• Farmers are protesting across Europe, and the far right is championing their cause. In reality, the protectionist narrative of the protestors clashes with the neoliberal economic agendas of some examples of the extreme right, explains Guillermo Fernández-Vázquez, author of ‘What to do with the extreme right in Europe. The case of the National Front’.

    We are seeing widespread protests among farmers across Europe. How is the far right exploiting these protests?

    Almost all European far-right groups are proposing what they call ‘protecting’ the sectors of the economy which they consider strategic from a national or purely electoral point of view. They complain that the EU imposes too many controls, which makes the primary sector uncompetitive in respect to third countries.

    What is the situation in Spain?

    In Spain it is quite striking: [far-right party] Vox, in its attempt to become the party of the farmers, is the one most publicly highlighting the demands of the agriculture sector, which complains about competition from North Africa. In the last elections, Vox electoral posters in the countryside, apart from the general slogan ‘Vote what matters’, there was another that said ‘Vota Vox, vota campo’ (Vote Vox, vote for the countryside). 

It was very obvious that Vox wanted to be identified as a party of the farmers. But this is a protectionist narrative that clashes with the liberal economic measures in their party programme.

    How does this duality between protectionism and liberal economic measures clash?

    The European radical right (with the exception of France), has put much more emphasis on cultural identity than on economy. The economy was an excuse to talk about their main problem: immigration. And this is still happening.

    For example, in Castilla y León, where Vox holds the vice-presidency, on the one hand they publicise this protectionist discourse and at the same time they push for classically neoliberal measures in parliamentary votes, such as eliminating subsidies to employers and trade unions. 

In reality, it is a project that is still quite incoherent economically. It creates difficulties between the more clearly liberal wing and other discourses that sometimes emerge. There is a discordant polyphony.

    Some youngsters are worried about the state of the planet in 2100 ― and, according to the climate predictions, this won’t look good. Environmentalist Andreu Escrivá advises on how to cope with climate anxiety.

    A striking 82% of the young in Spain has suffered some level of eco-anxiety, as noted in a report presented to the Parliament. How much are the young affected by this phenomenon?

    There is very little data on this issue. There are several studies on the concern on climate issues, but most are not segregated by age or with a specific question about the psychological effect. But I would be very cautious: everybody agrees that the climate has to be protected, but the problem appears to be how to change our behaviour.

    Nevertheless, experience shows that concern about the climate is growing, and the most worried groups are the youth and, curiously, the elderly. Perhaps intergenerational alliances can be forged. 

    How does this eco-anxiety in the young manifest itself?

    In frustration, anger, fear. There are two types of this: anxiety and discomfort provoked by seeing the future we are heading towards, and anxiety because of the fact that climate change is an enormous problem which requires global and immediate action, but nothing is done. The latter is more common among the young. They feel this should be a global problem, but the pressure is put on individual behaviour, especially on the younger generation.

    The story of climate change is going to be the story of their lives. But what worries me most is that it also generates apathy, and a feeling that “nothing can be done”.

    So what are the options to help the young tackle this anxiety?

    Just today, a girl writing her thesis wrote to me, genuinely worried about what to do. She wrote to the Spanish government, and other institutions. I don’t have perfect answers, but I recommend doing everything as a collective. To scrape off the individualism of climate blame. When your forces are exhausted, it’s not a failure, because you have like-minded colleagues who keep fighting. And vice versa.

    Jon Worth has probably travelled every train route in Europe. Founder of the ‘Trains for Europe’ platform and a regular commentator on the subject, he has a broad perspective on the opportunities and problems of European rail connectivity.

    Europe has, in general, fairly well-developed rail networks. Is this a good starting point for a truly connected continent?

    We don’t really have a European rail network. We have 27 national railway networks with some international connections between them. There are lines that cross borders, all of them of lesser quality, and less used. And this happens more or less at every single border crossing between European countries. There are even cases where one train stops before the border, and the other train starts after the border, but a few kilometres away, with nothing in between. That’s the key problem: to have a European mindset to think about trains.

    But there are technical problems: track gauges are not always the same in bordering countries, there are different electrical systems, and national railways are centred on capital cities.

    Partly. But the technical problems are less important than the mentality and coordination problems. For example, in Spain, which has a different gauge from France, you have to make sure that the timetables are coordinated so that passengers can get to the station and take the next French train. There are simple solutions for these technical problems if the companies are willing.

    With all the talk of going green, and the backlash against short-haul flights, is there a window of opportunity to revitalise rail transport?

