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Felipe González

Felipe González

Felipe González Márquez (Spanish pronunciation: [feˈlipe ɣonˈθaleθ ˈmaɾkeθ], born 5 March 1942) is a Spanish lawyer, professor, and politician, who was the Secretary-General of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) from 1974 to 1997, and the 3rd Prime Minister of Spain since the restoration of democracy, from 1982 to 1996. To date, he remains the longest-serving Prime Minister of Spain to be freely elected.

González joined the PSOE in 1964, when it was banned under the Francoist regime. He obtained a law degree from the University of Seville in 1965. In 1974, the PSOE elected González as its Secretary-General after a split in its 26th Congress. After Franco's death and the beginning of the Spanish transition to democracy, González obtained a seat in the Congress of Deputies after he led the PSOE candidacy in the 1977 general election, but lost to Adolfo Suárez.

After the PSOE victory in the 1982 general election, González formed his first majority government, backed by 202 out of the 350 deputies at the Congress of Deputies, and led the Government of Spain for thirteen and a half years after three additional victories in the 1986, 1989 and 1993 general elections. In 1996, González lost the election to José María Aznar and the People's Party and was elected to the Congress of Deputies for the last time in the 2000 general election, from Seville.

The Most Excellent

Felipe González
Prime Minister of Spain
In office
1 December 1982 – 4 May 1996
MonarchJuan Carlos I
DeputyAlfonso Guerra
Narcís Serra
Preceded byLeopoldo Calvo-Sotelo
Succeeded byJosé María Aznar
Secretary-General of the
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party
In office
28 September 1979 – 21 June 1997
PresidentRamón Rubial
DeputyAlfonso Guerra
Preceded byCaretaker committee
Succeeded byJoaquín Almunia
In office
13 October 1974 – 20 May 1979
PresidentRamón Rubial(1976–1979)
Preceded byRodolfo Llopis
Succeeded byCaretaker committee
Leader of the Opposition
In office
4 May 1996 – 21 June 1997
Prime MinisterJosé María Aznar
Preceded byJosé María Aznar
Succeeded byJoaquín Almunia
Member of the Congress of Deputies
In office
29 March 2000 – 2 April 2004
In office
2 July 1977 – 5 April 2000
Personal details
Felipe González Márquez

(1942-03-05)5 March 1942
Seville, Spain
Political partySpanish Socialist Workers' Party
Carmen Romero López
(m. 1969;div. 2008)

Mar García Vaquero (m. 2012)
EducationUniversity of Seville

Early life

González was born in Bellavista, Seville, the son of a small dairy farmer. He has a sister called Lola González Márquez, married to Francisco Germán Palomino Romera, by whom she has two sons, Felipe and Germán Palomino González.[1] He studied Law at Seville University and started his career as attorney specialising in labor law. While at the University he met members of the clandestine socialist trade union Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). He also contacted members of the PSOE and started taking part in the party's clandestine activity, necessary under the dictatorship of Franco. During that time he adopted the alias Isidoro and moved to Madrid. He was elected Secretary General of the Party at the Suresnes Congress, in France.

By the time of Franco's death, González had become the most prominent figure among the left-wing of the democratic opposition to the regime, and played a critical role, along with then serving prime minister Adolfo Suárez, in the Spanish transition to democracy. During the Suárez government, General and vice president Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado asked González not to raise the debate of the Civil War and Franquist repression until the death of those of his generation.[2][3]

In the first democratic general election after Franco's death, held in 1977, the PSOE became the second most-voted for party, and this served González to appear as a young, active and promising leader. However, he did not win the 1979 election and had to wait for 1982 and the dissolution of the Union of the Democratic Centre party to come into office.

Prime Minister of Spain

Felipe González (right) arriving at Ypenburg Airport with Ruud Lubbers, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, 1985

Felipe González (right) arriving at Ypenburg Airport with Ruud Lubbers, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, 1985

In the 1982 general election held on 28 October 1982, the PSOE gained 48.3% of the vote and 202 deputies (out of 350). On 2 December González became President of the Government of Spain, with Alfonso Guerra as his deputy. He was the first socialist to hold the post since the Spanish Civil War, and his government was the first since then in which none of its members had served under Francoism.[4]

His election was met with tremendous expectation of change amongst Spaniards. Under his government universal and free education provision was extended from age 14 to age 16, university education was reformed and expanded, the social security system was extended and a partial legalisation of abortion became law for the first time, despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. González pushed for liberal reforms and a restructuring of the economy.

On 23 February 1983, the Government passed a law nationalising Rumasa, a private business that included merchant banking interests, on the grounds that it was at the point of bankruptcy and the government needed to protect the savings of depositors and the jobs of its 60,000 employees, a decision that aroused considerable criticism and a judicial conflict over the law that was only resolved, in favour of the government, in December 1986.

Having promised in the election to create 800,000 new jobs, his government's restructuring of the steel industry actually resulted in job losses. When they tried to similarly tackle the debt problems in the dock industry in 1984 the dockers went on strike. The UGT, or General Workers' Union, called a general strike on 20 June 1985 in protest against social security reforms. In the same year his government began a massive privatisation, partial or full, of the 200 state owned companies as well as hundreds of affiliates dependent on these companies.

