(b. 25 Feb. 1953).
Prime Minister of Spain 1996–2004
Born in Madrid, in his youth he became associated with the anti-democratic and anti-royalist elements within the Falange. He obtained a law degree at the University of Madrid in 1975, and became a government tax inspector. In 1975 he joined the right-wing Popular Alliance (AP), a party composed primarily of former supporters of Franco. He was elected to parliament in 1982, and was the AP's general secretary 1982–7. He was regional president of Castille and León, until in 1989 he became Vice-President of the newly named Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP). As President of the PP from 1990, he was initially on the right of the party, but soon realized that he needed to move to the centre ground, then occupied by the popular González. He thus accepted many of his opponent's past policies, and focused instead on the need to reduce government corruption and provide it with a new impetus.
On this platform he won the 1996 election, albeit with a slender majority. Although possessing less charisma than his more flamboyant predecessor, Aznar turned his apparent rectitude and competence into major political assets. He helped his party to its best electoral performance ever in the 2000 elections. Aznar was committed to resolving the issue of Basque separatism by tough action against the terrorist organization ETA, while outlawing its political wing, Herri Batasuna. He also opposed greater regional autonomy for Spain's regions, notably Catalonia. Perhaps his most important legacy in domestic politics consisted of continued strong economic growth, as Spain grew by over 3 per cent per year (1996–2004), while unemployment fell from 18 to 11 per cent. In foreign policy, Aznar entered a close relationship with George W. Bush and Tony Blair. In 2003, Spain became Bush's most important European ally next to Britain and Poland in the Iraq War, with Spain sending over 1,000 troops to the defeated Iraq.
With the significant exception of his foreign policy, Aznar was extremely popular, but he threw his party into disarray when he announced that he would not seek a third term in office. Following the Madrid Bombings, in which his government was duplicitous about the perpetrators, Aznar was unable to prevent the defeat of his party in the 2004 elections.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).