Our Spanish sister-party Ciudadános is using “Community Politics” to build up support


Two weekends ago (from Friday March 31st to Sunday April 2nd) a group of D66 party members from The Hague, with council leader Robert van Asten and national Foreign Secretary Tjeerd Dierckxsens from the party executive, visited our brand-new Spanish sister party Ciudadános in Madrid, where their constituency party received us. They turned out to be very similar to your average D66/LibDem man or woman.

Spain was the first European country ever where a small progressive majority of  anti-Napoleon politicians convening in Cádiz (protected by Wellingtons expeditionary force) promulgated a truly liberal Constitution in 1812; but when the Bourbon king returned from French captivity in 1814 he canceled all that and restored absolutist rule. Liberal rule was temporarily restored in 1820-1823, and later on for longer periods of time during the 19th century. But Conservatism (working hand in glove with the Catholic Church and the monarchy) and Socialism (starting in 1870-1900) proved stronger than the small, urban, liberal minority. Liberalism disappeared from Spanish politics in the 20th century, especially because of the polarization culminating in the Civil War (1936-9) and Franco’s dictatorship (1939-’75).

In Franco’s last years a pragmatic group of technocrats started re-opening Spain to western influences, using mass tourism (Torremolinos) as a way to earn the money necessary for social and infrastructural modernization. Immediately after Franco’s death the king (restored on the throne) installed technocrat Adolfo Suárez to lead a modernizing government and restore/implant western democracy. Suárez created a center party UCD to govern de “Transition to Democracy”; his government legalized the Socialist and the Communist Party.

Spain requested and got admission to the EU and NATO.  Around 1982 the transition neared completion and the UCD started splintering. The Socialists (PSOE) and the Conservatives (PP, founded by another Francist technocrat minister, Fraga), with extensive corporatist networks around them, started dominating Spanish politics; the Communists (IU) became the third party, forever in opposition. Suárez resigned from the UCD government to found a social-liberal party CDS; but although a useful modernizing force he (nor his CDS) never got massive traction, and succumbed to the millstones PSOE and PP pulverizing all others.

As everybody knows, both PP and PSOE proved to be structurally corrupt in their party networks; combined with the 2008-2016 financial crisis, this opened political space where a far-left party Podemos and the social-liberal Ciudadános (“Citizens”) appeared. After two elections (2015-2016), the PP only stayed in government by getting support from Ciudadános, who according to the newspaper El País altered the Budget proposal for next year (the Spanish learning coalition politics).

Podemos is blemished because prominent cadres helped Chavez in ruining Venezuela, and is refusing to work with either PP or PSOE.

Ciudadános (started in Catalonia) meanwhile is building a national party organization. The D66 The Hague delegation witnessed them organizing protest in a Madrid suburb about the lack of public services there.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • paul barker 14th Apr '17 - 5:14pm

    Thanks for that fascinating piece, apart from some vague stuff about the Civil War I knew very little about Spanish History.

  • UK Liberal Democrats should have nothing whatsoever to do with Ciudadanos. Far from being liberals, Ciudadanos are a motley collection of odds and sodds who are propping up the government of the far right criminal PP.

    Readers may assume that the PP is a conservative party like our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. The PP is the party of the Spanish right, which is very hard right indeed. They practice something akin to democracy in order to sustain EU membership, but they do not actually believe in it. They would much prefer to revert to dictatorship.

    It was the PP that built the Itoitz Dam in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court. This infamous act of environmental and cultural vandalism and ethnic cleansing was perpetrated out of spite towards the Basques. It was the PP that in 2003 closed a daily newspaper, Euskaldunon Egunkaria, and imprisoned and tortured its editorial board on entirely trumped up charges (and still refuse to pay compensation for false imprisonment and state theft). It is the PP that refuses to permit Euskal Herria and Catalonia to hold referenda on independence. It is the PP that seeks to annex and colonise Gibraltar against the express wishes of the people who live there.

    What is the Ciudadanos position on dam building, closing newspapers, imprisoning and torturing journalists on trumped up charges and independence referenda in the two Spanish occupied colonies of Euskal Herria and Catalonia? What does Ciudadanos have to say to the Gibraltarians?

    The Basques, Catalans and Gibraltarians want nothing to do with Spain, with or without the PP and its sidekicks, Ciudadanos.

  • I’m not sure where this shows they are using community politics though?

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Apr '17 - 12:41am

    I’m not really a fan of Ciudádanos because of their refusal to support a referendum for Catalonia. I think it’s very dangerous to adopt such policies and results in the sort of violence that we had in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

  • Councillor Mark Wright:

    You appear to be defending the closure of a newspaper and the imprisonment and torture of its editorial board on entirely trumped-up charges. Please will you clarify if this is the case?

    Do note that no evidence whatsoever was presented to the court to justify the claim that Euskaldunon Egunkaria had links to ETA.


  • paul barker 15th Apr '17 - 9:57am

    @Sesenco/Eddie Sammon.
    We are strongly in favor of holding The UK together, do we really have the right to tell The Spanish to let their Country break up ?
    The PP policy looks fairly succsessful to me : ETA have finally given up, without the concessions that The IRA got.

  • Paul Barker:

    The United Kingdom allowed the Scots to hold a referendum on independence. The Spanish state will not allow the Basque and the Catalans to hold similar referenda.

    ETA enjoys minimal public support. They kill people and their economic policy is Stalinist. There is no need to give them concessions. Euskal Herria is a prosperous European nation that wishes to live in peace with its neighbours. The Euskaldunak do not want ETA.

    Modern Basque nationalism is exclusively peaceful, as you can see here:

  • Tony Greaves 15th Apr '17 - 2:33pm

    I don’t think I would support Ciudadanos who seem more like soft Tories?

  • Cuidadanos are unlikely to be forgiven for the nasty little deals they have done with PP both nationally and in various regions. They also supported the corrupt PSOE regime in Andalucia.
    As far as Catalonia is concerned, I see nothing wrong with allowing them to vote on their future in the same way that the UK allowed the Scots to vote. I strongly suspect that the outcome would be similar…
    Paul Barker and Mark Wright, I hope you will look further into Spain’s recent history and not rely on this rather biased commentary by someone who appears to have little first-hand experience of the country.
    There really ISN’T a “liberal” party in Spain. I suppose that the closest would be Podemos which has certainly been heavily slandered for its supposed links to Hugo Chavez, but which certainly appears to be doing a lot more in the way of “community politics” at a local, town hall level than any of the other parties…

  • Eds: Ciudadanos does not have an accent. When a Spanish word ends in ‘os’, the stress is on the penultimate syllable by default (i.e. the ‘a’ in ‘-anos’). This means that no accent is necessary to show where to place the stress.

  • Good luck to them. But if the heading is correct and they’re “using community politics to build up support”, we should not celebrate it and they will gain no long-term benefit from it. Any party can take up local issues. Community politics aims to change the distribution of power by empowering local communities. It’s not about telling people that Cllr Average fixes potholes for you.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright “in 1978 Spain and all its regions *overwhelmingly* (88%) approved by referendum a constitution that reserves the question of succession to the whole nation. It is simply and legally unconstitutional for a region to hold such a referendum.”

    There is a common theme to: Scottish independence, Brexit and Spain; namely, the questioning of democratically made decisions made by previous generations and whether agreements reach in 1707, 1975 and 1978, still have currency and thus should bind current generations.

    I think there are two clear parts to this debate, firstly the nature of the obligation such agreements place on future generations and secondly, what is changing in our society where people no longer feel the need to honour agreements of their forefathers.

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