Betting on the Rural World: A Regional Promise

Environment - November 25, 2023

The Popular Party (EPP) and Vox (ECR) reached an agreement in the southwestern region of Extremadura. VOX will join the new coalition led by President María Guardiola. A strong conservative government with VOX’s participation is crucial to bring real, positive, transformational change to Extremadura and indeed Spain. This is especially true given VOX will head the Rural Affairs and Forest Management portfolio of the new government.

The negotiation process that got Vox this position was nothing short of tense. Guardiola may have hoped to snub VOX by giving this seemingly menial position. Ironically, this is a crucial portfolio, more so in the current Spanish and European context. At a national and regional level, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) has impoverished the primary sector during Pedro Sánchez’s tenure as Prime Minister. The consequences of his failed policies were exacerbated by devastating droughts and the Government’s inaction on that front.

Furthermore, at the European level, the EU Parliament is set to vote next week on the Commission’s proposed Nature Restoration Law. This proposal aims to “restore nature and increase biodiversity” on 20% of the landmass of the European Union. This policy would come at the expense of productive agricultural land. It would bring devastating consequences for the European primary sector. The Spanish agricultural organisation ASAJA has already warned this policy would lead to 36% of Portugal and 40% of Spain’s surface becoming unproductive.

Although the centre right EPP party appears inclined to vote against the law, there are divisions within the group. Some MEPs might be willing to defy the official party line. The EPP has a track record for voting in favour of ideologically charged policies pushed by the green-left and its lobbies. Their opposition to this law this time may just be a calculated tactic to attract votes ahead of the EU Parliament elections next year.

Conservative voters should not be fooled by this strategy. Having a strong conservative voice, in the form of VOX and other ECR parties—in European, national and regional institutions—is essential to ensure that agricultural interests are taken into account and not sacrificed on behalf of environmentalist dogmas. Only a strong conservative voice can safeguard the subsistence of the primary sector and steer policymaking to guarantee food security and national sovereignty.

The PP-VOX coalition agreement in Extremadura includes policies that steer this complex issue into the right direction, to support agriculture and the rural world. Among these measures, the soon-to-be governing parties have promised to “defend the rural world, its traditions, its way of life and its economic activity which is essential for the development of Extremadura and Spain”. They have also promised to “make social and economic development compatible with the protection of nature”, “implement forest policies that facilitate traditional activities like agriculture which help to retain rural population and generate wealth”.

The PP and Vox also promised to “request a reform of green policies and the CAP to prevent losses and excessive costs for producers”, the latter of which other regional governments and Spain’s government have thus far failed to secure from the Commission.

We can only hope that VOX becomes kingmaker in the government formation process after he upcoming July 23rd Spanish general elections. Much like in the Extremadura elections, the centre-right PP will predictably win the general elections but will require VOX’s support to govern. Only VOX’s influence in the future government can guarantee that the policies that have been agreed in Extremadura can be replicated at the national level, to put an end to the failed socialist policies that have squeezed the primary sector and rural communities in Spain over the last 5 years.