Troubles mount for Spanish PM over economy
Pressure is growing on Spain's prime minister, whose minority government is increasingly isolated in parliament over his handling of the economic crisis and the withdrawal of troops from Kosovo.MADRID -- Pressure is growing on Spain's prime minister, whose minority government is increasingly isolated in parliament over his handling of the economic crisis and the withdrawal of troops from Kosovo.
"The government is facing its most difficult moment since coming to power in 2004," sociologist Fermin Bouza, a specialist in public opinion at Madrid's Complutense University, told AFP.
The right-wing opposition has accused the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of failing to prevent Spain's first recession in over a decade, which has left the country with Europe's highest unemployment rate.
The government had long predicted a slowdown but no contraction in the economy.
Last week, a new line of attack opened up after Carme Chacon, Spain's first female defence chief and a star of Zapatero's majority female cabinet, abruptly announced that some 630 Spanish troops with the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo would leave by the end of the summer.
The move angered NATO and the United States who complained they had not been informed of the decision through the proper channels, leaving the government open to accusations by the main opposition Popular Party (PP) that it had sullied Spain's reputation abroad.
Spain is one of only five EU nations which does not recognize Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, out of concern that it might set a precedent for separatists at home.
The growing criticisms come as the government, which is seven seats short of a majority in parliament, has lost the support of the tiny Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) following regional elections in the northeastern region on 1 March.
The PNV's six seats have often been useful for getting bills approved along with the 10 held by the Catalan Convergence and Union (CiU) party.
But the PNV will no longer support Zapatero's government now that the Socialists, who came second in the regional vote, are poised to form a minority government on their own with the support in the Basque assembly of the PP.
The PNV has governed the region, wracked by separatist violence for 40 years, since the Basque regional assembly was formed in 1980, shortly after Spain returned to democracy.
Against this backdrop PP leader Mariano Rajoy, who got a shot in the arm when his party regained power in regional elections in Galicia in the northwest on 1 March, raised the possibility Thursday of tabling a censure motion against the government.
"It would be in an extreme situation," he told private television channel Telecinco.
Spanish media have for weeks speculated that Zapatero, now in his second term, will reshuffle his cabinet before Spain takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU during the first half of 2010.
One of the names frequently cited by the press as being on the way out is Economy Minister Pedro Solbes who has taken the brunt of the criticism over the floundering economy.
Solbes fueled the speculation when cabinet colleague Mariano Fernando Bermejo resigned as justice minister last month by quipping he was "jealous".
But Zapatero, 48, denied Friday that a cabinet reshuffle was in the works.
"I have no intention of changing the government," he said in an interview published in several foreign newspapers.
Zapatero will face his next test at the polls when Spain holds elections for the European parliament on 7 June.
"These elections are generally an occasion to punish the government and it would be surprising if this did not happen," said Bouza.