|Spain Country Studies index|
Spain - Political Developments, 1982 88
Political developments, 1982-88
Following its triumph at the polls in October 1982, the PSOE, under the leadership of Felipe Gonzalez, formed the first majority one-party government since the Civil War. The increase in voter participation, which rose from less than 68 percent in 1979 to 80 percent in 1982, seemed a significant indication of citizen affirmation of the democratic process. Municipal and regional elections, held in May 1983, confirmed the popularity of the Socialist government, which obtained 43 percent of the vote.
A significant factor in the Socialist victory in 1982 was the popular perception that profound economic and social reforms were long overdue. Previous governments had not been able to deal effectively with these issues, in part because of the need to focus on political and constitutional questions. Whereas most Spaniards had been willing to defer their hopes for economic improvement and for liberalized social policies in the interest of stabilizing the fledgling democracy, they became increasingly impatient for the reform process to reach their daily lives.
The economic reform policies implemented under the government of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE) government were pragmatic rather than ideological. Although stressing the need for reform, the government did not call for traditional socialist measures, such as the nationalization of industry, a significant redistribution of income, or massive state intervention in the economy. Instead, it pursued a program of economic austerity in order to lower inflation and raise productivity.
As part of an attempt to achieve greater efficiency in the industrial sector as well as in the civil service, the government eliminated many jobs. This had the short-term effect of adding to the nation's unemployment problem, and it met with strong opposition from the trade unions, although it gained support for the PSOE from the commercial and the financial sectors. The government's economic policies resulted in a moderate reduction in inflation and an increase in the rate of economic growth, but unemployment worsened, and strike activity increased 30 percent in 1984. In June 1985, there were massive protests against the proposed reforms in the social security system and the reductions in pension benefits. Nevertheless, the idea of streamlining the economy was viewed by most Spaniards as a positive step toward economic recovery, in spite of the fact that its costs were borne largely by the working class.
Although the Socialists' moderate approach to economic issues entailed a relatively slow rate of change, significant progress was achieved in other important areas, most notably that of military reorganization. In October 1983, Minister of Defense Narcis Serra i Serra announced plans for large-scale reductions in the size of the military, which was to be reoriented, toward national defense rather than internal security. Legislation passed in early 1984 placed the armed forces under the direct control of the prime minister and the civilian minister of defense. Increased subordination of the military to the civilian government was made more palatable to the military hierarchy by a major increase in military spending to modernize the army's equipment and weaponry.
The Socialist government also brought about significant reforms in the educational system. Education and Science Minister Jose Maria Maravall Herrero introduced legislation, passed in the spring of 1984, providing for increased state control over private schools that received government subsidies. The law also gave parents a greater role in the appointment of teachers and in establishing the curricula at these schools. This had a major impact on society, because in the late 1980s approximately one-third of students attended such schools, which usually had a religious affiliation. The Roman Catholic Church joined forces with the right-wing Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular--AP) to mobilize a large antigovernment rally, protesting the new educational policies, in November 1984.
A difficult problem facing the Socialist government was the continuing menace of Basque terrorism. Although democratization had brought an unprecedented degree of autonomy to the country's communities, there was increasing frustration in the Basque and the Catalan regions with the protracted process of transferring powers to the regional governments. The PSOE's concurrence with the implementation of the controversial LOAPA, passed by the UCD government in 1981, led the Basques and the Catalans to consider the Socialists as proponents of centralization. Terrorist activity by the militant Basque Fatherland and Freedom (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna--ETA), the Basque separatist organization founded in 1959 by a splinter group of the Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco--PNV), continued unabated in Spain in the year following the election that brought the PSOE to power. This increased violence, in itself a destabilizing factor, also threatened Spain's hold on democracy by tempting right-wing forces to contemplate a coup in order to restore order.
