The change of political leadership, but not of the institutional and social system, characterized the public life of Spain in the following decade. The process of homologation to the political, economic, cultural and social models prevailing in Western Europe, which had already begun in the last phase of the Franco era, was now concluded: the partial international isolation of the country officially ended with the accession to the Atlantic Alliance (May 1982) and the European Economic Community (January 1986).
The decade began with the resignation (January 1981) of Suárez, replaced by Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, former vice president of the Council and member of the right of the UCD. On the occasion of the inauguration of the new executive, a sensational demonstration of hostility by a part of the Armed Forces to democracy was recorded: the parliamentarians were kidnapped within the Congress by a group of soldiers of the Civil Guard led by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero. The attempted coup d’état, supported in the province by some general officers, returned thanks to the decisive action of King Juan Carlos and resulted in the sentencing of about thirty officers to prison terms. To the need to control the military, offering them positive counterparts in exchange for the acceptance of democracy, the most important initiative of the government of Calvo Sotelo can partly be traced back: the entry of Spain into NATO, despite the opposition of the left and the more nationalist part of the right. Despite other important measures, the weakness of the government was highlighted by uncertainties in the management of some scandals, by setbacks in the elections of the first parliaments of Galicia and Andalusia and above all by the growing conflicts that arose within the UCD. In 1982, early elections were held: the ruling party suffered a collapse beyond expectations, while the socialist party with 46% of the votes obtained, thanks to the electoral system in force (proportional corrected with the exclusion of lists below the quota 3 %), an absolute majority of seats.
Thus began the era of socialist governments, led continuously from December 1982 to 1996 by party secretary Felipe González and for which the support of the middle class was crucial. In the conquest of his support an important role was played by the renunciation of the left to demand truth and justice for the long period of Franco’s dictatorship, thanks to the adhesion to that pacto de olvido (“pact of oblivion”) for which, when Franco died, left and right decided to refrain from returning to a lacerating past. The new executive showed a great deal of restraint and quickly abandoned both the Marxist language and the series of structural reforms originally promised. Especially in the economic and financial fields, interventions were adopted in line with the mechanisms of the market, which allowed the new political class to gain the trust of the traditional capitalist centers. The economy continued to be gradually freed from the constraints in force in the Franco period both internally and abroad; limited measures were taken to reduce the high unemployment rate, which had long remained the highest in Europe.
A young political class, rapidly formed, replaced the previous one extensively. Some sectors of civil society reproached the PSOE for excessive arrogance in the management of power for having placed their men in every area of public life; however, only sporadic criticisms came from intellectual circles, given the attention and generous provisions reserved by the government for culture and its operators. Accentuated changes in customs (a departure from traditional morality in religious, sexual and behavioral matters in general) affected Spanish society, at least in the big cities. Already the Suárez government in January 1979 had stipulated with the representatives of the Catholic Church, in compliance with art. 16 of the Constitution, four substituting agreements of the previous Concordat which among other things formalized the independence of the State from any confession and disciplined the teaching of religion in public schools. Some friction arose between the González government and the ecclesiastical hierarchy regarding the legalization of abortion and the greater controls desired by the government on private schools. For Spain political system, please check politicsezine.com.
The foreign policy of the socialist government was more dynamic than that of the previous centrist governments, but did not differ substantially from it. Particularly relevant was the change of course regarding the presence of Spain in NATO. Already an advocate of a withdrawal from the Alliance when he was in the opposition, González, once he had ascended to the presidency of the government, first froze the matter: when, in March 1986, he ended up calling a long-promised popular referendum, he engaged all his strength propaganda by the government and the party to have the country’s stay in NATO accepted, albeit with a series of safeguards of national sovereignty and behind the promise of a partial withdrawal of US troops, which was then realized with the signing of a new defense agreement with the United States. On the European scenario,
The socialist prevalence gradually diminished in the general electoral rounds of the second half of the Eighties, earlier than the normal expiry of the legislature and characterized by a low turnout of voters, not least a sign of a drop in tension and ideals. The term desencanto was adopted to indicate the failure of the rosiest expectations connected with the advent of democracy, and the neologism Pasotism was coined(“carelessness”) to mean the rejection, especially by the youth, of all civil, political and social concerns. However, the decline in socialist support did not significantly benefit the left and right oppositions, unable to produce a valid alternative to the ruling party. The main opposition group, AP (Alianza popular), in which different currents had converged, from the far right to the liberals, was long troubled by the withdrawal and then the return of its top leader, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, former minister of the regime Francoist. Even presenting himself in larger cartels grouping other formations, he failed to obtain significant affirmations in the elections of 1986 and 1989.
In the aftermath of the elections of October 1989, Spanish political life was upset by a series of scandals, linked to episodes of corruption that involved members of both the PSOE and the opposition. The image of the PSOE was further damaged by revelations concerning the party’s irregular financing, while the country’s economy, after a few years of expansion, from 1992 entered a phase of severe recession. For June 1993 González announced general political elections, which resulted in the loss of an absolute majority by the PSOE and an increase in José María Aznar ‘s PP (Partido popular). Despite this, González inaugurated his fourth government, assuming the leadership of a minority administration.