While the recent governmental turmoil has left some political actors behaving cautiously in a bid to ensure stability, other forces in the Spanish political landscape are continuing to set it apart from Europe as a scene for transformative politics, fostering political innovation. Paula Espinosa Giménez spoke to Rosa Martinez, who was recently re-elected co-spokesperson for EQUO along with Juan López de Uralde, about these paradoxes, her vision for the party, and which direction Spanish politics might take from this point.
PE: After 9 months of a caretaker government, which inevitably led Spain to call repeat general elections, could you describe the current political situation in Spain?
RM: We have a minority government that is going to need continuous support to proceed with any laws, starting with the state budgets. From my point of view, it is not yet clear whether we are going to have a short or long term term in office. The Partido Socialista Obrero España (PSOE) have not yet internally reorganised since their crisis in October, so the government can put the pressure on by threatening to call elections if PSOE do not support them in certain affairs or if they try to provide a strong opposition. It remains to be seen, firstly, how far PSOE are willing to support the Partido Popular (PP) to buy time and internally reorganise, which can mean a greater distancing from the most left-wing part of the electorate. In this initial stage of the term, we are seeing tension between the executive and legislative branches: the government is attempting to use all of its legal resources to avoid parliament affecting the legislative agenda. That means that certain legislative initiatives that could have PSOE’s support would compell the government to implement laws contrary to their own policy or even their own electoral programme (for example the repeal of the LOMCE – a law which will reform the education system). But beyond concrete and symbolic issues, what we have seen is that the PP and PSOE have had no problems getting along in terms of important issues. Everything seems to indicate that in the name of stability there will be continuous agreements and conversations aimed at re-establishing bipartisanship. This includes, for example, constitutional reform, around which there is a certain social consensus and which can be shielded once more during this term, denying the structural reforms that are needed to face recurring tensions in our system: the territorial model, the protection of rights, and the independence of the legal or electoral systems.
Since the start of the crisis, the Spanish political landscape has changed radically in recent years. Could you explain what has provoked this change? From your perspective, what do you think has been the main reason behind this?
Undoubtedly, the main agent of this change has been Podemos, but there are many reasons and none of them would be enough on their own. Of course the crisis, the loss of buying power and quality of life (not just inequality, but also the crisis of expectations of the most affluent sectors of society), and the corruption or discrediting of the political class are some of the reasons that people voted for a new party that dealt with these demands and social perceptions. However, the material conditions for the change have taken on a different dimension since 15M (Movimiento de los Indignados) and that new “identity” transcends labels and political ideologies, and translates into organised social movements with different strategies to those seen before. Podemos sees this clearly and manages to open a gap in the untouchable Spanish bipartisanship. The challenge now is to construct an alternative way of governing and reinforce these political changes.
15M, along with many other social movements, has played an important role in the Spanish political development. What influence do you believe social movements have had on the political parties? How does it influence democracy?
Of course the present situation cannot be understood without 15M or the social movements, although right now we are in a low point of social mobilisation. The influence of the movements on Podemos, IU (Izquierda Unida, the United Left), or EQUO and also on the municipalist candidates is decisive given that, on one hand, they are political parties and spaces who seek balance between the institutions and the public, and on the other hand they are dependent on the proposals of social groups for their political programmes. It is also necessary to highlight that the social movements have managed to impact the political agenda on some very important issues in recent years. Energy is a good example; thanks to society’s work, issues such as oligopoly, energy poverty, or fracking have become central to the political and social debate. The feminist movement is another big example of how social movements are influencing political discourse. Not to mention how the PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca) brought the issue of evictions to the forefront and changed the public perception to show that they were the result of an unfair system and not a personal failure, setting the scene for dealing with other political problems.
Can we consider Spain a laboratory for the future of Europe? Do you think that Spain has become more democratic?
