González Márquez, Felipe: 1942

views updated May 14 2018

Felipe González Márquez: 1942: Spanish prime minister

Felipe González Márquez, Spanish prime minister from 1982 to 1996, helped transform his country's government from a repressive dictatorial regime into an open, progressive democracy. For nearly half a century before González's election, Spain was isolated from the rest of the world, economically and (to a lesser extent) culturally. Under his leadership, Spain regained its position as an integral member of the European community and strengthened its ties with countries in Central and South America.

Found Socialism During College

González was born on March 5, 1942, in Seville, the largest city in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia. His parents, Felipe González Helguera and Juana Márquez, owned a small dairy. The family made a relatively respectable living, but Spain in the 1940s was a difficult place to live. In the mid-1930s the country was split by a bloody civil war that left a military dictatorship in charge, with Generalissimo Francisco Franco as its head. Spain did not participate in World War II, but Franco's regime eliminated many civil liberties for Spaniards. All political parties were banned, as were all trade unions except those sanctioned by the state. There was no free flow of information, and those who opposed Franco risked detention in prison labor camps. Many of those prisoners were eventually executed.

One of Franco's labor camps was near the González family farm, and young González and his family heard tales of repression from former prisoners who had served out their sentences. This experience, combined with a strong sense of values instilled in González by his parents (particularly his mother, whom he once described as a "driving force" in the family), set the stage for his later political activity. González attended local schools run by the Claretian order of priests. He was not an inspired student and he studied little, yet he displayed a strong sense of purpose and drive for things that interested him, such as middle- and long-distance running which he took up despite childhood asthma. This drive, along with encouragement from his parents, propelled González through high school and into college; the only one of the four González children to attend.

It was during his college years that González became interested in politicsin particular, socialism. Although socialism was officially banned in Spain, college campuses throughout Europe were being exposed to a variety of political ideas, some of them radically different then the ruling government. Even the campuses of politically repressive Spain were not immune to the flow of ideas. In 1962 González joined the Socialist Youth movement, which was then an illegal underground movement. Through Socialist Youth he met Alfonso Guerra, a like-minded student who became his close friend (and who would later become his deputy prime minister). In 1964 González joined the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), another illegal group. After graduating from the University of Seville in 1966 with a degree in law, González won a scholarship to the Belgium Catholic University where he continued his studies for two years. While at college in Belgium, González was able to gain access to books and other information that was banned in Spain. The experiences of his college years helped inform his political beliefs, and they furthered his resolve to help change his government.

At a Glance . . .

Born on March 5, 1942, in Seville, Spain; married Maria Carmen Romero, 1969; children: Pablo, David, Maria. Education: University of Seville; BA, 1966; Belgian Catholic University, 1966-67.

Career: Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), executive commission member, 1970-74, party leader, 1974-97; Spanish prime minister, 1982-96.

Awards: Charlemagne Prize, 1993; Great Golden Cross for Merit, Republic of Austria, 1997.

Address: Office Socialist Workers Party of Spain, Ferraz 68 y 70, 28008, Madrid, Spain.

Garnered Support for the PSOE

Spain in the 1960s was far less isolated from the world than it had been during and immediately after World War II. Culturally and economically Spain appeared much more open. Politically, however, the Franco regime was still in total control, and there was still no legal way to oppose or even question the government. The labor situation was not healthy, and employee-labor disputes became increasingly common. Labor slowdowns, lockouts, and strikes took their toll and became more frequent even though such actions were illegal.

The PSOE during these years was virtually powerless to offer any real guidance. The party had been in exile for decades, and its leadership had grown old and inflexible. The bigger problem was that the PSOE leaders had lost touch with the needs of Spain. González and his younger colleagues mobilized beginning in the 1970s to make socialism a viable force in Spanish politicsno small task considering that the PSOE was still illegal. During these years González conducted all of his PSOE business under the assumed name "Isidoro."

