EC Summit: Gonzalez gains Spanish acclaim as Robin Hood: Spanish PM greeted as champion of the poorer states

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The Independent Online
MADRID - Felipe Gonzalez may have been a thorn in John Major's flesh in Edinburgh but he was widely seen at home as emulating the exploits of another Englishman, a certain Mr Robin Hood.

The Spanish Prime Minister's stubborn stance during Saturday's marathon European summit was generally welcomed in his domestic media as a bold and principled move to take from Europe's rich and distribute among its poor.

It is doubtful whether the majority of Spanish voters yet understand the exact nature of cohesion or structural funds. But the image of their leader standing up to the rest of Europe - notably to the man who for Mr Gonzalez had taken on the role of Sheriff of Nottingham, Mr Major - is unlikely to do the Spanish Prime Minister any harm in general elections next year. Indeed, some observers believe Mr Gonzalez may decide to cash in quickly by calling a ballot in the spring.

Ironically, the Spanish media compared Mr Gonzalez's performance with that of Margaret Thatcher in 1984 when, as British prime minister, she demanded a rebate from the EC. 'Felipe Gonzalez emulates Margaret Thatcher and demands a 'Spanish cheque',' said a headline in yesterday's El Pais daily. The same paper said Mr Gonzalez had become increasingly annoyed with Mr Major during Saturday's budget negotiations, accusing the British Prime Minister at one point of 'adding insult to injury' and threatening to walk out of the summit.

In an editorial headed 'An agreement reached with forceps', El Pais said Saturday night's agreements were 'fragile and minimal'. Appearing to echo Mr Gonzalez's feelings, it criticised Britain's six-month EC presidency as 'stingy and self-centred. It will go down in history as the one that achieved the least consensus. Within a few hours of the summit, all the decisive issues were wide- open and therefore subject to dangerous last-minute negotiations in front of an open tomb.'

Mr Gonzalez himself was sticking to his guns or, depending on your perspective, his bow and arrow. 'We held our position right to the end because we knew we were right,' he said, describing the budget wrangling as 'tough and tense. The imbalances have to be corrected and that's what I'm going to do. I'll do it even if I'm on my own 20 times. I don't care if I have to stand as one against 11. That's what I'm paid for as Prime Minister of my country.'

Mr Gonzalez, who has shown increasing impatience with Britain and Denmark, said he would have preferred a fixed deadline for the two countries to ratify the Maastricht treaty. However, Edinburgh showed, he said, that 'even if some fall by the wayside, the will of the others is to continue'.