Nationalist Backlash Against Basque, Catalan Separatism

Spanish nationalists, worried that their country might disintegrate, start a new political party.

Conservative politicians announce the formation of a new political party in Madrid, Spain, January 16
Conservative politicians announce the formation of a new political party in Madrid, Spain, January 16 (Vox)

Spanish conservatives launched a new political party on Thursday that aims to tap into public discontent over corruption scandals, high unemployment and surging Basque and Catalan separatism.

Leaders of the new party, named Vox, accuse Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of being soft on separatist movements and breaking his election promise not to raise taxes.

Rajoy’s conservative administration has increased income and sales taxes as well as excise duties on tobacco and gasoline. It has also cut unemployment benefits and public-sector salaries in an attempt to bring down the deficit which was expected to come in at 6.5 percent of gross domestic product last year, down from 6.8 percent the year before.

Regional governments, which account for more than half of total public-sector spending, have resisted calls from Madrid to tighten their belts, however. Under Spain’s constitution, the central government has little power to force them to make reductions.

Santiago Abascal Conde, who left Rajoy’s People’s Party in November of last year, said Vox aims to address the “total crisis” that plagues Spain: a “tremendous economic crisis, a serious institutional crisis, a moral and values ​​crisis and a crisis of national unity.”

Polls show that after unemployment, which stands at 26 percent, Spaniards are mainly concerned about corruption.

A former People’s Party treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was jailed last year on charges of money laundering and tax fraud. He testified that he ran a slush fund for the conservative party, fed by cash donations from businessmen.

Rajoy’s government is also beset by separatist challenges. Besides the Basque Country, an autonomous region in the north of Spain that has long aspired to independence, support for secession in Catalonia, the country’s richest region, is increasing. The prime minister has insisted that a plebiscite about Catalan independence would be unconstitutional but lawmakers in the eastern province voted to call such a referendum anyway on the very day the formation of Vox was announced.

In its manifesto, the new party argues that decentralization, “far from appeasing the nationalists in Catalonia and the Basque Country, has heightened tensions and put Spain on the brink of disintegration.” It calls for a rewriting of Spain’s constitution to scrap regional parliaments and strengthen national unity.

A survey that was published last weekend showed the opposition Socialists had inched ahead of the ruling party for only the second time since they lost the last election in 2011.