González was elected to the PSOE's executive commission in 1970 during the party's 11th congress. In 1974, during its 13th congress, González became PSOE's first secretary-general. As González rose in power, he and his colleagues began moving the party forward to make it more relevant to contemporary issues.

The real test for the PSOE came in November of 1975 when Franco died. With him died at least some of the political repression that had crippled Spain for nearly four decades. González and his colleagues felt that the best way to legitimize the PSOE in Spain would be to gain support from socialists throughout Europe. All during 1976 González worked to build bridges between the PSOE and established socialist political organizations in other countries. One reason for his success was his own personal charm. A charismatic speaker who projected a friendly, open demeanor, González won popular support for his cause almost as much for his personality and message.

Change and Victory for the PSOE

In June of 1977 Spain held its first free elections in more than 40 years. The PSOE won 30 percent of the vote, making it the majority opposition party. González's commitment to socialism was tempered by a belief that the transition to a democratic government in Spain would be best served by a more centrist approach. He worked to build a good working relationship with the centrist government led by Adolfo Suarez.

Many Spanish socialists, however, felt that the government needed to adopt a more radical political agenda. During the party's 28th congress in May of 1979, González made a motion to remove the word "Marxist" from the party's official platform. The motion was rejected, and González stepped down as party leader. The party had a change of heart, and a mere four months later it adopted González's motion and reinstated him as leader. Those from the left wing of the party were not pleased by the push toward the center, but the centrists were certain that only by embracing a moderate agenda could they win more seats in the Spanish parliament. Even a centrist approach was too radical for some; on February 23, 1981, military troops under the leadership of Colonel Antonio Tejero stormed Spain's parliament building and took a number of legislators hostage, including González. The coup failed, in part thanks to the personal intervention of Spanish King Juan Carlos I.

In the October 1982 elections the Spanish public came out in a strong show of support of solidarity with González and the moderates. The PSOE won 46 percent of the vote, which gave it a parliamentary majority. Soon after, González was sworn in as the nation's first socialist prime minister.

Took Spain in a New Direction

Under González's rule, Spain shook off the last vestiges of isolation from the Franco days. Spain had joined the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) only six months before the 1982 elections, a move that the PSOE had initially opposed. González, taking a longer-term view, expressed his support for the move, and the government agreed to maintain the alliance. The country voted in a 1986 referendum to continue Spain's NATO membership. González led Spain into the European Economic Community in 1986, a significant move that further strengthened ties with the rest of Europe and that helped strengthen Spain's economy. He also managed to attract a considerable amount of foreign investment into the country, a move that won him allies among the business community (not normally known for its friendly attitude toward socialism). While Spain under González did not attempt to ally itself specifically with either the United States or the Soviet Union, the government did work to maintain good relations with the United States. In the mid-1980s Spain and the United States reached a key agreement reducing the number of American military forces stationed in Spain.

Socialism was riding a wave of popularity in Europe when González became Spanish prime minister, and he capitalized on that popularity to develop good relationships with socialist leaders. His brand of socialism, known in some circles as Felipismo, was conservative by traditional socialist measurements, and during his tenure as prime minister both supporters and foes noted that he became increasingly conservative. González answered critics by explaining that he preferred a pragmatic rather than a doctrinaire approach to governing.

Domestically, González's policies met with mixed results. His push to include Spain in the EEC did improve the Spanish economy; inflation in Spain dropped from 15 percent in 1982 to under five percent in 1988, and Spanish gross domestic product grew at a respectable rate. The González government was unable, however, to reduce unemployment demonstrably. The unemployment rate in Spain hovered around 20 percent during much of his tenure. González tried various means of cost-cutting including a freeze on social benefits. A growing trade deficit, coupled with higher interest rates, cost him some of the good will he had garnered from the business community when he first took office. Nevertheless, he remained personally popular.

