The past decade has been turbulent for the European Union. While the bloc saw progress with centralization and European-wide policies, the departure of the United Kingdom will define the political project’s fate for the foreseeable future. In the upcoming years, the European Union will have to deal with emerging nationalist politics within member states. Spain is a country to watch.
Spain’s transition into a western-style democracy with the adoption of the constitution in 1978 made it a prime target for E.U. membership. Spain joined in 1986, and since then, Euroscepticism has been slowly growing in the kingdom. Since the constitutional and political crisis after Catalonia’s 2017 independence referendum, this has become more evident.
Rising nationalist sentiments had been brewing in the autonomous region of Spain for a long time. Tensions escalated when Catalonia voted for independence, which the Spanish state subsequently deemed unconstitutional.
The nationalist-led Catalonian government then unilaterally declared independence, which forced Madrid to impose direct rule over the region. Local government was eventually restored, but political leaders at the time of the referendum were indicted with nine found guilty of sedition and other charges.
During the crisis, the European Union refused to intervene and mostly backed Madrid, which pushed Catalonia’s nationalists into an increasingly Eurosceptic direction. But nationalists in Catalonia are not Brussels’ only headache. A recent decision by the E.U. Court of Justice may drive another nationalist movement in Spain towards Euroscepticism.
EU Court Ruling
Last month, the E.U. court ruled that Catalan separatist political Oriol Junqueras was covered by immunity as a Member of the European Parliament when the Spanish Supreme Court jailed him in October, meaning that Spain should have released Junqueras to allow him to become an MEP after the European Parliament elections of May.
The ruling has unleashed the Eurosceptic side of rising Spanish nationalism with the word “Spexit” trending in the country. The outrage has been led by leaders and members of the far-right, neo-Francoist party Vox.
Vox’s leader tweeted, “Spain (as other countries do) should not abide by any judgment of those who attack our sovereignty and security; Vox is not going to allow any more humiliations.”
España esta sufriendo un gravísimo ataque a su soberanía y por lo tanto, a su Constitución. A este ataque hoy se han sumado los tribunales europeos.
Después de que varios países "aliados" cuestionen y humillen a nuestra justicia, ahora el Tribunal Europeo de Justicia de la UE…
— Santiago Abascal (@Santi_ABASCAL) December 19, 2019
These reactions are troubling for the European Union. Vox performed well in Spain’s general elections of November, and it’s the third-largest party in the Spanish legislature.
This has to be tied to recent polling findings in the Eurobarometer showing rising discontent with the European Union in Spain. In Spain, the E.U. is now facing two rising Eurosceptics movements: the Catalan and Spanish nationalists. The key question is how the E.U. should proceed.
Little Room to Maneuver
The reality is that Brussels has little room to maneuver. If it stays on de sideline in Catalonia’s independence debate, it stirs up Euroscepticism within Catalonian nationalists; if it chooses to intervene, the same will be true for Spanish nationalists. Instead, Brussels should favor a policy of non-interference.
The E.U. member states are a hotbed of nationalist movements, and siding with the Catalonian nationalist will inflame similar movements around the continent. Moreover, Vox’s political rise can be paralleled with the influence of Nigel Farage’s UKIP and the influence the Brexit party had in U.K. politics.
Traditional party politics are reeling in Spain, and if Vox were to adopt a more Eurosceptic stance, it might erode support from the main right-wing faction, the Popular Party. In turn, future leaders of the Popular Party will take a more hardline approach to questions relating to Europe, similar to what happened with the Conservative Party in Britain.
In the upcoming decade, the European Union will face rising nationalist sentiments in Spain and no doubt other member states. The Polish Supreme Court, for example, already warned that the country might have to leave the bloc. This will be a crucial test for policymakers in Brussels, and if the reaction from Spain is any indication, they must learn fast.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.