Meet Ciudadanos: the party dreaming of a Spanish remake of Macron’s success

On the night of the second round of the French presidential election, the formally social-democratic now liberal-progressive Spanish party, Ciudadanos, invited supporters of Emmanuel Macron to their HQ in Madrid to follow the results.

There French and Spanish flags were draped alongside the EU’s Stars of Unity banner.

The young enthusiastic members of the Spanish party cheered the victory of Macron as if he was one of their own.

Ciudadanos (translated as Citizens) was born in Catalonia in 2006, but jumped into the national political spotlight in 2015, after winning half a million votes and two seats in the European Parliament a year earlier. Since then, the young party has made decisive inroads in several regions such as Madrid and Andalucia and claimed 32 seats in the national parliament,

after two polarized and inconclusive elections.

Like Macron’s movement ‘En March’, Ciudadanos revolves around its charismatic leader, Albert Rivera, a lawyer and former bank employee born in Barcelona 37 years ago. Young, handsome and liberal. A debate club winner, a champion swimmer. He built a reputation defending Spain’s unity against Catalan nationalists in Catalonia’s regional Parliament.

An Europhile. He defends flexible labour laws and economy

without compromising the welfare safety net and public services. A trimmed state structure to avoid political corruption and nepotism and increased support for entrepreneurs.

Ciudadanos has been branded by its opponents as the white-label of Mariano Rajoy’s Conservative Party PP. Like Macron, Rivera has been accused of being the candidate of the stock-listed companies and banks. He has come under fire for not having a clear ideology.

However, Ciudadanos has managed to turn this apparent weakness into a strength.

Namely the politics with no flag. Neither right, nor left. This new politics offers something different from the traditional left or right leaning parties.

The allows for governability in national and regional parliaments regardless of the political makeup of the cabinet.

The focus is on particular measures rather than big policies.

The party looks for shared values instead of ideological dogma.The strategy appears to be working.

The latest polls suggest Ciudadanos has increased its support by 2.5% and Albert Rivera is considered one of the most reputable politicians in the country. Still he is a long way from election victory.

Ciudadanos, is the Spanish ‘En Marche’

That is why Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France was seen as a significant event by Ciudadanos.

The party, which changed its platform from ‘social-democrat’ to ‘progressive liberal’ in a painful congress in February, is now exactly where it wants to be.

As Mariano Rajoy’s Peoples Party is continually rocked by corruption scandals and the Socialist Party in the midst of an identity crisis, the Spanish liberals dream of stealing votes from the right and left, just like Macron did in neighboring France.

Right after the French candidate won the presidential election Albert Rivera published an article in Spanish paper El Mundo labeling Macron’s victory as “the confirmation that a liberal progressive and European centre is the best political option to face the challenges of the XXI century and its deep economic and social transformations”.

Rivera and Ciudadanos applaud the similitudes with Macron’s En Marche movement and ignore those who claim they want to jump on the new French president’s bandwagon. Cooperation between the parties started a while ago.

On October 2016, six months after he created En March, Emmanuel Macron met Luis Garicano, responsible for the economic program of Ciudadanos and European MP Javier Nart in Brussels.

The Spanish party members flag up the friendship between Mr Garicano and Macron’s economy advisor Jean Pisani-Ferry and they claim he actively contributed to En Marche’s economic program.

Lat week spirits were high at the Ciudadanos Parliamentary group in the Spanish capital.

On the fifth floor in the parliament building the computers align like sewing machines, ready to stitch a new new future for Spain.

Like the other new kids on the block Podemos, Ciudadanos has managed to attract a number of young professionals willing to engage in politics without having to climb the highly hierarchical infrastructure of traditional parties.

They were busy preparing a debate on electoral reforms later in the day and a piece of legislation on animal welfare. In the chamber Ciudadanos MP Toni Roldán was defending further subsidies for the long-term unemployed workers.

Toni Roldán, responsible for Ciudadanos policy programs and advisor of Luis Garicano wore a smart suit and running shoes. He looked more like the CEO of a startup company than a politician. Educated in London and Brussels in Economics and Politics, he represents the image of the politcs of youth.

He could not conceal his excitement about Macron’s “impressive” success. “There are a lot of similitudes (between En Marche and Ciudadanos)”, Roldán told Euronews. “En Marche, like Ciudadanos, started as a citizens movement and it has overtaken the limitations and constrains of the old politics and the traditional parties. Macron is 38-years-old, the similitudes with Rivera are clear and they are there for all to see. And in terms of the political project, he he added, ‘‘it is evident that the Conservatives and the Socialists are not capable of providing the answers to the challenges that are fuelling the rise of populism.”

“There is a political ground, that is pro-European and it is opposed to populism. It is no longer about left or right, but about open societies or closed societies, about protectionism or globalisation, about diversity or xenophobia. This social liberalism is the new brand. Now we have to articulate it and explain it more extensively to the Spanish people”, he argued.

Ciudadanos looks at Macron’s success and how they can emulate it in Spain, a country highly polarised between right and left. “There a lot of things we can learn. Obviously they have won and we haven’t done it yet. En Marche has built a very powerful grassroots movement and we maybe need to work more on that. We perhaps focused too much on ‘policies’ and didn’t pay enough attention to ‘politics’. Macron succeeded creating a more emotional and open platform. He managed to build an emotional story telling for France”.

Macron previous experience of office as a minister in François Hollande cabinet is something Ciudadanos leadership still lacks. Benefiting from the presidential image of Macron is one of the main reasons for Ciudadanos to associate with En Marche. Albert Rivera and Emmanuel Macron are not friends, yet!

Their teams are working on a meeting as we speak. “They will meet soon”, Roldán said. And of course, there will be a whirr of cameras.

Contributed by Jaime Velázquez
View on euronews