Continued to Promote Spain After Term

A number of party scandals during the early 1990s weakened the González government, but his party won a narrow victory in the 1993 elections. By 1996 enough of his traditional base had eroded, and in the elections that year the conservative Popular Party took charge, with José Maria Aznar the new prime minister. González remained socialist party leader but stepped down in 1997. That year, charges were filed against several members of his government for waging what was termed a "dirty war" against Basque separatists. The Basques, who live primarily in northern Spain, had frequently made demands for more autonomy from Spain, and at times these demands were backed by violence from the most militant factions. In the 1980s and 1990s, the government used questionable tactics in trying to crush the Basques. A dozen officials from González's government received jail sentences for their role in the dirty war, but González was not charged with any wrongdoing. His interest in Spain and its role in Europe and the world remained his chief concern after his term of office expired, and into the 21st century he was traveling and lecturing frequently about international affairs.

González married Maria Carmen Romero, a school-teacher he met while involved in Socialist Youth, in 1969. She later served in the Spanish parliament as a member of the PSOE party. The couple had two sons and a daughter. González received the Charlemagne Prize in 1993 and the Great Golden Cross for Merit of the Republic of Austria in 1997.



Current Biography, H. W. Wilson Co., 1977.

Encyclopedia of World History, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.


Economist, May 4, 1991.

New York Times, October 30, 1982.

Time, October 23, 1989.

Washington Post, January 31, 1993.


"Felipe González Márquez," Leading Authorities, www.leadingauthorities.com (June 10, 2003).

George A. Milite

Felipe González Márquez

views updated May 17 2018

Felipe González Márquez

Prime Minister of Spain from 1982 to 1996, Felipe González Márquez (born 1942) helped lead Spain into the European community of nations.

Birth and Childhood

Felipe González Márquez was born on March 5, 1942, in Seville, the largest city in western Andalusia in the south of Spain. His father, Felipe González Helguera, bought and sold cattle and owned a small dairy in a lower-middle-class district of Seville. His mother, Juana Márquez, was, in her son's words, "the driving force of the family."

The particular period of Spanish history in which González grew up had a decisive influence on what were later to be his ideological beliefs. Between 1936 and 1939 Spain had suffered an horrific civil war, resulting from a military rising that overthrew the reformist government elected to power in February 1936. Under the ultraconservative regime established by General Francisco Franco at the end of the war in 1939, all political parties and trade unions were banned except those organized by the state. All forms of dissent were prohibited. González was born at a time when Spanish prisons were full to overflowing with political prisoners. Thousands of people had been executed since the end of the war because of their liberal beliefs. In his neighborhood in Seville lived a number of former political prisoners who had served their sentences in a nearby Francoist labor camp. Finally, the 1940s were years of extreme hardship. The combined effects of the civil war, the subsequent world war, the Francoist policy of economic autarchy, and a long, severe drought brought shortages of even the most basic necessities of life. Spaniards refer to the 1940s as "the hungry years."

During those years González attended a school run by Claretian priests, then entered the Faculty of Law at Seville University. There he was soon influenced by the highly politicized atmosphere which characterized Spanish (and other European) universities in the 1960s. In 1962 he joined the illegal and secret Socialist Youth movement and, two years later, the equally clandestine Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). It was also at Seville University that he met Carmen Romero López, whom he married in 1969.

By the mid-1960s the economic and social situation in Spain had changed considerably from the hunger and scarcities of the 1940s. The Franco regime had abandoned autarchy and Spain had been reincorporated into the world capitalist system. Politically, however, the regime had not changed at all. Strikes were illegal, but became increasingly frequent in these years, as did demonstrations, go-slows, lock-outs, unfair dismissals, and numerous other manifestations of conflict between employers and workers. When González graduated from Seville University in 1966, he set up the city's first labor counseling office and, as a lawyer specializing in labor cases, acted on behalf of the employees in various parts of the country in some of the most important disputes of the time.

