Spain in the 1990’s
The nineties marked in Spain the transition from the leadership of the socialist government to that of the center-right of the Partido popular (PP): a major 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, in the last decade of the century the country in fact 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 in any case distant at the beginning of the new millennium. Finally, on the international level, the Spain had achieved full legitimacy as a country completely integrated in the Western field and had overcome the isolation of the past.
Despite the unquestionable successes achieved by the governments led by F. González, leader of the Partido socialista obrero español (PSOE), in the mid-nineties the socialist crisis was definitively consumed.
It was a crisis that had begun some time ago – already starting from the political elections of 1989, the PSOE had lost an absolute majority of votes – regardless of the important results achieved in different fields. On the economic front, despite the severe recession of 1992 – 93, he recorded a marked improvement in the trade balance, a decrease in inflation, a stabilization of the budget deficit and overall significant growth, which, however, was counterbalanced by a high rate unemployment. Also, in January 1996trade unions and employers had signed an important agreement on compulsory mediation in labor conflicts, against which only the communist list of Izquierda unida (IU) had sided. As for the political-institutional aspects, the years of socialist government had meant a strengthening of the young Spanish democracy, especially as regards the military system: still clearly hostile in the early Eighties, this seemed to gradually fall within the framework of democratic rules in the following period..
However, different reasons concurred to strongly undermine the consensus around the PSOE. Meanwhile, on the social level, the recession of 1992 – 1993 had consolidated an opposition to socialist policy which saw public employees allies, farmers penalized by the devaluation of the peseta and industrial workers, especially the automotive industry. But decisive for the collapse in popularity of the PSOE was the explosion of a series of scandals linked to episodes of corruption that since 1989 have involved, on several occasions, year after year, many socialist politicians and numerous members of the ruling class of the last decade. (among others, the former central bank governor, M. Rubio, accused of tax evasion and insider trading, and L. Roldán, former head of the Guardia Civil, indicted for tax fraud and embezzlement of public money and sentenced to 28 years in prison in 1998). These scandals seriously compromised the image of the socialist ruling class and formed in public opinion a critical attitude towards the system of power that the PSOE had built in the years of its government, during which it had tried to place its men in every sector of life. public. Furthermore, the involvement of important exponents of the financial world eroded the very trust of savers in the solidity and correctness of the country’s banking system: the most serious episode concerned the bankruptcy in 1993of the Banco Español de Credito, whose top executive was accused and later convicted of fraud and embezzlement (March 1997 ; conviction confirmed in February 1998 by the Supreme Court). Finally, the country, subjected to the violence of the Basque independence terrorist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), seemed no longer to trust in the government’s ability to keep the explosive issue of the Basque Country under control, an issue aggravated by revelations on the executive’s relations with the organization of military anti-terrorism groups (Grupos antiterroristas de liberación, GAL), born in 1983and indicated as responsible for the elimination of numerous ETA exponents in Spain and in France (in April 1995 fourteen ex-officials of the Ministry of the Interior were convicted because they were found guilty of having established and financed the LAGs).
The echo of the condemnation and the follow-up to the investigation into the involvement in the LAG affair of the Prime Minister himself and of the ministers of defense and of the interior (respectively, N. Serra and J. Barrionuevo), as well as of the Basque socialist leader T. Benegas (September 1995), further weakened the government, while the CIU (the moderate Catalan nationalists of the Convergencia i Unió group) officially withdrew its external support. Furthermore, in October, the Finance Bill for 1996 was rejected by Congress. Faced with the dramatic crisis affecting his government and his party, at the end of the Spanish presidency of the EU (July-December 1995) González found himself having to resort to early elections (March 1996). But the electoral results recorded a further loss of votes by the PSOE (however lower than forecasts), decreeing its defeat and thus putting an end to the long phase – which lasted almost fourteen years – of socialist hegemony. The relative majority of seats was in fact won by the PP, which obtained 38, 5 % of the votes against 37, 5 % of the PSOE, the 10, 5 % of the IU and 4, 6% of the CIU. The results of the elections thus brought the PP to the government, even if they did not ensure a majority in the Cortes. In charge of forming a new government, the popular leader JM Aznar therefore succeeded only after a long negotiation in obtaining the external support of the moderate nationalist parties (the CIU, the PNV, Partido nacionalista vasco, and the CC, Coalición canaria) on a program which, alongside the priority objective of reducing the public deficit and the rate of inflation, envisaged a strengthening of the already advanced regional autonomies (May).
The Partido popular had established itself on the political scene since the early 1990s. Born in 1989 from Alianza Popular (the most important party of the Spanish right in which various currents had converged, from the far right to the liberals) by a former minister of the Franco regime, M. Fraga Iribarne, in 1990 the PP had passed under the leadership of Aznar who had accentuated the moderate and centrist elements of a party made up of different components. 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.