Pedro Solbes: Victim of economic crisis or eager for retirement?
The economy minister has come under fire recently for the worsening recession. But in his glorious days, his ability to churn budget surpluses for several years running had won his much praise.MADRID – Pedro Solbes, replaced as economy minister in the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, may have been a victim of the economic crisis but he himself had hinted he was ready to retire.
The former EU economic affairs commissioner was succeeded Tuesday by Elena Salgado, the minister for public administration, following months of rumours about his departure from the government.
Though not a Socialist Party member, Solbes, 66, was a key player in Zapatero's team. "He was born to do this," the prime minister once said.
During Zapatero's first mandate, from 2004 to March 2008, he was able to turn in budget surpluses for several years running, something rare in Europe.
However, he was unable to restructure the economy to reduce its dependence on the construction industry, which has long been the engine behind the country's growth.
The financial disciplinarian was finally forced to open the purse strings to allow the government to keep its 2008 electoral promise to dip into the surplus to pay for public works in a bid to contain the economic downturn.
Still, Spain entered its first recession in 15 years at the end of 2008 and the country's unemployment rate hit 15.5 percent in February, the highest in the 27-nation European Union.
A poll published Sunday showed the worsening economic situation taking its toll on the popularity of the government, even among members of Socialist Party.
Solbes has taken the brunt of the criticism, and Zapatero was keen to put a fresh face on his government ahead of the European elections in June.
But Solbes has himself made little secret of his desire to retire.
When his cabinet colleague Mariano Fernando Bermejo resigned as justice minister in February, Solbes joked he was jealous.
Stout, bearded and with a benevolent air, Solbes joined the EU Commission in 1999, six months after the euro officially came into being prior to its physical introduction as a currency in January 2002.
Fighting to have EU nations adhere to the Stability and Growth Pact forced Solbes to threaten sanctions against countries running deficits higher than the permitted three percent maximum of GDP.
Spanish Economy Minister Pedro Solbes attends the opening session of the extraordinay meeting of Ibero-American Finance Ministers in Porto, northern Portugal, on 2 March 2009.
In 2004, he answered the call from Zapatero and took on the post of Spanish finance minister for the second time, having held it from 1993 to 1996.
It was during those three years that he helped set in train the necessary financial rigour to enable Spain to join the eurozone where it became one of the best-performing pupils in terms of growth and public sector deficits.
Born on 31 August 1942 at Pinso, near to the southeastern city of Alicante, he is a father of three and holds a doctorate in political science and economics. He speaks several languages, including English and French.
8 April 2009
AFP / Expatica