Gonzalez brings independents into Spain's cabinet: The left wing is shut out of new government

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The Independent Online
SPAIN'S Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, has excluded his Socialist Party's left-wing faction from a moderate, largely technocratic new cabinet to be sworn in today by King Juan Carlos. The King will inaugurate the new legislature.

Mr Gonzalez, forced to rule with a minority government for the first time, brought eight new faces into the 18-strong cabinet, almost all in their forties, including three women, one more than in his previous team.

Having promised sweeping changes after losing his absolute majority for the first time since 1982, Mr Gonzalez included six ministers who are nominally independent from - though in most cases, long linked with - his increasingly inaptly named Socialist Workers' Party.

Indeed, so far has Mr Gonzalez moved from the left over the years, that there is talk of changing the party's name to one that more accurately reflects his centrist policies.

Emphasising his priority of tackling an unexpectedly deep economic crisis, Mr Gonzalez juggled several portfolios, separating Commerce and Tourism as a single ministry instead of under the Industry portfolio as before. Although the pro-European technocrat Pedro Solbes, formerly agriculture minister, got the job of Finance and Economy, Mr Gonzalez announced that the continuing deputy prime minister, Narcis Serra, would have an additional economic role, heading the key Ministerial Committee on Economic Affairs.

Carlos Solchaga, the outgoing finance minister, had already been named to the important post of party leader and spokesman within the Congress of Deputies (the lower house), where his influence over economic policy may still be felt.

Overall, the reshuffle was less than dramatic and greeted with anything from disappointment to derision from both the far left and right-wing opposition, which had expected or called for more radical changes, particularly to attack the economic crisis.

Mr Gonzalez has surrounded himself with people he knows and trusts, either party moderates or independents, ousting the left-wing faction headed by Alfonso Guerra, the deputy party leader and former deputy prime minister. The result is a cabinet that can be expected to follow Mr Gonzalez's pro-European line, though perhaps with a greater openness and willingness to maintain a crucial dialogue with the trade unions.

Mr Solbes is seen as a low-profile figure who is likely to follow rather than lead Mr Gonzalez and Mr Serra in economic policy but he could play a key role as mediator in a proposed Grand Social Pact to tackle 21.7 per cent unemployment as well as sliding productivity and competitiveness.

Mr Gonzalez's attempts to rope in Catalan and Basque nationalists to a coalition were spurned, but both indicated they would support him on specific legislation to give him an absolute majority in the 350-seat Congress. The Socialists have only 159 seats and will need the Catalans' 17 votes to pass laws.

Javier Solana retained the Foreign Ministry, Julian Garcia Vargas Defence and Jose Luis Corcuera the Interior Ministry. Mr Gonzalez created a new ministry of La Presidencia. Mr Gonzalez is often called 'presidente' rather than prime minister - his formal title is Prime Minister and President of the Council of Ministers - and the new portfolio is one of liaison between him and parliament. The new minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, will be the government spokesman. His predecessor, Rosa Conde, will still work for Mr Gonzalez.

THE CABINET: Narcis Serra (deputy PM); Javier Solana (Foreign); Juan Alberto Belloch (Justice); Julian Garcia Vargas (Defence); Pedro Solbes (Finance); Jose Luis Corcuera (Interior); Jose Borrell (Transport); Gustavo Suarez (Education); Jose Antonio Grinan (Labour); Juan Manuel Eguiagaray (Industry); Javier Gomez Navarro (Tourism); Vicente Albero (Agriculture); Jeronimo Saavedra (Public Administration); Carmen Alborch Bataller (Culture); Angeles Amador Millan (Health); Cristina Alberdi (Social Affairs); Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba (Presidency).