The European Elections: Poll holds key to Gonzalez's fate

Click to follow
THE Prime Minister of Spain, Felipe Gonzalez, aware that the European elections look like turning into a referendum on his leadership, wasted no time in getting his ruling Socialist Party's campaign off the ground.

A minute after midnight last night, the official campaign kick-off time, the beleaguered Prime Minister gave a television interview - in a programme appropriately called Difficult Times - in an attempt to reverse poll forecasts that show his party is heading for defeat.

His main opposition rival, the conservative Popular Party (PP) leader, Jose Maria Aznar, was not to be left behind. He was interviewed by another television channel at the same time. Meanwhile militant supporters of the two big parties spread out around the country to stick up Euro- election posters.

The urgency of the two leaders' television appearances had little to do with Europe or the European parliament. There is not much difference in the two parties' European policies.

Mr Gonzalez has moved to the centre, and even to the right, with his labour and privatisation policies. Battered by repeated corruption scandals on top of 25 per cent unemployment, Mr Gonzalez - like Mr Major in Britain - is fighting for his political survival.

Mr Aznar, whose party is predicted to win more Euro- seats than the Socialists for the first time, sees the 12 June ballot as a chance to force a vote of confidence in the Spanish pariament and force Mr Gonzalez to resign.

Mr Aznar, Julio Anguita of the nation's third biggest trade union, Izquierda Unida (IU), and the workers' federation leader, Antonio Gutierrez, have all called on Mr Gonzalez to resign.

He has said that he would only consider submitting to a vote of confidence if the European election result, and the outcome of regional elections in Andalusia on the same day, show a big drop in support. Polls suggest the Socialists will lose their absolute majority in Mr Gonzalez's home region for the first time.

Socialist leaders have dubbed Mr Aznar the 'Terminator' for his relentless attacks on the Prime Minister's conduct, and have also described the PP as 'fascists without make-up.' As in last June's general elections, which Mr Gonzalez won narrowly, without an absolute majority, the Socialists' unofficial campaign theme has been the provocative 'the right is coming', seen as a thinly-veiled suggestion that the Franco era may return.

The PP leaders retorted that Mr Gonzalez's right- hand man, the Deputy Prime Minister, Narcis Serra, was 'King of the sewers.'

Mr Serra is widely expected to be replaced whatever the election results, after the fugitive former head of the Guardia Civil, Luis Roldan, said that Mr Serra ordered him to spy on a leading banker, Mario Conde, in 1992.

He said that he gave secret reports on Mr Conde to both Mr Serra and Mr Gonzalez. Mr Serra has denied the allegation, while Mr Gonzalez has skirted a direct response.

Mr Roldan, whose whereabouts are unknown but who has said he has 'plenty of dirt' and 'won't go down alone', remains a potential time bomb for his Socialist former bosses.