FRANCISCO Fernandez Ordonez was a key figure in Spain's transition to democracy, and secured considerable international prestige for his country as Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post he held from 1985 until a few weeks ago, when he was forced to step down by ill-health.
Fernandez Ordonez was the most trusted colleague of the Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez. Cultured, affable and witty, he was a particular favourite with press and public alike who saw him as the most able man in the cabinet. Even his foreign counterparts affectionately called him by the diminutive 'Paco'. He made good use of his skills, propelling Spain into the forefront of international affairs and consolidating its place in Europe. His success in persuading all parties to launch the Middle East peace conference in Madrid last year was a particular triumph which confirmed Spain's role as intermediary between the West and its traditional Arab allies.
Although Fernandez Ordonez's deteriorating health finally forced Gonzalez to replace him as Minister of Foreign Affairs, just before the Latin American summit he so dearly hoped to make his swan- song, he continued to advise the Prime Minister and to hope for a reprieve.
During his career, Fernandez Ordonez was often the source of bitter controversy. He was born in Madrid in 1930 and trained as a lawyer despite family opposition. He was one of the few Spaniards of his generation to study abroad, specialising in tax affairs at Harvard University. He returned to Spain to hold various posts in the Franco administration while establishing links with other opponents of the regime who were to form the Union Centro Democratico (United Democratic Centre) after Franco's death. He served as Minister of Finance in the transitional government led by Adolfo Suarez, from 1977 to 1979, and pushed through unpopular reforms of the tax system. As Minister of Justice in 1980-81, he passed a divorce law which earned him the enmity of many Conservatives and prompted his opponents to remark: 'He has stolen our money, and now he wants to steal our wives.' His success, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in finally establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1986 was also the result of hard-fought battles. Gibraltar was a running sore on which he took a hard line while ensuring Spain and Britain enjoyed otherwise excellent relations.
Fernandez Ordonez's jump to the Socialist party as it came close to power was seen by many as an opportunist move which prompted little change in his liberal, social-democratic views. He claimed never to have sought power for itself but as a means 'to achieving a personal vision of where Spain ought to be'. It was his success in doing this that earned him the affection and gratitude of Spaniards who saw their country, once ostracised by the world, elevated to the forefront of international affairs thanks in large measure to his efforts.