Early Political Career

While he was advancing his professional career, González was also gaining a name for himself as a member of the clandestine Socialist party. In 1939 most of the party's surviving leaders had left Spain for exile. Inside the country a minimal organizational structure managed to keep going, from which new leaders began to emerge. Felipe González was one of this new generation of activists. In 1965 he became a member of the Seville provincial committee and, later, of the national committee. In 1970 the PSOE held its 11th congress and González was elected to the party's most important internal body, the executive commission. By then González and his contemporaries in the PSOE felt increasingly uncomfortable with an aging exiled party leadership that seemed to be divorced from the realities of contemporary Spain.

In 1974 at the 13th party congress held at Suresnes near Paris, González was elected as the party's first secretary-general. His election represented the triumph of the "new" PSOE over the "historic" sector. It also constituted the recognition of González as a major figure within the Spanish socialist movement and the beginning of a new phase in his political career. As leader of the PSOE (with the nom de guerre "Isidoro") his political responsibilities and activities had already increased when, in November 1975, General Franco died, opening the way to the legalization of a multi-party system in Spain. Throughout 1976 González traveled widely in Europe discussing the political future of Spain and of the PSOE with the leaders of other European socialist parties. He established particularly strong links with the West German Social Democratic party. At home he participated in negotiations between the centrist government of Adolfo Suárez and the opposition parties which were designed to achieve consensus on the need for moderate reformist policies, rather than radical change, in order to ensure a peaceful transition to democratic rule. When the first free elections in 41 years were held in June 1977 the PSOE became the main opposition party in the Spanish Cortes (parliament).

Under the leadership of González, the PSOE worked to consolidate Spain's nascent democracy and to increase its own appeal to the progressive, but moderate, sectors of Spanish society. In May 1979 at the 28th party congress, González resigned as secretary-general when the majority of the delegates rejected his motion that the word "Marxist" be dropped from the party's definition of itself. Four months later, however, at an extraordinary congress, he was reinstated and the motion was carried. Giving the party a social democratic image earned González criticism from the left wing of his party, but it paid dividends with respect to the electorate. In October 1982 the PSOE won a landslide victory at the polls and González became Spain's first Socialist prime minister since 1939.

Spain's First Socialist Prime Minister

González' personal charisma, his prestige as a politician, and his control of the PSOE's executive apparatus subsequently enabled him to weather a number of internal storms and to implement controversial policies. Most notably, the leader of the PSOE altered decisively the party's position on Spanish membership of NATO. The PSOE was strongly opposed when Spain joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1981. After the 1982 election, however, the González government and the majority of the PSOE advocated remaining in the alliance. In a referendum held in March 1986 the question was decided in favor of retaining NATO membership. Three months later González again led his party to victory in a general election. He won his third term in office in the elections held on October 29, 1989, although this time, unlike the two previous occasions, the PSOE did not secure an absolute majority in the Cortes.

During González's mandate, Spain definitively left behind the international isolation of the Franco years, becoming a member of the European Economic Community in 1986 and of the Western European Union in 1988. Prime Minister González maintained close relations with a number of Latin American leaders and, as vice-president of the Socialist International, took a particular interest in national and international efforts to resolve the problems occasioned by economic and political instability in Central America.

After serving his forth consecutive term, González announced in June 1997 that he would not seek re-election. His withdrawal followed a series of financial and political scandals. The most serious were charges against some 20 political and police officials under González, including a former Interior Minister, over organizing squads that killed Basque separatists in the 1980s.

Further Reading

The history of the PSOE from 1879 to 1982 is competently recounted by Richard Gillespie in his The Spanish Socialist Party (1989). There is, as yet, no analysis in English of the PSOE in power, but Paul Preston's The Triumph of Democracy in Spain (1986) provides inter alia, an acute analysis of the role of the Spanish Socialist party in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. See also Santos Juliá, "The Rights and Wrongs of Self-Avowed Marxism: The Ideological Conversion of the Leaders of the PSOE between 1976 and 1979" in Frances Lannon and Paul Preston, editors, Elites and Power in Modern Spain (1990). A good history of the Spanish Civil War is Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939 (1965). □