Gonzalez slips into Churchillian mode: On eve of new term PM urges all-out effort to revive economy

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The Independent Online
TURNING his back on his Socialist Party's past policies, indeed largely on the party itself, Felipe Gonzalez appealed to Spaniards from all walks of life yesterday to tighten their belts in the face of the worst economic crisis in perhaps 30 years.

Presenting his programme during his investiture debate in the Congress of Deputies (lower house), which will almost certainly approve him as prime minister for a fourth term today, Mr Gonzalez sought to lift himself above party politics as he urged an emergency social pact to fight unemployment and recession.

During his election campaign, Mr Gonzalez had marginalised Socialist Party hardliners, relied virtually on his own image and billed himself as a kind of Churchillian figure who alone could unite the nation. Yesterday, he followed the same line. Avoiding all reference to his own party, he said the electorate had 'renewed their trust in the political force I represent'. In failing to give him an absolute majority for the first time since 1982, however, they had shown 'they want us to do things in a different way'.

The people had become disillusioned with the political parties, he said. That meant 'a new political reality' and whoever governed, presumably himself, would have to have a 'new political focus'. All but admitting that more than a decade of majority rule in parliament had distanced his party from the people, he said that from now on parliament itself should become 'the real centre of political debate'.

Barring unforeseen treachery, the Congress will formally approve Mr Gonzalez by an absolute majority today and he is expected to announce his new cabinet by Tuesday. Although his Socialists have only 159 of the House's 350 seats, the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties, with 17 and five seats respectively, have pledged, in consultation with King Juan Carlos, to support at least his investiture.

The conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), with 141 seats, and the Communist-dominated United Left coalition, the latter upset at being cold-shouldered as potential coalition partners despite the fact that their 18 seats could have given Mr Gonzalez a working majority, have both said they will vote against him today.

Responding to Mr Gonzalez's speech, the PP leader, Jose Maria Aznar, said the fact that his party had won more than 8 million of Spain's 22 million votes on 6 June meant his party could not support Mr Gonzalez in the vote. Largely blaming Mr Gonzalez and the Socialists for the present crisis, Mr Aznar said that his party could hardly believe now that Mr Gonzalez could suddenly come up with solutions.

Mr Gonzalez said his recent discussions with the Basque and nationalist parties had suggested there was a 'sufficient basis' to believe the Basques, with their five seats, might join his government - he has offered them the industry portfolio - while the Catalans may be prepared to agree to 'concrete pacts on programmes'.

Mr Gonzalez listed his priorities as the creation of jobs - to slash the current rate of 3.3 million, or 21.7 per cent of Spaniards unemployed - and improving the country's productivity. He warned that Spain's growing public-sector deficit, 4.5 per cent of GDP last year, was headed for 5 per cent and would be difficult to haul down to the levels of European convergence. But he pledged to fight the deficit.

(Photograph omitted)

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