In a way yes, because it is the only place where no extreme right-wing parties have appeared to channel society’s discontent with the political class and institutions for not responding to their needs or mediating the consequences of the crisis. That is to say that the proposals that have been presented in the different elections as an alternative to the traditional parties and the austerity policies are based on respect for human rights, solidarity, and democracy. It is interesting to see what has happened in Spain from the perspective of political collaboration and the creation of new political spaces that go beyond traditional coalitions, referring as much to the municipal elections of 2015 as to the local groups in Catalonia and Galicia. Since 2014 we have witnessed constant political innovation that is becoming stronger but is still far from its final form; we continue to evolve and adapt.
Now that Spain is once more governed by the PP, do you think that Spain has missed its opportunity to achieve an alternative to the neoliberal or growth model?
I think that an immediate opportunity has been missed, but the opportunity is still there in the next elections. Of course it is imperative that in the next few years the institutions do a good job, congress as much as the independent parliaments and town councils that are governed by the forces of change and at the same time continue working on a common political project which is greater than the sum of its parts. And for me that’s the key, to be able to offer a project for the whole country. Nowadays when we talk of change you think about democratic regeneration and social rights, I think that EQUO’s work is to make the third pillar of change the transition towards a production and consumption model that is more fair, sustainable, and cooperative. I sincerely believe that there is a window of opportunity for green policies.
A few weeks ago EQUO held its 3rd General Assembly. What point is the Spanish Green party at? What lessons can EQUO learn from Green parties in other European countries? What can other Green parties learn from EQUO?
It is a little paradoxical, because we are doing better than ever in terms of institutional representation, some media attention, and social recognition, but at the same time the uncertainty of the political situation means that we must not take anything for granted. I think that the institutional experience of other Green parties is vital for us; that is, how green ideology has translated into public policy and legislation. A lesson can be taken from our experience that seems to me to be fully applicable to the majority of European countries and on the level of the European Green Party (EGP) as well: in moments of political exceptionality in which there are serious and powerful threats to our political and social systems, flexibility and cooperation can be a good strategy. Of course, every country has its own circumstances, but I think that it is not the time to ride the wave alone but to be a part of something bigger. On the other hand, we run the risk of being marginalised, not just on electoral but also social and political terms.
What is the position of EQUO on the proceedings in Catalonia?
EQUO defends a federal state model and as democratic radicalism is one of our principles, we believe that Catalan citizens must be able to decide what type of relation they want with the Spanish state. This is why our proposal coincides so much with En Comú Podem and Unidos Podemos: a referendum within the law, and therefore agreed by the Spanish government. The legitimacy of the result is crucial so that the political problem does not become entrenched and does not continue causing tension. The territorial model is an ongoing debate and it must be faced with courage and broad-mindedness, respecting the citizens’ right to decide.
What are EQUO’s main objectives over the next 5 years?
Firstly, to do a good job. That is, so that people see the usefulness of having green representatives in the institutions, to be able to move forward with issues which have a real impact on people’s lives. Therefore, doing a good job is essential, especially on a local level. If we achieve this, it will mean more influence and recognition, which in turn will mean more scope for action and political weight in Unidos Podemos. This increased presence in collaborative spaces in terms of quantity and quality has to translate, as I mentioned earlier, into giving green proposals a relevant place in a political project for change, with the change of production and consumption model as a lever. However, all of this requires the organisation to be strengthened and grow. We need more people, more resources, more local implementation and this must be our objective as an organisation. To be strong on the inside, in order to be strong on the outside.
In what state is the current debate in Spain regarding the perception and future of the European Union?
The austerity policies and cuts imposed by Brussels have put Europe in the centre of the political debate. Interest has been growing throughout 2015 and 2016, which has increased the critical perception of the EU; above all the asylum and migration policies, TTIP and CETA, Brexit, the rise of the extreme right, budget stability that will bring new cuts… These are worrying issues that undermine the perception of the EU. Spain is a deeply Europeanist country, but there are increasingly negative feelings against the Europe of banks and cuts. If we cannot show that there is another programme for Europe, discontent with the EU will increase as it has done in other countries. Furthermore, the role of Spain in European policy in the last few years has left much to be desired, as a result of which we don’t perceive ourselves as a relevant agent in the process. This increases the feeling of a lack of power or of the impossibility of transforming the EU in a more fair and democratic way.