In an effort to control terrorist activity and to calm the military, the Socialist government introduced strong antiterrorist legislation, which received widespread popular support. Nevertheless, the violence continued. Moreover, the central government received a setback in its antiterrorist campaign in 1984, when the Supreme Court overruled a decision by the Ministry of Interior to ban the political party Popular Unity (Herri Batasuna--HB), with which the ETA Military Front (ETA Militar--ETA-M) was associated, from representation in either the regional or the national parliament.
Prospects for a lessening of tension between the Basque Country and the Socialist government appeared to brighten when a legislative pact was signed in January 1985 between the president of the Basque Country and the Basque affiliate of the PSOE. This agreement included provisions to expedite the transfer of powers to the autonomous institutions and called for a joint offensive against terrorism. In spite of vigorous antiterrorist measures taken by the central government, however, bombings and assassinations continued.
While dealing with such demanding domestic concerns as terrorism and the need for economic and social reform, the Socialist government was also taking steps to develop a more active international role for Spain. The country had experienced ostracism under Franco because of the highly undemocratic nature of his regime. After taking office in 1982, the Socialists made vigorous efforts to gain entry into the European Community (EC). The government hoped that membership in the EC would bring not only economic advantages but also international recognition of the country's successful transition to democracy.
The question of Spain's entry into the EC met with repeated delays in 1983 and in 1984, largely because of the opposition of France. After protracted negotiations, a Treaty of Accession was signed in the summer of 1985, and Spain formally joined the EC on January 1, 1986.
Although the PSOE government had pursued the goal of EC membership with single-minded zeal, it was ambivalent with regard to participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Socialists had long advocated neutralism as part of their ideology; moreover, latent anti-Americanism was widespread in the population.
The Socialists had opposed Spain's decision to join NATO in May 1982, and part of their election platform in October of that year was the promise of a referendum on the question of remaining in the alliance. After coming to power, they soon changed their minds and concluded that some form of membership in NATO was in Spain's interest. This left Gonzalez with the ticklish task of campaigning for a favorable vote on an issue he had previously attacked.
In order to gain approval for his new pro-NATO position, Gonzalez attached conditions to membership. Spain would be part of NATO in a political sense but without military integration; furthermore, nuclear weapons were to be banned in Spain. In an effort to appease the left wing of his party, the prime minister promised that the number of United States troops in Spain, whose presence reminded many Spaniards of previous United States ties with the Franco regime, would be reduced. The promised referendum was held on March 12, 1986, and in spite of public opinion polls indicating strong anti-NATO sentiment, the people voted to continue membership in the alliance.
Gonzalez moved to consolidate the gains his government had made through EC membership and the successful NATO referendum by calling for national parliamentary elections in June 1986, four months ahead of schedule. The PSOE benefited from the fragmentation of both its right-wing opposition and the communists, and it retained an absolute majority in the general elections, winning 184 of the 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies--18 fewer than it had obtained in the 1982 elections, but still enough to retain control.
The official opposition was embodied in the conservative Popular Coalition (Coalicion Popular--CP), which included Manuel Fraga Iribarne's AP, the Popular Democratic Party (Partido Democrata Popular--PDP), and the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal-- PL). The CP failed in its attempt to attract the moderate vote by moving to the center. Fraga's abrasive personality and Francoist past contributed to the defeat of the coalition, which began to disintegrate soon after the election. Several leftist groups and communist splinter parties formed an electoral coalition, the United Left (Izquierda Unida--IU), to participate in the election, which obtained slightly better results than the left did in 1982.
The surprise feature of the 1986 elections was the resurgence of the center vote, indicated by the tripling of the ballots cast for the Democratic and Social Center (Centro Democratico y Social--CDS). Its leader, Suarez, continued to be a popular figure on the Spanish political scene. Given the disarray at both ends of the political spectrum, the CDS had a chance to develop into the major opposition party.
