sábado, 19 de dezembro de 2015
The meaning of Ciudadanos
The meaning of Ciudadanos
An upstart party has Spain’s future in its hands.
By JEREMY CLIFFE 12/11/15, 2:11 PM CET
MADRID — The queue only starts to grow at 10 p.m. This is Madrid, after all. An hour later it winds around the block; a collage of grays, browns and blacks (the city’s winter wardrobe) with splashes — ties, scarves and balloons — of Ciudadanos orange. And what a jumble of types: from old ladies in Barbour jackets to biker chicks, men in tracksuits and students bundled up against the cold. “Like PP and PSOE,” comments a man, referring to Spain’s conservative and socialist parties, respectively. The remark is fitting, as this odd mix of air-kissers and fist-raisers has gathered for an upstart political party that blends the politics of right and left.
At the heart of the great Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) circus shaking up Spain is Albert Rivera, the most popular of the country’s four main party leaders and, at 36, the youngest. In the auditorium, cameramen swoop around the stage. “Rivera Presidente!” cries the crowd as screens flash the words: “con ilusión” (“with hope”).
Nearer midnight, the man himself sweeps onto the podium. He is wearing a headset-mic and looks even more like a fitness instructor than usual. “Pre-si-dente!” chants the room as Rivera — with his faux-bashful Princess Diana gaze — declares this moment the most important in 35 years of Spanish democracy.
He has a point. For much of the period since Franco’s death, Spain has been dominated by two monolithic parties: the Socialists (PSOE) on the left and the PP on the right. Yet ahead of Spain’s general election on December 20, this duopoly is breaking. Podemos, the far-left outfit close to Greece’s Syriza and inspired by left-wing populists in Latin America like Evo Morales, has faded since peaking at second place and a projected 23.9 percent vote-share in January. In polling published by the Sociological Investigation Center (CIS) on December 3, it was at 15.7 percent.
Meanwhile Ciudadanos, a broadly centrist, liberal party, has surged from 3.1 percent in January to 19 percent. The latest CIS research puts it 1.8 points behind the PSOE and in the lead among Spaniards aged 18-24. Others put it ahead of the Socialists and as such in second place overall. ABC, the right-wing newspaper, suggested that it is ahead in six of Spain’s autonomous communities: Madrid, Valencia, Castile and León, La Rioja, the Balearic Islands and Murcia.
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Rivera’s party, marginal just months ago, is now the big story. Polls continue to put the governing PP in first place, where it will probably remain.
Yet if Ciudadanos overtakes PSOE it might just come to be seen as the main anti-PP force. PP strategists fret that, if this happens, PSOE voters determined to ditch Mariano Rajoy — the prime minister unpopular even in his own party — could flood into the Ciudadanos column, propelling it into first place and handing Spain’s reins to Rivera.
Even if this does not happen, the young Catalan may well end up as kingmaker: capable of supporting a PP government (possibly insisting that Rajoy give way to his more popular deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría) or a PSOE-led one also backed by Podemos. The party’s record in Spain’s autonomous communities — demanding big concessions as the price of its support for governing parties — suggests that it might prop up a government in exchange for rapid constitutional reforms and an anti-corruption drive.
So Ciudadanos obsesses its rivals. The PP is focusing its entire campaign on combatting the party. Its slogan “España en serio” — “Spain, seriously” — is an unsubtle jibe at Rivera’s inexperience. Threatened by his popularity, Rajoy has ducked TV debates with him (the sight of an empty “Rajoy” podium at the corner of the screen will be remembered as the image of the election).
PSOE, too, is panicking. On December 4, Pedro Sánchez, its telegenic but underwhelming leader, hurried to two former Socialist strongholds on the edges of Barcelona now firmly in Ciudadanos hands. Meanwhile Podemos is mocking Ciudadanos’ credentials as a party of change while its supporters make lurid allegations about its links to big business.
It is tempting to attribute the party’s astonishing rise to Rivera’s personal appeal. From the start he has shown a knack for publicity. Ahead of the Catalan elections in 2006 he posed naked, hands cupping his genitals, under the slogans: “Your party has just been born” and “We only care about people.”