    There is a great opportunity. Especially for leisure travel or weekend excursions. Hungary is a very good example, there has been a massive increase in trains going from Budapest to the countryside, instead of people taking cars. 2020 was a record year for rail ticket sales, I think 2023 will be an even bigger record year.

    The problem is that the demand is there, but the question is whether the railway companies will be able to meet this demand. I am not entirely sure. In France, for example, their high-speed trains have fewer seats than a decade ago.

    The Spanish transition from dictatorship to democracy was mainly non-violent, but many unresolved issues are returning to the public debate, especially concerning what justice means.

    In 1975, the dictator Franco dies. Spain starts its transition to democracy. Why was it necessary to enforce a transition without seeking formal justice for the past? 

    The Spanish transition was highly conditioned by those who carried out the process: the heirs of the dictatorship. There were some concessions [to democracy and transitional justice], but they were not too extensive, and the idea was to keep the former power brokers protected. For example, the amnesty law: it was planned to investigate the victims during the dictatorship, but the perpetrators also used it to cover themselves. This sets the tone for the Spanish transition.

    Abroad, people often talk about Spain as a model of peaceful transition. I’m quite critical of that idyllic vision, but [the political protagonists of the transition] did what could be done at the time. It wasn’t about a “scorched earth” policy, and it is important to know the balance of power at that moment. Perhaps criticising the transition from the current perspective is a bit too much. But I also think that over 40 years more could have been done.

    What exactly could have been done?

    There are some issues pending: for example, a Truth Commission. Transitional justice has three dimensions: truth, justice, and reparation. We think a lot on the justice dimension, on punishing the guilty, but the dimension of truth in Spain has not been properly developed at the time. I believe there has never been a serious debate about it.

    How do you see the Spanish transition treated as a “model” for other conflicts?

    It shouldn’t be a model in a sense that this is something worthy of imitating. When talking about the Spanish transition as exemplary, it seems to me that it is part of a flawed speech on the equality between the sides like: “atrocities were committed by both sides” or “the best thing is to forget everything”.

    When I was a child, I remember my father jokingly asking me: “Can you list the Twelve Gothic Kings of Spain?” Of course, I couldn’t, as I’d never had to learn them in school. However, he could still recall their names.

    This list of Gothic Kings has come to encapsulate how Spaniards view their education system. Many believe that the traditional methods of education, based around the teacher and focusing on memory and content, is better than the modern system, centred on students and creativity, with an emphasis on processes rather than results.

    Of course, our idiosyncrasies and our history don’t help. We look at the Spanish PISA results, and at those of Nordic countries and think, ‘Why can’t we be like them?’ But we have a different education system in every region, as well as different regional languages, and regulatory changes occur almost as often as changes of government.

    But while I may have been educated in a system that no longer prioritises memory as much as my father’s, we tend to ignore the broader picture. The past is no better, and we have made a huge leap forward: before, education was mandatory only until the age of 14, and only 6% reached university level. Now, it is compulsory to stay in school until the age of 16 and the number of university students continues to grow.

    In fact, the two models shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, as each has its benefits. Contrary to the narrative that the younger generations are reading less, data show that the reading rate among Spaniards has increased by 5.7 points in the last ten years, with a particular increase among adolescents.

    Despite the narrative that teachers are now too lenient with students, allowing them to pass courses with ease, Spain’s dropout and grade repetition rates are still among the highest in Europe. This is the biggest problem the country has to solve in education.

    Another issue is that more teenagers want to go to university and study in their home country, but then leave to work abroad. Maybe the education system is functioning well, but there are few opportunities afterwards.

    Should Spain consider a degrowth in tourism? This is the view of many people who are angry about drunken holidaymakers taking over cities and their attractions, as this bitter tweet from a Barcelonian shows.

    Spain, once a country where tourism meant money and development, is reaching a tipping point. It’s not that it doesn’t want tourists any more, but some places have reached a limit.

    In certain locations the government is now calling for ‘quality tourism’ instead of ‘drunken tourism’, which activists say is a euphemism for ‘rich people tourism’ and won’t solve the problems that the tourism industry causes to nature, cities and rising house prices.

    The blame lies not with the tourists (according to one report, even the tourists in Barcelona think there are too many of themselves), but with the local administrations: they opt for ever-increasing numbers of tourists, instead of the less popular measures of restricting business.

    What can they do? Control the time visitors can spend at monuments and sights, refuse to grant new licences for rental accommodation and, in extreme cases, limit the number of tourists.