In spite of the PSOE's electoral victory in June 1986, dissatisfaction with the policies and the actions of the Socialist government had been mounting, and it increased even more as the year drew to a close. The early months of 1987 saw the strongest outbreak of social unrest in Spain since the 1930s. Demonstrations by university and secondary school students were followed by increasingly violent labor strikes. Doctors and teachers joined railroad workers and farm laborers in protesting the low wages and the high unemployment that had come in the wake of the government's economic austerity policies. Contributing to the growing unrest was an escalation in Basque terrorism and popular revulsion over a bomb that caused the deaths of many innocent civilians. Polls indicated a decline in confidence in Gonzalez, whose immense popularity had heretofore been unaffected by such vicissitudes.
Elections held in June 1987 at the municipal and the regional levels, as well as those for the European Parliament, confirmed the declining support for the Socialist government. Although the PSOE remained the largest single party, it obtained only 37 percent of the municipal vote, down from 43 percent in 1983. The June elections resulted in a further erosion of the AP, which was under the new leadership of Antonio Hernandez Mancha. The CDS emerged, strengthened, as the fulcrum of the center, although it was not yet in a position to present a challenge to Socialist dominance.
Dissatisfaction with the PSOE government was also evidenced within the Socialist party itself. In October 1987, Nicolas Redondo, leader of the Socialist-controlled General Union of Workers (Union General de Trabajadores--UGT), resigned his seat in parliament in protest against the government's 1988 budget. He criticized the government for favoring employers' interests over those of the working class.
Most businessmen approved of the market-oriented economic policies of Gonzalez, which had succeeded in reducing the annual inflation rate, from 15 percent in 1982 to below 5 percent in 1987, and in raising annual economic growth rate to 4.5 percent. The price paid for these accomplishments, however, was an unemployment rate of 21 percent, the highest in Europe, and an increasingly alienated labor force. The UGT joined with its communist counterpart, the Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras--CCOO), in staging joint protests in October and in November 1987 and a general strike in December 1988.
At the Socialist party congress held in January 1988, Redondo and other left-wing socialists accused Gonzalez of betraying the workers and of forsaking the socialist cause. They urged a relaxation of anti-inflation measures in order to allow for an increase in wages and in pensions. They also called for greater investment in public works and for a concerted effort to deal with the unemployment problem.
In contrast to the growing dissatisfaction with the government's economic policies, there was widespread approval when Gonzalez decided to demand a reduction of the United States military presence in Spain, in keeping with the pledge he had made at the time of the NATO referendum. In December 1987, the government notified the United States that it would have to remove its seventy-two F-16 fighter bombers from Spain by mid- 1991. The two countries reached agreement in principle in January 1988 on a new, more limited base agreement to last eight years.
Spanish popular opinion also responded favorably to indications that there might be hope for an end to the terrorist violence that had claimed more than 750 lives in a 20-year period. In November 1987, the major political parties signed an antiterrorist pact in which they pledged to work peacefully for the resolution of conflicts in the Basque Country, they condemned all forms of violence, and they called on the ETA to lay down its arms and to work through democratic channels. In February 1988, the government accepted an ETA proposal for a sixty-day truce and for the opening of formal peace negotiations. A major factor in bringing the ETA to hold talks was French cooperation, beginning in mid-1986, in hunting down the movement's leaders and in extraditing those who had sought asylum in France. The negotiators faced formidable obstacles, most notably the conflict between Basque demands for self-determination and constitutional provisions for the armed forces to uphold Spain's territorial integrity. Nevertheless, by mid-1988 prospects for an end to violence were brighter than they had been in many years.
After five and one-half years in office, the PSOE could take credit for significant accomplishments, in spite of rumblings on the left. Observers generally conceded that the austerity measures carried out by the government, while far removed from socialist concepts, were necessary in order to revive the economy, and they hoped that a healthier economy would ultimately resolve the unemployment problem. More in line with socialist policies were the government's measures to lessen the Roman Catholic Church's control of Spain's schools, to ease censorship laws, and to legalize divorce. The PSOE's foreign policy initiatives, gaining EC membership and reducing dependence on the United States, also received popular approval. The democratic process appeared to have taken root.
More about the Government of Spain.
You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:
Spain - Political Developments, 1982-88
Spain Country Studies index
Country Studies main page