Zapatero, Jose Luis Rodriguez

Zapatero, Jose Luis Rodriguez
▪ 2005

      Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was sworn in as Spanish prime minister on April 17, 2004. Six weeks earlier almost no one except Zapatero himself had believed that he could win the elections on March 14. All this changed following the March 11 al-Qaeda attacks in Madrid and the perceived inept response of the Popular Party (PP) government. For some the Socialists' surprise electoral victory confirmed that Zapatero had baraka (“a charmed life”).

      Zapatero, the son of a lawyer, was born on Aug. 4, 1960, in the northern Spanish city of Valladolid and was reared in neighbouring León. Academically gifted, he was given a teaching job in the university's law faculty immediately after graduating in 1982. His heart, however, lay in politics and the Socialist Party (PSOE), which he had joined in 1979. By 1988 he was general secretary of the party's conflictive León provincial federation, and he already had two years' experience as the youngest member of the national parliament, representing León. He soon established a reputation as a capable, hardworking deputy, but he held no public office in the Socialist governments. Despite being party spokesman on public administrations, Zapatero remained virtually unknown outside the parliament during the PP's first government (1996–2000) and even after the Socialists' second successive electoral defeat in March 2000.

      At the PSOE national congress in July 2000, however, he defeated three other candidates to become party general secretary. Echoing the British Labour Party's Third Way and the German Social Democratic Party's New Centre, Zapatero's ill-defined New Way promised to modernize both the party and its policies. He offered a new, younger face with a modern-sounding agenda that revolved around economic efficiency, women's rights, democratic participation, laicism, and “constructive” opposition to the PP government.

      His election as PSOE leader and de facto candidate for the prime ministership made little impact on the voters. The party had been confident that it would capitalize on Spaniards' intense opposition to the war in Iraq, but the PSOE did worse than expected in the local and regional elections in May 2003. Five months later a corruption scandal robbed the Socialists of their star prize, the Madrid regional government, which went to the PP after repeat elections. Only the PP's lacklustre campaign suggested that things would be different in March 2004. Then came the terrorist attacks on March 11, and three days later the Socialists were swept to power.

      Zapatero appointed a cabinet that combined established and emerging figures, half of whom were women. Within six months he had withdrawn the Spanish troops serving with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, moved on the always difficult regional issue, and introduced several parliamentary measures. After the U.S. elections in November, he also sought to mend damaged relations with Washington. Charges that Zapatero was more about style than content appeared to be unfounded.

Justin Byrne

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▪ prime minister of Spain
born Aug. 4, 1960, Valladolid, Spain
 
 Spanish politician, who became prime minister of Spain in 2004.

      Zapatero was the son of a lawyer and the grandson of a Republican army officer executed by Gen. Francisco Franco (Franco, Francisco)'s forces during the Spanish Civil War. He attended the University of León and became a member of the university's law faculty after graduating in 1982. In 1986 Zapatero, who had joined the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español; PSOE) in 1979, was elected to the national parliament, becoming its youngest member. Two years later he was made general secretary of the PSOE's León provincial federation. Zapatero established a reputation as a capable, hardworking deputy, but he held no public office in the socialist administrations that governed Spain between 1982 and 1996. In July 2000, however, he defeated three other candidates to become the party's general secretary. He promised to modernize both the PSOE and its policies, offering an agenda that revolved around economic efficiency, women's rights, democratic participation, laicism, and “constructive” opposition to the conservative Popular Party (PP) government.

      As the 2004 general elections neared, opinion polls suggested an easy win for the PP. On March 11, 2004, however, Madrid suffered a series of terrorist (terrorism) attacks, and Prime Minister José María Aznar (Aznar, José María) and his PP government drew criticism for their attempts to blame the Basque separatist group ETA even after members of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda (Qaeda, al-) were arrested. Aided by the voter backlash, the PSOE won a surprise victory at the elections on March 14. Zapatero was sworn in as prime minister on April 17, 2004, and he subsequently appointed a cabinet that combined established and emerging figures, half of whom were women. Within weeks of taking office, he also followed through on a campaign pledge to withdraw troops serving in Iraq. (See Iraq War.) Zapatero's government supported a number of social reforms, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and the criminalization of domestic violence. In response to two long-standing issues, the status of Catalonia and of the Basque Country, Zapatero supported the declaration of nationhood for Catalonia in 2006 and pledged not to yield to ETA terrorism, respectively.

      The PSOE triumphed again in the 2008 general elections after a fiercely battled campaign, though it failed to gain an absolute majority. Zapatero pledged to boost Spain's slumping economy and to continue his agenda of social and political reform.

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Universalium. 2010.

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