Catholics dominate Aznar cabinet in Spain

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The Independent Online
Spain's new Popular Party ministers swore an oath of allegiance to King Juan Carlos yesterday, before sweeping new brooms into old offices to clear them of 13 years of Socialist rule. The new Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, defines his government as centrist but has chosen a strongly conservative and Catholic team.

Mr Aznar is flanked by two vice-presidents, Rodrigo Rato, 47, and Francisco Alvarez Cascos, 48. Mr Rato, a Jesuit-trained lawyer with a Berkeley business degree, is also Economy Minister. Mr Alvarez Cascos becomes Mr Aznar's political supremo, taking over a beefed-up Prime Minister's office. He has a reputation as something of a bruiser.

At the Foreign Ministry, Abel Matutes, 54, owner of a bank and one of Spain's richest men, brings his experience as an EU commissioner. One of his first ministerial comments was to warn that the Spanish economy could be damaged by jumping into Europe's single currency too soon.

Jaime Mayor Oreja takes over an Interior Ministry split from the Justice portfolio, with the challenge of solving the problem of Basque terrorism. Mr Mayor Oreja, who built up the PP in the Basque country, is well placed to attempt the task that has defeated every ruler in Madrid from Franco onwards. He is credited with bringing in the five MPs of the prickly Basque Nationalist Party behind Mr Aznar.

Mr Aznar's team comes from a nucleus of young politicians who joined, or founded, the pro-Franco Popular Alliance during Spain's first steps towards democracy, but then realised that the road to power lay in ditching the dictator's political legacy. They fought both the tide of moderate Socialism that all but drowned out the voice of the Spanish right, and against the unelectable sabre-rattlers on their own side.

Four women have been included, one more than in the Socialist cabinet. Isabel Tocino heads a new Environment ministry. Esperanza Aguirre, a Madrid senator often compared to Margaret Thatcherleads the combined ministry of Culture and Education, while Margarita Mariscal, a right-wing independent magistrate, heads the Justice ministry. Loyola de Palacio, a former PP parliamentary spokeswoman, takes over Agriculture.

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