He keeps his clothes on now, but retains his flair. At rallies and debates, he is relaxed and conversational. He reasons with his audience rather than hectoring it. His events are slick and bear the influence of José Manuel Villegas, Fernando (Fer) Páramo and Daniel Bardavío Colebrook. Two academics and one journalist, between them this trio of advisers has engineered one of the most remarkable triumphs of style in recent Spanish history.
At an event in Madrid, I had to stifle a laugh as Rivera ushered his team members off the stage just in time for a huge banner bearing his name and baby face to drop from the ceiling. The image was plastered across Spanish news for the next 24 hours. His critics see him as an empty shell; a slick rebranding of the old establishment.
The reality is more complicated. Ciudadanos breaks the rules of Spanish politics. It has outshone not only the two old parties of post-Franco Spain, but even a rival insurgent, Podemos, that was the toast of Europe’s left. Even if it folded tomorrow, Ciudadanos’ success to date would have revealed much about the psychology and self-image of Spain in late 2015; a country not entirely like any other in Europe, one still grappling with a troubled past.
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The Ciudadanos story began in Barcelona, where, in the old working-class district of Raval, its founding manifesto was launched in 2005 by a bunch of intellectuals skeptical of Catalan nationalism. Yet its electoral heartland lies in the port city’s middle-class outskirts, in suburbs like Nou Barris, Hospitalet (where Rivera lives) and Vallès (where he grew up), housing Spaniards whose parents (like his Andalusian mother) and grandparents moved there from poor rural areas during the Franco years.
Rivera grew up in a petit-bourgeois background to be a motorbike fan, competitive swimmer and corporate lawyer. This environment — heterodox in an increasingly self-confident Catalonia, self-reliant and upwardly mobile — has influenced his politics; a strange mix of liberalism, Spanish centralism and opportunism.
He started out firmly on the right, first as a member of the PP’s youth wing and then from 2006 as a Ciudadanos member of the Catalan Parliament, standing alongside PP deputies in opposition to a proposed ban on bullfights (calling critics hypocrites for hunting, fishing and eating foie gras while opposing the corrida).
Though today he claims his favorite book is “Playing the Enemy,” an account of Mandela and the 1995 rugby world cup (the basis of the film “Invictus”), sources in Ciudadanos claim it used to be “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s libertarian bible. The high point of Rivera’s flirtation with the right was the electoral pact between Ciudadanos and Libertas, a Euroskeptic outfit bankrolled by Declan Ganley, an outspoken Irish tycoon, at the European elections in 2009.
Quite what this move meant is a topic of intense debate in Spain today. To Rivera’s fans it was an act of necessity. To his critics (particularly Catalan secessionists) it was a glimpse into the party’s reactionary soul.
This period was one of stagnation for Ciudadanos. At the 2010 Catalan election it won just three of 135 seats, no more than in 2006. Then the eurozone crisis struck. Unemployment soared, particularly among young Spaniards. Corruption engulfed the PSOE government and the PP one that replaced it. The apparent failure of the “post-transition” democratic order rendered previously tolerable abuses — government work doled out to cronies, the politicization of courts, regulators and academia, slices taken off the massive infrastructure investments partly bankrolled by Brussels — into glaring symbols of an intolerable system. Voters abandoned the two main parties. Commentators started to talk of the “second transition.”
Initially the main beneficiary was Podemos. But then the sheen came off the ponytailed Pablo Iglesias and his radical-left party as its brittle presentation, aggressive methods (like its escraches, direct actions targeting politicians’s homes and workplaces), and links with Syriza put off moderate voters. Ciudadanos — overlooked by the media, deft at organizing public assemblies, active online and critical of the old casta (caste) running Spain — was in the perfect position to scoop them up. The once-fringe party, having attained a crucial advance at the European election in 2014 (now part of ALDE, the main liberal group in the European Parliament), stormed to second place at the Catalan elections in September.
Together these factors brought about what Manuel Muñiz, director of the Program on Transatlantic Relations at Harvard, calls a “psychological shift.” Centrist, middle-class, urban voters started to see Ciudadanos as a credible national party. The reluctance of Rajoy and even, in some cases, PSOE’s Sánchez, to participate in debates has seen Rivera and Iglesias — the two challengers — debate head-to-head. Rivera has used these opportunities to sap some of his rival’s insurgent credentials while branding him a fantasist.
