From utopia to reality: Spanish politics and the revolutionary ideas of a newcomer

While in many leading countries around the world like Germany, France and the United States, the conservative and traditional political parties seem to be gaining popularity, in Spain, citizens are asking for the opposite.

With the struggling economy and huge amounts of corruption, people are sick of the traditional political parties and some alternatives have started to rise up.

A clear example is Ada Colau, the new mayor of Barcelona since June 2015. She started her political career collaborating within the organization Platform for People Affected by Mortgages.

PPAM was created in 2009 when there were many evictions due to the mortgage clauses after the 2008 financial crisis when the Spanish property market collapsed.

Barcelona's new mayor Ada Colau. Credit:

Barcelona's new mayor Ada Colau. Credit:

After this, she decided to run for the mayor of Barcelona and surprisingly won. She is the first woman to take over the office. She comes from an average lower middle-class family, lives in a rented house, moves around the city without a bodyguard and takes the public transport to work.

She rose to power after being voted by the lower class and immigrants. She has created the party “Barcelona en Comú.” Her political program was based on a participatory democracy to make Barcelona more impartial and focuses on the lower middle class. The main points in her initial plan included guaranteeing basic social rights, reducing privileges and eliminating projects that do not go towards a common benefit.

These ideas are similar to the Spanish party “Podemos”, a left-wing populist party formed by intellectuals like college professors and philosophers that was created to fight unemployment and inequality. In the last elections, they came in third with 20.6 percent of votes, just after the other two main parties who had 28.7 percent and 22 percent. Together they are trying to take control of Spain as a whole.

Now, after eight months, what has been the impact of having a mayor with limited experience and revolutionary ideas? Have all her initial plans been carried out?

Let’s go through some of the most impacting proposals that she came up with.

After four years of success, Colau decided not to install the ice-rink in “Plaça Catalonia” this year saying that it was economically and environmentally unsustainable. Instead she introduced some Christmas activities, which unlike the ice-skating were free and therefore affordable for kids of all social classes.

Francesc Sobirana, lawyer at Baixiroca and collaborator in many social causes as a lawyer tells GYV, “The ice-skating rink was had no sense in Barcelona city, there are many other sustainable activities that can define the city in a better way. It would seem incoherent to me if a social and left-wing parliament spent money on this with the context of crisis and inequality that we are living.”

Colau also gives importance to the regulation of tourism, as she claims that tourism is getting out of control and affecting the daily lives of locals. To do so, she is reducing the number of permits to build new hotels and other touristic accommodations. Similarly, after they had recently approved a law for shops and businesses to open some Sundays, she decided to take that back, because this only benefits the consumer, especially tourism.

However, tourism is the main economic pillar of Barcelona, and many people who own restaurants, stores and hotels are discontent about this. Elisabeth Roldan, owner of “El Nou Celler” restaurant in the center of the city tells GYV, “with the economic situation that Spain is living, the last thing we need is for tourism to decrease. A great percentage of my clients are tourism while still being able to maintain my local clients, and this city is moved by tourism.”

Colau has recently presented a plan to reduce by 14 percent the appearance of advertising platforms around the city arguing that the city suffers from visual contamination. This will result in a reduction of 12 million euros of income for the government. Could you imagine the mayor of New York City trying to reduce the led screens in Times Square?

Another controversial proposal affected the Mobile World Congress (MWC), an international event with great impact. Colau initially said she would not allow the event to take place, refusing to put the money into it. This seemed worrying to some people because this event brings 90,000 visitors, creates 13,000 workplaces and makes Barcelona the center of technology and innovation for some days. Many people say that although having her in power seemed a little risky, she has not carried out all of the plans that she originally made. What has ended up happening with the MWC is that it will start in Barcelona next week and every hotel room in the city is booked.

After all one thing is clear, that fighting against economical power, changing the way of dealing with politics and carrying out certain radical moves is not easy and is still a little far from reality. Colau has three years ahead of her to change things and some say that in this time she will become the first president of the independent country of Catalonia.