For Spain and the Spaniards, 2004 will remain for a long time the year of the attacks carried out by Al Qaeda in the Madrid railway stations of Atocha, Santa Eugenia and El Pozo, with 190 victims. And then also the year, on the one hand, of the surprising and unexpected defeat of the Popular Party (PP) and the political eclipse of José María Aznar who had ruled that party for the last eight years; on the other, the return to government of the PSOE socialists and the rise of the young José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Year of rupture, therefore, and rupture produced in a very short period of time, just over three days, about 84 hours: those that elapsed from the moment of the explosions on commuter workers’ trains on the morning of 11 March to the evening of 14.
History knows sudden accelerations and sudden changes of direction. However, what happened in the Iberian country between 11 and 14 March has few terms of comparison in contemporary European history. To understand its significance, it is necessary to go back to the previous years and months, albeit through a rapid and schematic survey.
Continuously in government since 1996, the PP had presented a different face in the second legislature. In the first (1996-2000), without a parliamentary majority, he had been forced to resort to the support of Convergencia i unió (CiU), Jordi Pujol’s Catalan nationalist party, thereby inducing most to think that the party had finally overcome the traditional centralism and ‘Spanish’ nationalism of the various political families of the right of which the PP had taken up the inheritance. The first popular legislature had seen a notable continuity with the previous socialist-led ones in terms of foreign policy, without prejudice to the new Atlantic and pro-American curvature. The weight of the Iberian country had increased in Community Europe and internationally, also by virtue of participation in military missions in the Balkans. On the economic level, making the most of the positive international situation, the growth had been considerable. Also thanks to the new labor legislation and the introduction of more flexible relationships, unemployment had dropped significantly and, on the other hand, the employment rate had increased. The country had also achieved noteworthy results in terms of combating internal terrorism embodied by the Basque independence organization ETA, while pursuing more moderate public opinion, the PP had changed its attitude towards immigration, privileging the problems of order and safety. the growth had been considerable. Also thanks to the new labor legislation and the introduction of more flexible relationships, unemployment had dropped significantly and, on the other hand, the employment rate had increased. The country had also achieved noteworthy results in terms of combating internal terrorism embodied by the Basque independence organization ETA, while pursuing more moderate public opinion, the PP had changed its attitude towards immigration, privileging the problems of order and safety. the growth had been considerable. Also thanks to the new labor legislation and the introduction of more flexible relationships, unemployment had dropped significantly and, on the other hand, the employment rate had increased. The country had also achieved noteworthy results in terms of combating internal terrorism embodied by the Basque independence organization ETA, while pursuing more moderate public opinion, the PP had changed its attitude towards immigration, privileging the problems of order and safety.
If the popular victory of 1996 was not unexpected, the confirmation of March 12, 2000 was never in doubt. It had been a foregone conclusion, but again it was the scale of the success that was striking. The PP in fact won the absolute majority of seats (183) with 44.52% of the votes, while the Socialists dropped to 34%, obtaining 125 deputies. On the left, Izquierda unida halved the consensus (5.4%), reducing its group of deputies even more drastically (8).
The economic data that the PP could exhibit at the end of 2000 were a triumphal march: growth of the economy for the third consecutive year around 4%; an increase in employment of 4.1% compared to 1999, which led to a number of employees like never before in Spain; parallel decrease in the unemployment rate of the active population to below 14%, the lowest since 1981, with a slight decrease in seasonal work and a significant relative increase in permanent employment; 61.7% reduction in the state deficit compared to 1999, due to the increase in revenues over expenditure, with the forecast of hitting the target of reducing the public deficit to 0.3% of GDP; extraordinary increase in investments abroad. For Spain 2010, please check programingplease.com.
Since the conquest of an absolute majority in 2000, Aznar’s party had begun to show another face, internally and in international politics. In the first case by drastically closing the door in the face of the requests of peripheral nationalisms and settling on a line of defense of the 1978 Constitution that appeared to the most instrumental, against the reform proposals coming from Basque and Catalan nationalism and, in a much more cautious way, from sectors of the PSOE. In this context, the popular had shown very little flexibility and no propensity to mediate with peripheral nationalisms, seeking confrontation with them rather than dialogue. The discontinuity in foreign policy is more relevant: in a country in which anti-American sentiments were and remain widespread even in large sectors of the right (think of indication to vote for abstention on the occasion of the referendum on Spain’s stay in NATO on March 12, 1986, given by the founder, president and undisputed leader of Alianza Popular, Franco’s former minister and Aznar’s main mentor, Manuel Fraga Iribarne), Aznar, animated by the intention of bringing Spain into the group of greats and aware of how much the activity of ETA damaged the image of the country, had seized as a great opportunity that history offered him the attack on the twin towers of the 11 September 2001. Indeed, from that moment he had begun to develop the theory according to which there was a single world terrorism against which it was necessary to fight together. By virtue of this line, regardless of the orientations of the vast majority of Spaniards and of European equilibrium, Aznar then aligned his country with George W. Bush’s foreign policy by engaging himself in the war in Iraq. The objectives have not been silenced: to obtain logistical and technological aid from the USA in the fight against ETA, to relocate the Iberian country in the European chessboard by breaking the Franco-German axis and to get closer to the group of greats, expressed ambition of the Spanish leader. The discontinuity introduced by Aznar in foreign policy was therefore strong, a discontinuity that placed Spain at the same time at the closest point to US interests in its history and at the furthest point from the Franco-German axis and from the founders of the European Union. history of the Union, at a considerable distance, finally, from the indications of the Pope and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference.
After letting the most diverse rumors spread, Aznar had finally indicated in early September 2003 the candidate to succeed him at the head of the government and, later, of the party. The choice fell on Mariano Rajoy, a native of Galicia, born in 1955, in Alianza Popular since 1977, former Minister of Public Administration in 1996, of Education and Culture since 1999, then of the Interior. And Rajoy himself seemed destined to win the elections of March 14, 2004, according to the polls and forecasts of political analysts who differed only on the dimensions of the victory. It is true that in the administrative offices of May 25, 2003, the Socialists had once again surpassed the popular votes in terms of votes and that the Socialists had always done well in the Catalan elections of the following November 23. With all this, the the only uncertainty seemed to concern the size of the PP’s success. Would Rajoy have confirmed the previous absolute majority or would the PP have to be satisfied with the simple majority with the consequent return to the situation of 1996? A possibility supported by the results of the latest polls in which the distance of the socialists from the popular was constantly decreasing, but also a solution hoped for by not a few moderate voters, irritated by the bullying and arrogance shown in recent times by the ruling party.