Fears of a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and hardline nationalism have awakened in Spain after thousands participated in a Sunday rally at Madrid's Vistalegre Palace by the far-right VOX party. But who is VOX and should Europe prepare for the rise of populism in Spain?
Set up at the end of 2013, VOX aimed to capitalise on what it saw as a void in the Spanish political system, Dr Andrew Dowling of Cardiff University told Euronews.
VOX gained momentum last year as part of a broader rise of far-right populist parties in Europe, said Dowling. At the Sunday rally, Javier Ortega, the party's general secretary, outlined the party's first objective: "Spaniard's first". He listed a hundred proposals, which included revoking the gender violence law, deporting illegal immigrants and outlawing independence movements that could break up Spain.
However, the fact there was already two conservative parties Partido Popular (PP) and Ciudadanos meant that VOX will find it difficult to create a place for itself in the Spanish political spectrum, added Dowling.
So what void in Spanish politics is VOX trying to fill?
Stronger nationalist message to regional dissidents
Because of disenchantment with how the PP and Ciudadanos handled the Catalan crisis, one of the key mandates of VOX was to abolish the regional government's solution that's been in place for more than 40 years.
"They want strongly [a] Spanish nationalist message as a challenge to what they perceive as the Catalan threat," said Dowling.
Strong anti-immigration rhetoric
VOX is "firstly an anti-immigration party, which I think it's pivotal because there hasn't been an anti-immigration party in the Spanish parliament for over 20 years," said Dowling.
Neither the PP or Ciudadanos are particularly anti-immigration.
However, Dowling believes VOX would have a hard time mobilising anti-immigrant sentiment in Spain because "anti-immigrant sentiment has always been pretty weak in Spain for a variety of reasons."
Unlike other European countries, immigration in Spain is only about 20 years-old and immigrants in Spain are not competing for the jobs held by Spaniards, noted Dowling.
"It's not the kind of sense that you might get into some northern European countries like Britain, where immigrants are thought of threatening (local) jobs," he said.
Mobilising around anti-Islamic sentiment
VOX is the only party in Spain that's using anti-Islamic sentiment to gain votes.
"Like other right-wing populist parties in Europe, it's going to mobilise around what it perceives the Islamic threat against Christian values," said Dowling.
Does VOX have any chances of entering the Spanish parliament?
According to a September poll by Spanish pollster Sociometrica for Spanish news website El Español, it found that if elections were held right now, VOX would obtain 1,8% of the votes and one seat in parliament.
But the real question, says Dowling, is whether there is room for three right-wing parties in the current Spanish political system.
"You got two parties (PP and Ciudadanos) that are neck and neck, so it is very hard to see if there will be space for a third (party) at the moment," he said.
The party's influence in shaping Spanish politics would depend on a number of variables, added the researcher.
Because anti-immigrant sentiment is not too strong in Spain, Dowling believes VOX might have more luck gaining votes from concern around the Islamic threat.
"Where VOX will try to mobilise support, in my view, is around the cultural question — that's where the Islamic question comes in."
However, anti-Islamic sentiment is only limited to certain sectors of Spanish society and not widespread, added Dowling.
So can the far-right party go far?
Dowling doesn't think VOX has any chance of going too far right now because "it's already a crowded (political) market".
"If you already have two right-wing parties, I don't see how there's space for a third. In the Catalan question, the PP and Ciudadanos are already competing with each other as to who is the most hard-lined."
However, the rally showed there was a certain "appetite" for a party like VOX, added Dowling.
VOX thinks that the conservative government in power at the time of the Catalan crisis a year ago was quite weak and they want to show they have a more hard-line on the problem than the rest, said the researcher.
Should people in Spain be worried about the rise of far-right nationalism?
In a sense, there's already hard-line nationalism with the PP and Ciudadanos, so yes, I suppose Spanish people should be worried, said Dowling.
But politics in Spain are not near changing dramatically in the short term he added.
"VOX still has a limited capacity to grow," he said.