Regional political parties are springing up across rural Spain and banding together under the platform “Emptied Spain,” in an effort to push the big-city elites who dominate Spanish politics to address the challenges facing rural inhabitants. As rural populations have dwindled in recent decades, so have public services in those regions, causing a vicious cycle of depopulation and decline. Inspired by the success of the tiny political party “Teruel Exists,” which has leveraged a single swing vote in parliament to advocate for rural issues, these parties are preparing to run in the next general election to establish a stronger voice for rural regions in parliament.
Significantly, the parties that make up Emptied Spain identify as neither left nor right. This is a novel approach in Europe, where disenchanted residents of the countryside have largely been seen as easy targets for right-wing populists and their outrage machines.
In some cases, it is true that rural Europe has provided fertile ground for populists railing against “out of touch” urban elites. The Brexit referendum, in which 53 percent of British farmers and 55 percent of rural communities in England voted in favor of leaving the EU, is perhaps the most notable—and widely cited—example. Yet a closer look reveals a more complex story in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the Leave vote was much less consistent and included pockets of Remain votes.