González, Felipe (b. 1942)

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Spanish political leader.

Felipe González was born and raised in Seville, Spain. He studied law at the university there and at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium. González then went into private practice in Seville, specializing in labor law.

González became involved in politics quite early. He began in Catholic organizations, which were legal under the Franco regime, before joining the prohibited Socialist Youth in 1962 and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, or PSOE) in 1964. He quickly assumed leadership positions within the clandestine Party, first at the provincial level and then, after 1969, at the national level. González played a key role in the crucial XXVI PSOE Congress, held in Suresnes, France, in October 1974. Suresnes was the moment at which the leadership of the Socialist Party passed from the so-called historic group, which had been in exile since the end of the Spanish civil war (1936–1939), to younger militants inside Spain. González enjoyed the support of the leading figures of European social democracy, such as Olof Palme of Sweden and Willy Brandt of West Germany.

González thus found himself at the head of the PSOE when the death of Francisco Franco, in November 1975, began Spain's transition to democracy. His skill and sense of statesmanship, along with that of other key opposition leaders, were necessary elements in the rapid and peaceful transition the country made from the Franco dictatorship to a functioning constitutional democracy. González's tremendous charisma immediately became the Socialists' most valuable electoral asset, and helped the party establish itself as the second-largest political force in Spain's first two democratic elections (1977 and 1979).

At the same time, González worked hard within the PSOE to turn it into a broadly based party that could win democratic elections. Above all, this meant ending the definition of the PSOE as a Marxist party. When a party congress in May 1979 rejected González's proposal to remove the word Marxism from the program, he announced his resignation as party general secretary. This forced an extraordinary congress that took place in September 1979 at which the delegates overwhelmingly agreed to the changes he wanted. From this point on, González was the undisputed leader of the Socialists, and his authority was underlined by the rigid discipline imposed on the party by his longtime collaborator, Alfonso Guerra.

In the elections held in October 1982, the PSOE scored a victory of unprecedented proportions, receiving 48 percent of the vote and 202 of 350 seats in parliament. The Socialists had campaigned on the straightforward yet ambiguous slogan of "Change," and public expectations were tremendously high as they took office.

Almost inevitably, these expectations were disappointed. In fact, the Socialists governed in a much more moderate way than most people had anticipated. Economic policy was driven by the need to reduce inflation and promote growth. Public spending increased, although the autonomous regions were also given greater spending power. Limited wage increases produced growing alienation between the government and the Socialist trade union confederation, Unión General de Trabajadores, including a general strike in December 1988. González's greatest achievements lay in the field of international relations: on 1 January 1986 Spain realized its long-held goal of joining the European Community(forerunner of the European Union [EU]). At the same time, González reversed his own long-held opposition to Spanish membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), organizing a referendum on the issue but making it clear that he favored remaining in the alliance.

González led the PSOE to three more election victories (1986, 1989, and 1993), although the margin of victory was smaller each time. After the 1993 election, the Socialists had only a minority government and depended on the Catalan nationalist Convergència i Unió to govern. The last years in power were also marked by a number of scandals. Some of these involved corruption by senior officials, such as the governor of the Bank of Spain, the director of the Civil Guard, and some cabinet ministers. The most damaging for González himself was the Ministry of the Interior's use of hit squads to kill suspected ETA (Basque separatist) terrorists.

In June 1997 González announced he was stepping down as general secretary of the PSOE, although he remained a member of the party's Federal Committee. Since then he has played a much smaller role in public life than many would have anticipated. Widely touted as a possible head of the European Commission, he refused to let his name go forward. He did serve as a special representative in Yugoslavia of both the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and has published three books.

See alsoETA; Franco, Francisco; Spain.


Juliá, Santos. "The Socialist Era, 1982–1996." In Spanish History since 1808, edited by José Alvarez Junco and Adrian Shubert, 331–343. London, 2000.

Preston, Paul. The Triumph of Democracy in Spain. London, 1986.

Share, Donald. Dilemmas of Social Democracy: The Spanish Socialist Workers Party in the 1980s. New York, 1989.

Adrian Shubert

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González, Felipe (b. 1942)

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González, Felipe (b. 1942)