Bambi's revolution: Zapatero two years on

11th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

The resignation of a key minister is the first sign of trouble for Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero half-way through his premiership. We examine what the PM dubbed 'Bambi' has, or has not, achieved.

Who can forget those startled eyes as Spain's new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, realised he had won a shock election victory on 14 March 2004?

Like a rabbit in the headlights, Zapatero smiled as he tried to take in the fact he was now running the show.

It was the end of what had been a shocking four days, after Islamic extremists killed 191 people with bombs on four commuter trains in Madrid and a country turned against the former government they no longer trusted.

A month later, the Socialists officially took power on 17 April.

Much has happened since then.

The dramatic resignation of José Bono, the defence minister and veteran party stalwart, "to spend more time with his family", forced Zapatero on to the backfoot. He dismissed suggestions of a crisis, though it emerged Bono had wanted to go for three months.

This is just the latest episode in a lively two years for Zapatero.

Perhaps one of his new government's most significant acts was the first: pulling the troops out of Iraq.

This was an election campaign promise we can be fairly sure the Socialists never thought they would have to carry out as all the polls predicted victory for the then Popular Party government.

However, with large-scale public support for the move, even before the Madrid terrorist atrocity, Zapatero had limited room for manoeuvre.

The withdrawal of Spanish troops has caused a schism with the administration of George W Bush, which had been close to the previous conservative government of Jose Maria Aznar.

Though relations are thawing somewhat now, Zapatero still has only exchanged little more than pleasantries with Bush.

Instead, Spain has allied itself closer to France and Germany and has found new allies in the Arab world and in Latin America - to the continued ire of Washington.

Iraq has had a major influence on Zapatero's first year in power because it has shaped how Spain is seen abroad and the amount of attention the prime minister has had to give to foreign affairs to make up lost ground with the US.

Commenting on this, Spanish journalist Luis Aizpeolea said: "In taking the troops out of Iraq, Zapatero achieved more international popularity in one day than many politicians do in years."

Others, principally on the right in Spain, have not been so kind.

The right-wing Spanish daily ABC  said: "Zapatero should have explained the reasons for his decision (to pull the troops out of Iraq), above all when other countries were trying to create a new UN consensus to support the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis."

Iraq aside, for Zapatero – whose nickname is 'Bambi' as he is thought of as lightweight – this has hardly been a quiet first year.

It was dominated by controversial social reforms concerning divorce, gay marriage and domestic violence; the aftermath of the Madrid bombing; continued battles with the Church; the promised reform of the Spanish constitution to give more power to the regions; and the European constitution.

Here we examine what Zapatero's government promised and delivered in the past year.


Promise: A government that listens

Reality: After eight years of antagonism between Aznar and opposition parties, Zapatero started talks with Basque prime minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe over his plan to give more independence to the region. He has also won the support of parliament to holdtalks with Eta, provided they give up their armed struggle. However, Zapatero opposed the plan. He has also listened to Catalan demands for greater autonomy, but this may still split Spain.

                                                                     THE MILITARY

Promise: After Spanish troops were sent to Iraq without the former government asking parliament, Zapatero said deputies will vote before foreign deployments.

Reality: A law has been introduced to force central government to ask parliament before it can send troops abroad.

Promise: Changes to the constitution giving more power to regions, grant female succession, incorporate EU constitution. The Catalan 'estatut' will be the test of this. If Zapatero manages to keep both sides happy, he will show he is the consummate politician which many think he is. Others think he is just lucky.  

Reality: The Catalan 'estatut' will be the test of this. If Zapatero manages to keep both sides happy, he will show he is the consummate politician which many think he is. Others think he is just lucky.  


Promise: To step-up the fight against terrorism and better coordination between security services.

Reality: The permanent ceasefire of ETA, after two years of behind-the-scenes negotiations, could be the end of nearly 40 years of violence in Spain. If it really works, it would be dream for any prime minister, Zapatero included. He must now carefully steer the peace process to ensure there are no slip ups.


Promise: Make the roads safer.

Reality: Spain now has a points-based licence, in line with many other EU countries.


A crackdown on violence against women has been a major social reform

Promise: 'Greater social rights and opportunities for all in Spain'.

Reality:  New law introduced to crack down on domestic violence; draft bill making divorce swifter and force men to help with housework, to go through parliament by end April; new law to allow gays to marry and adopt children are all a reality.


Promise: Spain to back EU constitution

Realty: Spanish were first to back constitution with referendum. But rest of Europe did not agree with them and it was dumped.


Promise: Create 1,000 new judges and prosecutors.

Reality: Only 150 new judges, 100 prosecutors; but reform in how magistrates are chosen to Spanish supreme court.


Promise: Greater efficiency in income tax collection in second year, no increase in 'economic pressure' on highest tax payers.

Reality: Changes now expected in 2007, when maximum income tax will be cut from 45 percent. Not clear what happens to minimum income tax, but 100 new measures to modernise the economy, raise productivity and cut jobless. New deal with unions and business to cut huge pay-offs and temporary contratcs.


Promise: Social pact to improve job stability but improve competitiveness.

Reality: Zapatero signed deal between bosses and unions to reduce temporary contracts, but increase competitiveness. Minimum monthly wage rose to EUR 490 and should be EUR 600 by end of legislature.  Also three-month amnesty granted to immigrants to bring them in from black economy and so pay taxes. This will bring more money into the economy.


Promise: Reform of education making changes to religious studies and raising standards.

Reality: Pupils will have to repeat a year if they fail four or more courses. Controversy over new reform shows no sign of dying down even after new Organic Education Law is passed. Religious studies relegated to optional subject to fury of the Right.

                                                      WATER POWER

Promise: Major change of how water power is used

Reality: Abolished previous government's plan to divert the River Ebro to use its water to irrigate southern Spain. Opted for desalinisation plants instead. Tackling the drought will be another huge test. Building boom and golf courses on the costas do not help save Spain's limited resources.


Promise: Provide up to 180,000 affordable homes each year.

Reality: New agency to encourage people to rent empty homes hit by delays. 


Promise: To fight degenerative diseases, legalise stem cell research, fight smoking.

Reality: New anti-smoking law, came into force in 2006, but many bars and restaurants remain exactly the same. No smoking at work though.


Promise: Government to be "ambassadors of Spanish culture" to world.

Reality: Backed major celebration of 400th anniversary of Cervantes' Don Quixote.

[updated April 2006] 

[Copyright Expatica]

Subject: Spain; Zapatero first year in power

0 Comments To This Article