In the 1986 general election held on 22 June 1986, the PSOE gained 44.1% of the vote and 184 deputies in Parliament. González was elected prime minister for the second time. During this second term, Spain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986. González supported Spain remaining in NATO that same year in a referendum reversing his and the party's earlier anti-NATO position. A general strike on 14 December 1988 completely paralysed the country and caused the Unions and the PSOE left wing to describe González as moving to the right.

On 29 October 1989, he won the 1989 general election with 39.6% of the vote and 175 seats,[5] his third successive mandate. In the First Gulf War in 1991, González supported the USA. From 1991, the PSOE started losing its urban vote in favour of the reformed People's Party. On the other side, events like the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona or the Universal Exposition in Seville helped in consolidating Spain's international image as a modern, affluent country.

On 6 June 1993, González won the 1993 general election with 38.8% of the vote and 159 deputies. His fourth victory was marred by the fact he was forced to form a pact with nationalist political parties from Catalonia and Basque country in order to form a new government.

Towards the end of 1995 there was a debate about whether González should lead the PSOE in the forthcoming general elections. The People's Party intensified its campaign to associate his period in office with a poor economic situation (although unemployment had begun to decline and the economic reforms of the previous decade initiated a lasting period of economic growth)[6] and with accusations of corruption and state terrorism scandals, including allegations of waging a dirty war against the terrorist group ETA by means of the GAL. There was speculation in the press about Javier Solana as a possible replacement, but Solana was appointed Secretary General of NATO in December 1995.

Left with no other suitable candidate, the party was again led by González and in the 1996 general election held on 3 March 1996, they gained 37.4% of the vote and 141 deputies. They lost the election to the People's Party whose leader José María Aznar replaced González as prime minister ("presidente" in Spanish, but not to be confused with the English use of the term) on 4 or 5 May 1996.

The legacy of Felipe González's long mandate left a bittersweet taste: on the one hand, under his tenure, Spain initiated a period of thorough modernisation; on the other hand the scandals that monopolised the news in his last years still preclude a dispassionate consideration of his tenure. His Ministers of Economy and Finance (notably Miguel Boyer, Carlos Solchaga and Pedro Solbes) implemented a vigorous program of economic reforms that included privatisation of public companies such as Telefónica or ENDESA, liberalisation and deregulation of the economy and restructuring of whole industry sectors such as steel or mining which left many people unemployed and created resentment among the working classes and the trade unions. This situation was worsened by the massive influx of female baby-boomers into the labour market, which further increased the unemployment rates.

His cabinets, on the other hand, paved the way to a long period of declining interest rates, low budget deficits and stronger economic growth than the European average. Spain was a founding member of the transition to the single currency (Euro) based on the measures of his last government. Other reforms had also a deep impact on the Spanish economy, such as the extension of a network of highways, airports and the creation of new infrastructures, including the high speed train. Gonzalez-led cabinets were the first to implement a national, comprehensive infrastructure program that included not only public works but theatres, museums, secondary schools. In addition, a comprehensive welfare state was established,[7][8] while improvements were made to social programmes such as pensions and unemployment benefits.[9] A 40-hour workweek was introduced, while entitlement to paid holidays was extended to up to 30 days per year. Pension funds were also established, together with provision for social tourism. In addition, the school-leaving age was raised from 14 to 16, while the number of educational grants was multiplied by eight.[10]

Unemployment protection was expanded [11] and a national education system for children under the age of six was established. Cash benefits in social housing, health care and education were introduced, along with earnings-based benefits for widowhood, sickness, disability and retirement. A Ministry of Social Affairs was also set up, allowing for social services to be decentralised in the early Nineties and to be available to all citizens, rather than only to those with social security.

The pension system was extended to needy people, universal public schooling was expanded from all children under the age of 16, and new universities were established. Healthcare was reformed, creating the National Health Service and the development of primary care medicine based on "health centres" where integral primary care for adults, pregnant women and paediatric patients was provided. When he left office, Spain had the best prepared young generation in history and women had stated coping leadership roles as never before. State run Television Española reached a high level of quality under the direction of Pilar Miró. Private television channels were also permitted in 1990, ending the state monopoly.

Felipe González also secured Spain's entry into the EEC, which the country joined in 1986 and consolidated democratic government. Together with François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, he gave an injection of new life to Europe's public face. He was the sole support of Kohl's drive to a united Germany, counteracting British and French hostility. He also started diplomatic relations with Israel, which had never been established by Franco because of Antisemitism. Due to his prestige, Spain also housed peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis in 1990; these were chaired by President George H. W. Bush of the United States and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

In the fight against terrorism, an intense police campaign secured several victories that left the terrorist organisation ETA severely debilitated. In his earlier years ETA killings totalled dozens per year (the 1987 Hipercor bombing attack in Barcelona alone killed more than 10 people), while in his latter years ETA killed far fewer. During his time as Prime Minister a group called GAL was active as a gangster-style force targeting etarras (ETA members). Several innocent people were killed and the subsequent investigations ended with some police officers and the Minister of Internal Affairs, José Barrionuevo, condemned to jail. The Constitutional Court later ratified the sentence. Among successful operations were the capture of the ETA central arsenal and archives in Sokoa (France) and the capture of the organisation's ruling body in 1992.

