Zapatero aims for progressive Spain
The Spanish Prime minister is planning drastic social reforms to transform the traditional country into a torchbearer of liberalism and modernity.MADRID -- By the time Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero finishes serving his second term as Spanish Prime Minister, his country is likely to have undergone a radical transformation.
During the 3.5 years that remain of his term after his re-election in March, Zapatero intends to complete sweeping social reforms that will turn traditionally conservative, Roman Catholic Spain into a torchbearer of liberalism and modernity.
With its plans to liberalise abortion law, legalise assisted suicide and increase the separation between church and state, the government of the 48-year-old premier is heading for its second showdown with the Catholic Church.
During its first term in office, the Zapatero government introduced homosexual marriage and fast-track divorce, prompting bishops and priests to attend massive rallies against what conservatives saw as an attack on family values.
Thousands of gay couples have wedded, and the opposition conservative People's Party (PP) looks unlikely to cancel the law if it wins the next elections, despite its theoretical opposition to granting homosexuals full marriage rights.
Zapatero has also sought a role as a pioneer of women's rights. He began his second term by appointing a female-dominated cabinet and by creating an Equality Ministry, following measures such as electoral parity and stronger legislation against domestic violence under his first government.
The issues of abortion and of euthanasia were not on the Socialists' electoral programme, and critics accuse Zapatero of seeking a confrontation with conservative social sectors and the church in an attempt to divert citizens' attention from the deepening economic crisis.
Reform #1: abortions
Some 100,000 abortions are performed annually Spain, usually on grounds of danger to the mother's psychological health.
The government would like to bring the legislation in line with other liberal European countries such that women would no longer have to justify abortions in the first months of pregnancy.
A commission of experts is being appointed to propose a new abortion law for 2009, upsetting Vatican Cardinal William Joseph Levada, who said the government's plans were not based on "the vision of created life" and human dignity.
In 2007, the old controversy over abortion was revived after police raided clinics suspected of performing illegal abortions on women in advanced states of pregnancy, and other abortion clinics accused some city authorities of harassment.
Reform #2: euthanasia
The government then went on to reveal that it was considering legalising assisted suicide for people suffering from incurable illnesses causing total helplessness or intolerable pain.
Such a move would make Spanish legislation one of the most liberal in the world in that respect.
But Toledo archbishop Antonio Canizares accused the government of promoting "a culture of death," while PP spokesman Esteban Gonzalez Pons said the Socialists wanted to finance killings with social security payments.
Reform #3: moving towards a more secular society
As if wanting to take on the Catholic Church once and for all, the Zapatero government is also preparing to curtail the church's special relationship with the state and to move towards a more secular society.
Despite the official equality of the major religions practised in Spain, the Catholic Church receives billions of euros from state coffers for its schools, hospitals, the maintenance of church buildings and other purposes.
The privileges of the Catholic Church are increasingly coming under criticism from the growing number of Muslims and Protestants, most of whom are immigrants from Africa and Latin America.
The Socialists had, however, feared antagonising Catholics, who still make up about 80 percent of the Spanish population, even if only 20 percent of them attend Mass regularly.
Yet during Zapatero's second term, the government intends to go ahead with a reform of the 1980 Law of Religious Freedom to grant other religions more funds and rights, including more possibilities to teach them at state schools.
According to analysts, such a move would no doubt be seen as yet another defeat for the Vatican in Spain, which it has long regarded as one of its main battlefronts for the survival and strengthening of the Catholic faith in Europe.
text: dpa / Expatica 2008
photo credits: Tim Brakemeier