While not formally calling for his resignation, the newspaper declared the Prime Minister's long domination of Spanish politics to be over. It called on him to submit to a confidence vote in parliament.
Mr Gonzalez is under siege for, among other things, his alleged role in a "dirty war" waged against the Basque separatist group, Eta, in the Eighties. The editorial, "End of an era", said: "The death-agony of more than a decade of Socialist government seems inevitable and threatens to become the death-agony for everyone . . . "
The defection of El Pais, Spain's most influential newspaper, is a painful blow for the government. Founded in 1976, six months after Franco's death, it marched arm-in-arm with the still illegal Socialist Party to record, explain and virtually to symbolise Spain's peaceful transition to democracy.
The paper regarded the party's young leaders as heroes. Its cartoonist, Peridis, ran affectionate caricatures portraying an energetic Felipe tilting at the pillars of the establishment with a red rose clutched in his fist.
Yesterday Peridis drew Mr Gonzalez as himself an establishment pillar, held up by his coalition partner, the Catalan leader Jordi Pujol, and being bumped from behind by the conservative Popular Party leader, Jose Maria Aznar.
When the Socialists came to power in 1982, El Pais backed a government that implemented policies for which the paper had campaigned. But, as Mr Gonzalez's lustre faded, other papers, particularly the anti-government El Mundo, became a harsher scourge, surpassing El Pais in crusading zeal.
El Mundo is carrying the testimony of two former policemen who accuse the government of paying them hush money in the Eighties over the organisation of GAL, the anti-terrorist squad accused of waging war on Eta through a shoot-to-kill policy.The El Pais editorial yesterday called on Mr Gonzalez to debate the GAL affair in parliament.
The economy minister, Pedro Solbes, yesterday announced after a cabinet meeting that a package of measures will be implement to curb public spending.
Last year's inflation figures, also announced yesterday, were 4.3 per cent - slightly up on the previous year.
EL PAIS Extracts from the front-page editorial in yesterday's El Pais:
"Should Felipe Gonzalez resign? Should he call general elections?...When and how will this end this stage of more than a decade of socialist government whose death agony appears inevitable and threatens to become the death agony of everybody?
The responses of the Prime Minister to questions over the state's responsibility for control of the [anti-terrorist police] GAL have not been believed by the broad majority of the population.
Both are sustained thanks to the support which the minority Catalans give them in Parliament...There is the impression, we think widely held, that the model of government that Gonzalez has created during the last 12 years has come to an end. The possibilities of change within the Spanish Socialist Workers Party seem for the moment almost non- existent.
A new stage in the life of the country must be opened and it is more than probable that the exhaustion of Gonzalez will not permit him to continue playing the starring role in which he has cast himself further.
Furthermore, the future of Spain cannot go on being subjected to an uncertainty which to a large extent depends on criminal proceedings whose final verdict will be delayed for years. Apart from the intended coup d'etat [in 1981], this is the first occasion on which Spanish democracy must put to the test the constitutional resources to resolve a political crisis .
Gonzalez must not only go to Parliament as the opposition demands to debate the subject of the GAL but he must propose a motion of confidence which would oblige the representative of popular sovereignty to ratify or not the post of the current Prime Minister.
The indecision of Mr Gonzalez has done nothing but worsen things. If the government wins a confidence vote, Gonzalez can continue governing. If not his defeat should give rise to a transitional Cabinet whose fundamental mission would be to agree with allpolitical forces to call general elections.
The dilemma is to continue as we are or to resort to the democratic instruments which the constitution provides. The most powerful of those are general elections...The present situation threatens not only to destroy the government but to damage the democratic system itself.
Let Gonzalez immediately present a motion of confidence. Let us now respond with a censure motion to the Prime Ministers' culpable immobilism. Let all assume their political duties with respect to the electorate. Otherwise Gonzalez will end up by being pushed out.
But it will be all the Spaniards who will feel the kick up the backside."Reuse content