“I respect our soldiers, our police officers, our judges; in contrast with Podemos,” he argued at a recent encounter (following the Paris attacks, Iglesias had declined to sign the government’s “anti-jihadist pact”). The voters, especially younger ones in and around Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, lapped it up.
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Has a mainstream party in a Western European democracy ever achieved such a rapid rise? That Ciudadanos has done so illustrates the historical exceptionalism of Spain in 2015. For at the heart of its rise are three paradoxes.
The first is the success of a rhetorically and economically liberal party in a country with a soggily “Rhineland” establishment. Despite the rich intellectual history of liberalism in Spain — from the Cádiz Constitution in 1812 to the writings of José Ortega y Gasset in the early 20th century — the credo has failed to dominate the country’s politics.
In the Civil War, liberals tended to support the Republican government, yet were overshadowed by the struggle between anarchists and communists. They were suppressed under Franco but despite a brief flowering after the dictator’s death under Adolfo Suárez, Spain’s first democratic prime minister, were then marginalized. Union, Progress and Democracy, a reformist party launched in 2007 by the philosopher Fernando Savater and others, never made much of an impact.
Yet today a professedly liberal party — now championed by European grandees like Guy Verhofstadt — is being talked of as the next government of Spain. It advocates the liberalization of drugs and prostitution. It wants to relax the rigid labor market with a “single contract” (designed to break the divide between casual labor and permanent employment). It wants to cut corporation tax from 30 percent to 20 percent and to lower top income taxes to 43.5 percent. Rivera likes to insist that ordinary Spaniards should not pay “rich people’s tax rates.” His intolerance of red tape and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism is more reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon world than the Latin one.
Behind this is opportunism. Studies by CIS suggest that the country increasingly self-defines as centrist (if not “liberal,” a word by which Ciudadanos refers to itself privately but is still somewhat toxic). To occupy this space in Spanish public life is to surf the wave of history.
Yet there is also principle. Rivera is advised by the intellectuals of the Nada Es Gratis blog (echoing a quote — “nothing is free” — by Milton Friedman) and in particular its founder, Luis Garicano, a Chicago-educated economist now at the London School of Economics. The Ciudadanos program for Spanish society is similarly liberal. In the words of Francisco Andrés Pérez, a key author of its foreign policy, it wants “institutions that reflect society.” Its mission, he explains, is to bring a stagnant political class in line with a dynamic population. He points to Spain’s diplomatic service; stuffed with political appointees and the scions of grand families, it needs an injection of meritocracy.
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The second paradox is that a party from Catalonia is sweeping Spain as its home territory bids for independence. In September, ahead of parliamentary elections there, I watched a Podemos rally in Barceloneta, an old working-class quarter of the Catalan capital, as representatives of Iglesias’ party (agnostic about secessionism) were bombarded with hostile questions about the region’s future.
Rivera and his followers take a different path, harnessing popular dissatisfaction with the stitch-ups between PSC (the Catalan branch of PSOE) and CIU, Catalonia’s centrist, pro-independence party. In particular they have done so among those residents of the Barcelona agglomeration with ancestral links to other parts of Spain.
This has seen Ciudadanos tarred in Catalonia as a hard-right bastion of the Madrid establishment, a caricature it has done too little to fight. As such, it has been thrust into debates about what Spain’s “territorial integrity” should mean; the fiscal nature of its federalism; and the sort of settlement that might calm tensions in a country of multiple languages and identities dominated by Castile and its tongue.
The third paradox is that a party whose politics are distinctly vague can thrive in a country whose modern history has been binary. Spain has a tradition of polarization. According to Antonio Machado, of the generation of writers influenced by the loss of Spain’s last major colonies in 1898, there are “two Spains”: one that dies and another that yawns. This Manichean credo went on to define the country that went to war against itself in 1936.
Even when the dictatorship ended and a post-ideological social liberalism swept across Madrid in the orgiastic “Movida Madrileña”— epitomized by Pedro Almodóvar — its politics were firmly rooted on the republican side of the old rift. In 2008, I was struck by the sheer ideological self-confidence of the liberal-left crowd that filled the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a grand old Republican haunt in Madrid, to cheer the victory of Barack Obama.
