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. Graham Keeley examines what the PM dubbed 'Bambi' has, or has not, achieved.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero looks startled after winning general election

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.

*quote1*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.


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