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Ethnic minorities 'under-represented' in Spanish politics, despite country's healthy attitude to foreigners, says Pathway to Power
thinkSPAIN , Friday, March 4, 2016

RESEARCH on European MPs and their nationalities has found foreigners are under-represented in Spain more than anywhere else in the EU – despite Spaniards' attitude to immigrants being one of the most welcoming and friendly on the continent.

In an ideal world, politicians across a country would be a demographic mirror of the population with the same split of men and women, expats and nationals, age ranges, disabilities, sexual orientation, couples and families versus single people, transgender and other diverse elements of the nation in the same proportion in Parliament as they are in real life.

But in terms of foreigners, the further south in Europe MPs are based, the more likely they are to be white natives rather than immigrants and/or black residents.

In Spain, the first-ever black MP – part of the left-wing independents Podemos – gained a seat in the December elections.

Rita Bosaho (pictured) was born in Equatorial Guinea and has a Spanish passport, and said at the time how she believed 'ethnic minorities' should be more numerous in Parliament.

Spain's foreign-born population is very similar to that of The' Netherlands and the UK – between 10% and 13%, allowing for those which are not registered on a census – but unlike Spain, both the British and Dutch Parliaments have at least one in 10 foreign members.

Foreigner numbers have fallen in Spain in the last decade, but this is as much to do with long-term non-EU expats taking Spanish citizenship as with those leaving the country.


Nationalised or second-generation migrants only allowed to stand for Parliament in Europe

Leicester University's politics and international relations professor, Dr Laura Morales, says the percentage of men, women, natives and immigrants in Parliament does not tell the public anything about gender or nationality, but is in fact an indicator of how well a government is able to 'represent diversity within its population'.

She took part in the Pathway to Power study, which looked into the extent to which politicians were a reflection of their society in Spain, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Belgium and The Netherlands.

In all these countries, only citizens are allowed to vote in national elections, and those who wish to run for Parliament are required to take nationality – meaning they need to have lived in the country for a given number of years or have been born there.

This means the 'foreign' MPs counted by the research were, in practice, nationals – those with one or both parents native of a different country, but who held citizenship for the country where they were in Parliament, and who were described as 'citizens of immigrant origin' or CIOs.

Greece and Italy fared little better than Spain – with foreign-born populations of 8% each, just 1% and 2% of MPs were nationals of foreign origin, although in Spain this is 1% out of an estimated minimum of 10% of the country's headcount.

Whilst Germany has fewer non-German-born nationals, which justifies its low number of CIOs in Parliament, France and Belgium were about halfway between Spain, at the bottom, and The Netherlands, at the top.

Both France and Belgium have always, traditionally, been destinations for migrants – particularly Algerians in the case of the former as a result of the 1962 exodus.

Of all the MPs in The Netherlands, 13% were foreigners who took Dutch citizenship or whose parents, or one of, were born abroad, and for the UK, the figure sits at 11%.


Spain's second-generation expats 'not old enough to be MPs yet'

But the actual dates of European countries' largest migrant influxes have more of a bearing on the results than politicians' willingness to accept diversity.

Immigration to Spain did not start in earnest until the 1990s, when the then fast-developing land became attractive to countries with historical political or language ties – such as Morocco and nations in Latin America – whose natives sought work in Spain, and northern Europeans keen to retire to the sun or buy holiday homes they gradually spent more and more time in.

Eastern Europeans also make up some of the biggest national groups in Spain, largely helped by their entry into the EU and the opening of borders elsewhere on the continent.

This means European migrants largely emigrated to Spain in their capacity as EU citizens, who have had no need to switch their passport for a Spanish one, and with mass migration being a relatively new phenomenon, second-generation foreigners are still relatively young and only just reaching voting age.

But the UK and France are home to third or even fourth-generation migrants who appear on their censuses as British or French respectively – post-war settlers, the early influx of Jamaicans to Britain during the 1950s, especially due to the UK's nursing crisis, and later Ugandan-Asians in the mid-1970s mean children born to these immigrants are now aged between 30 and 60 or even older – and some have adult grandchildren.


More female ministers in Spain

Those foreign-born or second-generation migrant MPs in Spain and Belgium are more likely to be female, and in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany tend to be younger, the research found.

And they nearly all end up on centre-left or left-wing parties rather than representing the right, and are usually university graduates.

Their ongoing under-representation in key roles or management positions appears to be due to their having had less experience in politics, particularly with their own parties, than native MPs.

As for Spain, however, the likelihood of change is greater – always assuming enough nationalised or second-generation migrants are around and prepared to stand for Parliament – according to Leicester University researcher Daniela Vintila.

She says attitudes to foreigners in Spain are among the healthiest and most welcoming in Europe, but as yet none of the left-wing parties has gone all-out to try to attract ethnic minorities, unlike Italy and Greece.

Spain's former president, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (socialists) was the first to insist on an equal split of male and female ministers – and Spain does, in fact, have one of the highest numbers in the world of females at the top end of the political scale.


'Cosmopolitan' local councils in Spain

Although not in regional and national Parliaments, ethnic diversity is frequently very well-represented at local council level in Spain.

Expats are allowed to vote in local elections, meaning they are also allowed – and more likely to – run for council seats.

Local councils in highly-diverse and cosmopolitan areas generally strive much harder to gain the foreigner vote by promising services and facilities specifically aimed at expatriates from all walks of life, and actively seek to get foreign nationals on their lists.

This is equally true of right-wing parties such as the PP, as it is of the left-wing outfits such as the PSOE (socialists), United Left (IU), and Podemos.

Ironically, expatriate councillors are in the unusual position of representing a party they are unable to vote for at national level because of not being Spanish, and have no chance of rising through the ranks to represent their party at regional or national level.




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