But Ciudadanos spans left and right. It wants drastic constitutional reform, yet commands the support of swaths of the establishment; it melds a pro-market approach to work with a commitment to extending paternity leave and redistribution. If it has a party-political heritage, it is that of the Third Way.
Rivera’s call for Spain to create wealth before it divides it, his praise for “flexicurity” policies, his faith in education and his talk of the “working middle class” amount to a classically Blairite, or Clintonesque, attempt to wriggle free of the old class-based politics.
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The sheer oddness of Ciudadanos is best understood through its contrast with Podemos. It is hard to overstate how much Spain’s other insurgent force loathes its usurper. One Iglesias staffer described Rivera to me as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” At a conference in Oxford I was taken aback when a distinguished Barcelona-based academic told me that Ciudadanos was a put-up sponsored by the companies of Spain’s leading stock index.
Even Iglesias has appeared nervous of the Catalan upstart and their bid for the territory of political renewal: At a debate in Madrid he boasted that his MEPs gave away a portion of their salaries and expenses. Rivera retorted that it was “populist” to judge “good and bad by how much you earn.”
The basic difference between the two is that Podemos wears its ideology on its sleeve. At its rallies fly the flags of the Second Republic. Its main reference points are in the old, two-way history of Spain. “The future has an ancient heart,” as Iglesias likes to say, quoting Carlo Levi. Ciudadanos, by contrast, gets points merely by rejecting the old divide.
Many consider this posture vacuous. Yet Ciudadanos has cut through to the soul of consumerist, urban Spain. Its program responds to a sense of insecurity about Spain’s development. In a country that — with its modern architecture, gender-equal cabinet and legalization of gay marriage — had been compared to Scandinavia during the pre-crisis Zapatero years, it was a blow to be lumped with the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), Europe’s basket cases. Rivera taps into this; never happier than when setting out plans to drag Spain northward. He hails the English language, the Danish labor market, the Swedish parental leave regime, the German electoral model and Finnish education.
The success of Ciudadanos has arisen because it has hitched incrementalist, technocratic ideas about the state to the rhetoric of a radical break with the status quo. To Spaniards used to a corrupt consensus, this seems worth a gamble.
One way of grasping Ciudadanos’ strengths and weaknesses is to compare Rivera’s roots with those of the other leaders. Rajoy’s background is in the austere, celtic northwest, deep in the conservative heartland. Sánchez, with an academic career in Brussels and at a private university in Madrid, epitomizes the strongly pro-European but ultimately establishment PSOE. Iglesias came to politics from the Bauhaus-influenced University City, the campus of the Complutense University of Madrid still pockmarked by bullet holes from Madrid’s great stand in 1936.
By contrast, Rivera’s base is in the internal-migrant outskirts of Barcelona, a place with little fixed abode in Spain’s ideological history. Neither firmly Castilian nor Catalan, neither rich nor poor, the town of Vallès is that Spain not encumbered by political baggage. In a country where history hangs heavily, that attracts as many voters as it repels.
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If Ciudadanos does well on December 20, Europe’s politicos will look for broader lessons. Such attempts could prove futile. The party is the product of distinctly Spanish circumstances, in particular Spain’s complicated relationship with — even rejection of — its past.
It is much too soon to say what long-term effect Rivera will have on Spain’s politics. Any party that can attract such a spread of Madrid life to one event inevitably contains deep tensions. Several alternative futures present themselves. Ciudadanos could become a split-the-difference party like Britain’s Liberal Democrats. Down that way lies electoral oblivion.
Or it could usurp the PP as the main party of Spain’s right, a free-market force shorn of moralistic finger-wagging, with Rivera as Spain’s answer to George Osborne. Or it could become the voice of Spain’s center-left, a Renzi-ite mix pushing PSOE toward Podemos. Or it could fall as quickly as it rose and end up a historical footnote.
Whatever happens to Ciudadanos, its success to date contains a moral, at least, for European centrists of all shades: Such parties, whether notionally left or right, should be willing to challenge everything that is wrong about the established order in the countries.
Ciudadanos may collapse or it may soar. But its stratospheric rise in such a short period of time should leave politicians in little doubt as to the appeal of “institutions that reflect society.” Therein, surely, lies the route to power in the 21st century.
Jeremy Cliffe is the Bagehot columnist at the Economist.