Aznar’s Spain

By | December 31, 2021

The nineties marked the transition from the leadership of the socialist government to that of the center-right of the PP: a significant political change that did not seem to affect the more generally social and economic terrain. Both from the point of view of infrastructures and from that of the productive apparatus, mentality and behavior, the country continued along the path already undertaken of a profound modernization. The Basque question, on the other hand, remained dramatic and complex, the solution of which still seemed difficult and distant at the beginning of the new millennium.

Decisive for the collapse in popularity of the PSOE was, as already mentioned, the explosion of scandals which since 1989 have involved, on several occasions, year after year, many socialist politicians and numerous exponents of the ruling class of the last decade. Furthermore, the involvement of important exponents of the financial world ended up eroding the confidence of savers in the solidity and correctness of the country’s banking system: the most serious episode concerned the bankruptcy in 1993 of Banco español de Credito, whose top manager, Mario Conde, was accused and then convicted of fraud and embezzlement. Added to this was the scandal of the revelations on the executive’s relations with the LAGs, indicated as responsible for the killing of numerous ETA exponents in Spain and France. In the’ April 1995 Fourteen former officials of the Ministry of the Interior were convicted of founding guilty of having set up and financed the LAGs. The echo of the conviction and the follow-up of the investigation into the involvement in Affair of the prime minister himself and of the defense and interior ministers, Rafael Vera and José Barrionuevo, further weakened the government, while the CiU officially withdrew its external support. The early elections, which González found himself having to use again and which were held in March 1996, recorded a further loss of votes by the PSOE, thus ending the long phase of socialist hegemony.

The leader of the PP, Aznar, who had begun to establish himself on the political scene since the early nineties, was entrusted with the formation of the new government. Born in 1989 from Alianza popular by Fraga Iribarne, in 1990 the PP passed under the leadership of Aznar who had accentuated its moderate and centrist elements. Since then the PP had changed: endowed with a new and younger management group, it had assumed a unitary character on the basis of a moderate center-right line, while maintaining the internal heterogeneity of the past.

Only after a long negotiation did Aznar succeed in obtaining the external support of the moderate nationalist parties on a program which, alongside the priority objective of reducing public deficit and the rate of inflation, envisaged a strengthening of the already advanced regional autonomies. The new government immediately found itself having to face strong social tensions following the first austerity measures introduced, which did not however prevent the prime minister from obtaining parliamentary approval of his ‘economic stability plan’. More threatening was the backlash of ETA’s resumption of terrorism. For Spain 2014, please check

The Basque question, as always at the center of the life of the country, changed during the second half of the nineties. The period between 1996 and 1998 was marked by an uninterrupted succession of terrorist acts by the independence organization, which began to strike, with a different strategy from the past, local politicians and members of the ruling party, while to self-finance it resorted to to systematic extortion against businessmen and entrepreneurs. The terrorist activity caused a progressive distancing of Basque public opinion from the reasons of the independence movement. A harsh condemnation was expressed nationwide in the massive demonstrations in July 1997 when, following the murder by ETA of a young PP adviser, Miguel Ángel Blanco, hundreds of thousands of people paraded in the main cities of Spain, including those of the Basque region. A turnaround seemed to emerge between late 1998 and early 1999. In September 1998, ETA proclaimed a unilateral truce to close the 30-year struggle for independence, while its political wing, Herri Batasuna, for the first time in its history it declared itself in favor of participating in local governments. Also on the part of the people’s government there was a change of line: abandoned the choice of firmness, adopted in the previous two years, starting from June 1999 Aznar started a series of meetings with ETA leaders, while in the following month the Constitutional Tribunal issued a sentence of acquittal of the managers of the Herri Batasuna in prison since December 1997. But the truce did not last long. In November 1999, ETA’s resumption of terrorist activity, with all the violence of the past, dramatically reopened the Basque question.

At the beginning of 2000, despite the lack of an absolute majority in the Congress of Deputies which had always forced him to negotiate their external support with the nationalist parties, Aznar and his government seemed to enjoy a broad consensus for having been able to ensure the country a government stability and major economic successes. The Spanish economy had in fact experienced significant growth in the wake of the recovery already underway since 1994, growth that had largely mitigated the costs of the austerity policy implemented to comply with the commitments undertaken with the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht. Indeed, also in Spain as in other European countries the challenge represented by the entry into the Economic and Monetary Union constituted a moment of strong national cohesion.

The legislative elections of March 2000 awarded Aznar and his party a clear victory which, guaranteeing him an absolute majority in the Cortes, allowed him to govern until 2004 without having to resort to the support of the nationalist parties.

Aznar's Spain