This is a great lesson for this party and for all European rights.”

Ignacio Molina, Principal Investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute and Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Autonomous University of Madrid, provides another piece of reasoning that points to the influence of peer mobilization a lot. Vox differs from other European populists. In other cases, the enemy is external: the European Union or immigration. You can be extremists, but you do not generate internal fear in society. But Vox is something else. What sets him apart is his strong anti-feminist nuance, his stance on LGTBI rights, and his stance on the autonomy of communities. His politics generate strong rejection in sectors of society that feel they must stand up for their rights, be it Catalans, Basques, women with feminist identities, etc. “

We find ourselves, then, facing a far right in a sense less developed than others in Western Europe, which, with its radical approaches and embrace of the People’s Party that gave it a realistic perspective on government, unleashed mobilization. “This is partly because he is not in a dominant position, he assumes his position of the People’s Party, he does not aspire to lead a government like Le Pen or Meloni, and that makes a difference.” Traditions, history and culture also make a difference. The far right implanted in Scandinavian or French societies is not the same as that in Spanish, for example, it has a different weight than the Church.

And this is the extreme right that the People’s Party has embraced in practice, without even explaining it. The Spanish score reminds audiences of the risks and limits of embracing with the ultras. It can be insufficient and turn stinking on sight. This takes place in the midst of a vigorous political struggle between the Weberian ethos of the European People’s Party – by Manfred Weber, leader of the parliamentary faction advocating a collaborative approach to at least part of the superconstellation – and the Wönderlin ethos – by the President of the Commission, very reticent at the prospect of such an opening.

The leader of the German Christian Democratic Union, Friedrich Merz, threatened over the weekend to lift the healthy historic cordon against the far-right at the local level, only to be forced to back down the next day amid vigorous controversy. In addition to the European elections, other important elections are scheduled for the coming months, for example in Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium next year.

“I think the Spanish result is a very strong warning sign. He can strengthen von der Leyen’s position, weaken the hawks and strengthen the doves. Weber will take note,” Alemanno says.

“It is clear that there is great strategic skepticism on the European right about what to do in the future, and in this sense the outcome of the Spanish elections is important,” agrees Molina. “It is because of the message about Vox, but perhaps because of the PP. What would Feijóo have done if he had clearly won the elections? Would you have advocated greater cooperation between masses and ultras at the European level? We do not know, but if it happened in my opinion it would entail serious risks, because the European project is not in it offersand the strong division between right and left did not suit him.

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