Nationalist Backlash Against Basque, Catalan Separatism

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

Spanish conservatives have launched a new political party 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.

Austerity

Rajoy’s conservative government has raised 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. Under the Spanish Constitution, the central government has little power to force them to make reductions.

“Total crisis”

Santiago Abascal Conde, who left Rajoy’s People’s Party in November, 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 — 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 has testified that he ran a slush fund for the conservative party, fed by cash donations from businessmen.

Separatist challenges

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 rising.

The prime minister insists that an independence referendum would be unconstitutional, but lawmakers in Barcelona voted for such a plebiscite anyway on the very day Vox was unveiled.

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 rewrite of the constitution to dissolve the regional parliaments and strengthen national unity.

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