    In the general elections on 23 July the Spanish right party won the most seats in the Parliament, but without a majority to form a government. This leads to a deadlock or the re-launch of a left-wing-led government with the support of a myriad of regional parties. Jaime Coulbois, Spanish political analyst, explains why.

    So the results in the Spanish elections surprised many, including the pollsters. What happened?

    Before I start, a parenthesis: on Sunday, I was positive about an absolute majority for the [right-wing] People’s Party (PP) and [far-right] Vox. But it seems that the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) government has been able to resist: the PSOE’s management has borne fruit, and the fear of political pacts with the far-right Vox helped the PSOE to get the “tactical vote”.

    If the nationalists parties like Bildu (País Vasco independence supporters, far left) or the Catalan nationalists had made strong statements during the campaign, it would have made things more difficult for PM Pedro Sánchez. Without that, and with the nationalists seeming more rational than Vox, it’s more complicated for the right to get its narrative about the nationalists across.

    When Pedro Sánchez won in 2019, he heralded a ‘red wave’ in Spain and in Europe. But after his defeat in the local elections in May, analysts talked of a ‘change of cycle’ to the right that didn’t materialise.

    There is no contradiction in the fact that there is a social tendency towards the right, even the far right, but it’s still not enough to win a majority to form a government, especially in a polarised society like Spain. We are seeing attitudes that we would never have seen a few years ago: from Spanish nationalism to Francoist remembrance.

    How was this avoided in Spain, when we see it all around Europe?

    This discourse that previously was hidden has increased in public. But that’s not incompatible with the general public opinion. Spain is an exceptionally tolerant country regarding LGBT rights, and the immigration problem is very different from the rest of Europe: our migration does not have the strong cultural, linguistic and religious barriers that are in other European countries, and tensions with immigration may not have surfaced yet.

    In understanding police violence and its psychology, the United States has more expertise than its European counterparts. Paul Hirschfield is a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, who has studied police accountability.

    Is there a psychological aspect of being part of a police force that explains police violence?

    Police violence can often be explained by group psychology. Violence is also a procedural reaction: it is coerced, encouraged or enabled in different situations.

    Many aspects of police activity evoke an “us and them” mentality. First, the police are an isolated, paramilitary organisation. Its performance is often judged by adherence to procedures and incentives of which the public has little knowledge. The police often feel that the public, especially their critics, do not understand their work.

    The everyday reality of unrealistic or ambiguous policies that inevitably lead to police misconduct, combined with external scrutiny, fosters a culture of teamwork and solidarity but also makes officers more prone to cover up for each other’s mistakes.

    Is it possible to avoid this mentality?

    When it comes to policing disadvantaged or oppressed communities, eroding the boundaries between the police and the public can help. The isolated paramilitary structure may be useful for some purposes (like reducing corruption and increasing internal accountability) but it does little to foster empathy across cultural barriers and promote trust from the public.

    What would you suggest to tackle the phenomenon?

    This would require time and significant changes in centralised police forces. The preferred approach is the Scandinavian. The long training (three years in Finland, for example, as opposed to the short training in the US) at highly selective national police academies provides an opportunity to fully instill a spirit of national service and equality in police officers (not to mention ample training in tactical alternatives to violence). I don’t think it is a coincidence that in France, where issues of police and inter-community hostility are so prominent, police officers receive relatively short training, averaging nine months.

    “This country is a great tomb. When you hear political leaders saying that our great national poet was Federico García Lorca, they forget to say that he is a forced disappeared. This is significant. If the wounds are not cauterised, it is impossible to heal them. Generating truth, justice and reparation are basic elements for the country to move forward.

    One of the great causes of the extreme polarisation we are experiencing in Spain is that these wounds have never been closed. And the problem is not only silence, but the lack of memory, or the false memory of what happened. Because to generate transparency is not to generate revenge.”

    Miguel Martínez del Arco is the son of the woman who spent the longest time in jail during Franco’s dictatorship, a sentence of almost two decades. Against the voices that say the war is a ‘closed chapter’ of Spanish history and the country should ‘move on’, the victims claim that this is not possible without memory.

    Is it possible to “kidnap” an entire organisation? The Spanish government accuses the opposition of seizing control of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ).

    The body, which oversees the judiciary in the country, has been operating on an interim basis for more than 4.5 years, or 1,643 days, as parliament cannot agree on the election of its new members.

    The mandatory reelection needs a 3/5 majority in both houses of the Spanish parliament, meaning the two main parties, the governing Socialists and the Conservatives, must agree on the 20 members. Until then, members appointed from nine years ago are (mostly) staying in their posts. Such a decision might not happen before the snap elections this July.