Analysis The Center Can Hold

Spanish Center-Right Rethinks Appeasement of Far Right

Cozying up to Vox did not have the desired effect.

Albert Rivera
Estonian prime minister Jüri Ratas listens to Spanish Citizens party leader Albert Rivera during a meeting of European liberal party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2018 (ALDE)

Spain’s center-right parties are having second thoughts about cozying up to the far right.

Before the general election in April, the liberal Citizens and the conservative People’s Party ruled out a deal with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ Socialists. That meant the only alternative to his pact with the far-left Podemos was a right-wing coalition with the support of the nativist Vox. Voters preferred the former.

They once again gave the Socialists a plurality in European and local elections last month.

The Citizens now say they are willing to consider coalitions with the Socialists at the regional level under “exceptional” circumstances. They also reject more deals with Vox such as the one they struck in Andalusia last year.

The People’s Party, which as recently as eight years ago won 45 percent of the votes, has also repudiated its Vox-friendly strategy after falling to 17-20 percent support in the last two elections.

Change of heart

There are two reasons for the change of heart.

  1. Aping the far right did not convince conservative voters to stick with the mainstream parties. It only made it easier for them to switch. The People’s Party suffered an historic defeat. The Citizens still — and again — failed to become the largest party on the right.
  2. Vox is an unreliable partner. In Andalusia, it is withholding its support from a budget that it claims does not go far enough in overturning the status quo. The plan cuts spending on historical memory by only 7 percent (Vox wants less emphasis on the crimes of the Franco regime) and still calls for €4.2 million to fund policy against gender violence and €1 million extra for migrants.


The Citizens still refuse to partner with the Socialists in Congress so long as Sánchez is willing to negotiate with the ruling separatists in Catalonia.

In the regions, there are more options.

Only in Castile and León do the Citizens and People’s Party have a majority between them. In Madrid and Murcia, they would need Vox for a majority. In Aragon, La Rioja and Murcia, the Socialists and Citizens could team up. In the Barcelona city council, the only way to keep the pro-independence Republican Left out of power would be for the Citizens and Socialists to support the incumbent left-wing mayor Ada Colau.