González, Felipe

González, Felipe
b. 1942, Seville
   Politician
   Prime Minister from 1982 until 1996, Felipe González is one of the most emblematic political figures of Spain's new democracy. If Adolfo Suárez is regarded as the politician who contributed most to the Spanish transition to democracy, González is arguably the politician who has contributed most to the consolidation of democracy.
   Trained as a labour lawyer in Andalusia, he was one of the so-called "young turks" of the interior who in 1972 finally wrested control of the Socialist Party (PSOE) from the exiled leadership, based in Toulouse since 1947. Henceforth, González, with the support and help of his closest friend Alfonso Guerra, built the Socialist Party into a formidable electoral machine. It was a political marriage made in heaven: whilst González became a high-profile charismatic leader, Guerra worked diligently behind the scenes to establish a unified and disciplined party which would ensure the PSOE's electoral dominance throughout the 1980s. Following a landslide victory in 1982, González's first term in office represented a large leap forward in the process of democratic consolidation. Although in many respects the Socialists" policies were simply building upon the groundwork laid by the previous UCD administrations under Adolfo Suárez, their overwhelming popular and parliamentary majority gave them a mandate and authority to tackle longstanding problems, which the previous minority UCD governments had lacked. Thus, the armed forces, the regional question, political violence and the economy were all policy areas tackled with remarkable success and acumen by the Socialist administration.
   In 1986 González easily won a second term in office on the back of an economic boom for which his first administration had laid the foundations. Domestic policy successes were matched by recognition on the international stage as Spain became reintegrated into the international community by first joining the European Union in 1986, and subsequently NATO in that same year. Spain's longstanding political and economic isolation was thus brought to a close.
   However, despite these evident successes both domestically and internationally, 1986 marked the turning point in the PSOE's fortunes. González was increasingly accused of governing in a high-handed manner which fostered an atmosphere of corruption and abuse of power. In particular, the Socialists" policy volte-face on NATO and their orchestration of a referendum campaign in 1986 in which they unashamedly abused their position in power and the resources at their disposal to secure Spain's entry into NATO, marked the starting point of the Socialists" precipitous descent from the moral high ground in Spanish politics which they had previously occupied unchallenged.
   González himself appeared to become increasingly bored by domestic politics during his second administration. He was frequently absent from parliamentary sessions despite his undisputed oratorical skills and ability to dominate debate. Perhaps foreseeing a future career on the European stage, he preferred instead to adopt the role of international statesman, a role he played with considerable aplomb. Consequently, González declared that the 1989 election would be the last he would fight at the helm of the Socialist Party. By this stage, however, the leader and the party had become so intertwined that it was difficult to separate the one from the other. González had become the PSOE's electoral trump card to the extent that, for much of the electorate, a vote for the Socialists was as much a vote for Felipe as it was for the party. González's decision to stand down unleashed such a bitter struggle within the party that he was eventually forced to retract his decision.
   González's third administration continued the downward trend in the PSOE's fortunes with the loss of its absolute majority by one seat. Alfonso Guerra's resignation as Deputy Prime Minister in early 1991, following a corruption scandal involving his brother Juan Guerra, was evidence of a growing personal and ideological rift between himself as deputy leader of the Socialist party machine which remained committed, in theory at least, to socialism, and González as leader of a Socialist government which had drifted to the right.
   Thus, the early collaboration between González and Guerra which was key to the organizational unity and discipline of the PSOE throughout the 1980s, was replaced by an increasingly bitter division, both personal and ideological, between the two politicians. This division was crystallized after the 1993 general election when, following an election campaign which González himself person-ally masterminded, the Socialists won a surprise fourth term in office. This time, however, they were forced into coalition with the Catalan and Basque regional parties after falling short of an absolute majority by sixteen seats. The more orthodox leftwing "guerrista" faction within the party headed by Guerra was duly purged from the 1993 government and the liberal market-oriented faction within the Socialist Party, the so-called "renovadores" ("renewers") led by Carlos Solchaga, minister of the economy from 1985 to 1993, and backed by González, gained ascendancy. More seriously, the Socialists" fourth administration became mired in corruption scandals which even cast doubt on González's personal integrity. The most serious accusation against the government was of involvement in a dirty war against ETA terrorists during the 1980s, masterminded by a shadowy organization called GAL which allegedly received government funds. Although Gonzá-lez escaped personal charges, the taint of corruption undoubtedly became an obstacle to his future career hopes, despite being widely tipped to succeed Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission in 1995. In addition, accusations of corruption undoubtedly played a part in the Socialists" defeat in the 1996 elections which brought to a close their period of political dominance.
   The PSOE's share of the vote remained substantial enough, however, to allow them to claim the election as a "sweet defeat". Soon after this election, González stood down as party leader. The legacy he has left his successor is a mixed one indeed. However, the accusations of corruption and abuse of power which characterized the Socialists" last term in office should not detract from González's stature as a politician and a statesman or his undisputed contribution to the consolidation of democracy in Spain.
   Further reading
   - Fuente, I. (1991) El Caballo Cansado: el largo adiós de Felipe González, Madrid: Temas de Hoy (a journalistic account of the political career of Felipe González).
   - Tusell, J. and Sinova, J. (1992) La decada socialista: el ocaso de Felipe González, Madrid: Espasa Calpe (a well-documented account of the role played by Felipe González during the Socialists" first decade in power).
   GEORGINA BLAKELEY

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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