Felipe González Márquez

(b. 1942)

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(b. 5 Mar. 1942).

Prime Minister of Spain 1982–96

Early career

Born in Seville, he studied law in Seville and Louvain (Belgium), where he joined the social democratic movement. He became a professor of labour law, and active in the outlawed Spanish Socialist Party in 1965, advancing to become its executive secretary in 1970. In 1974, he became first secretary of the restored Partido Social Obrero Espan˜ol (PSOE, Socialist Workers' Party of Spain), which was legalized after Franco's death in 1975. He built up a strong party organization with close links to the trade unions. At the 1977 elections the PSOE became the second largest party in parliament. A relentless critic of Suárez, he benefited from the latter's inability to cope with the country's economic problems, from numerous and increasing divisions among the right, and from the uncertainties hanging over the political system after the military coup attempt of 1981.

In office

Thanks to his overwhelming charm and charisma, the PSOE won an absolute majority in 1982. Under his leadership, the party won the elections of 1986 and 1990 with absolute majorities, while from 1994 he was forced to rule with the help of the Catalan and Basque nationalists. He successfully sought to integrate the country into the EEC, and subsequently became one of the major proponents of further European integration. As such, he benefited from his friendship with the socialist veteran, Brandt, and from increasingly good relations with Kohl. He promoted further autonomy for the various regions, so that by 22 February 1983, there were seventeen autonomous regions with their own parliamentary institutions. He liberalized the country's social laws (e.g. on abortion), and improved labour conditions through the introduction of a forty-hour working week.

In the mid-1980s, González tried to consolidate the improvement of the economy (and reduce state debt) through a tighter fiscal policy, which triggered the opposition of much of the labour movement. Throughout his government, he has sought to end the violence of the Basque terrorist organization, ETA, through the dual strategy of tough police action and negotiations. Excessively brutal police action against ETA and allegations of a subsequent cover-up led to growing opposition to his increasingly autocratic style of leadership in the 1990s. He lost the 1996 elections to Aznar owing to the unpopularity and the exhaustion of the PSOE after fourteen years of rule. Yet he had lost none of his personal appeal, which alone ensured a very respectable showing for his party, against all predictions.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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