However, in the final years of his mandate several cases of corruption, the most notable of which were the scandals involving Civil Guard Director Roldán, further eroded popular support for the PSOE. Nonetheless González and most of his ministers generally managed to leave office with their reputation intact although there had been some singularly unfortunate choices made in the case of some of the lower ranking public servants, according to María Antonia Iglesias (La memoria recuperada. Lo que nunca han contado Felipe González y los dirigentes socialistas, 2003); this author is very close, though, to the PSOE official line, as she served as head of the public TV broadcaster Televisión Española after appointment to the post by one of Gonzalez' cabinets.

Lately, his role as a decisive statesman in the latter part of the 20th century has been recognised. One of his most bitter adversaries, Luis MarÍa Ansón, at the time director of the right wing newspaper ABC and later of the hard right La Razón has stated that Gonzalez "was the best prime minister that Spain had in the 20th century". He also stated that he and many others (mainly newspaper owners and media pundits) started a witch hunt against him, in support of the Popular Party, out of fear that Gonzalez's leadership might last several decades.

After the premiership

Felipe Gonzalez with President Cristina Fernandez at Nestor Kirchner's funeral in 2010

Felipe Gonzalez with President Cristina Fernandez at Nestor Kirchner's funeral in 2010

Gonzalez at the Global Governance event at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City 2012

Gonzalez at the Global Governance event at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City 2012

González ended his fourth term on 4 May 1996. Since September 1996 he has headed the Madrid-based Global Progress Foundation (FPG). At the beginning of the 34th PSOE National Congress on 20 June 1997 he surprisingly resigned as leader of the party. He also resigned from the federal executive committee, though retaining his seat in the Congress. With no clear successor he continued to exert an enormous influence over the party. He was only replaced at the 35th party Congress in July 2000 when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became the leader.

In 1997 he was considered a leading candidate to take over the position of President of the European Commission after Jacques Santer.[12] The position ultimately went to Italy's Romano Prodi.

In 1999 González was put in charge of the party's Global Progress Commission in response to globalisation. The Commission's report formed the basis of the closing declaration of the 21st Socialist International Congress on 8–9 November 1999.

He stood down as a deputy in the Spanish Parliament in March 2004.

On 27 July 2007 the Spanish Government appointed him plenipotentiary and extraordinary ambassador for the bicentenary celebrations in commemoration of the independence of Latin America. The celebrations will begin in September 2010 in Mexico.[13]

At a summit held in Brussels on 14 December 2007, heads of state and government of European Union member states appointed González chairman of a think tank on the future of Europe. The group, consisting of up to nine prestigious personalities commissioned to drawing up a report, by June 2010, on the challenges facing the European Union from 2020 to 2030, will also look at how to achieve a closer understanding between citizens and the Union.[14]

From 2010 to 2015, González was appointed independent director in Gas Natural-Fenosa, one of the leading energy companies in Spain, being one of the best known high-profile cases of revolving doors in Spanish politics.[15]

Since 2015 he has taken an active role in criticizing the emerging party Podemos, which he considers a populist threat, and have actively lobbied the PSOE against approaching Podemos for any possible government coalition.[16] González supported PSOE candidate Pedro Sánchez in the 2015 and 2016 general elections, but in the aftermath Sánchez announced talks with Podemos and Catalan separatist parties. González then supported Susana Diaz faction in a bitter internal struggle which ended with PSOE facilitating the investiture of the conservative government and the dismissal of Pedro Sánchez.[17]

In 2015 González traveled to Venezuela to support Leopoldo López and other imprisoned opposition leaders.[18] His involvement came at the same time mainstream media and political parties were accusing emerging Podemos of having links with the Venezuelan government.[19]

González is a member of the Club of Madrid,[20] an independent non-profit organisation composed of 81 democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries.

Personal life

González married María del Carmen Julia Romero y López in Seville on 16 July 1969 and had three children: Pablo González Romero, David González Romero and María González Romero (lawyer). He divorced Carmen Romero in 2008. In 2012 he married Mar García Vaquero.[21]

One of his hobbies is tending bonsai trees. During his tenure at Moncloa, he received and cultivated several of them, mostly Mediterranean species, that he later donated to the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid.

Published works

  • "Un discurso ético" (co-authorship with Víctor Márquez Reviriego, 1982).

  • "El Socialismo" (1997).

  • "El futuro no es lo que era" (co-authorship with Juan Luis Cebrián, 2001).

  • "Memorias del futuro" (2003).

  • "Mi idea de Europa" (2011).

See also

  • History of Spain

  • Politics of Spain


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Citation Linkwww.clubmadrid.orgThe Club of Madrid is an independent non-profit organization composed of 81 democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries. It constitutes the world's largest forum of former Heads of State and Government, who have come together to respond to a growing demand for support among leaders in democratic leadership, governance, crisis and post-crisis situations. All lines of work share the common goal of building functional and inclusive societies, where the leadership experience of the members is most valuable.
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