Spain Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Spain is a country located in Southern Europe. With the capital city of Madrid, Spain has a population of 46,754,789 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. After the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, Spain quickly developed into a democracy. Since a social government came to power in 1982, a number of social reforms were introduced and the country’s regions gained far-reaching autonomy. Since then, conservative and socialist governments have replaced each other. The years 1996-2004 were characterized by economic upturn. However, towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s, unemployment rose and a deep economic crisis developed.

The turnout was high when the Spaniards in 1977 were allowed to vote freely for the first time in 40 years. The Democratic Center Union (UCD) won, led by Adolfo Suárez. The main opponent was the Socialist Party (PSOE). In 1978 a new constitution was adopted, which among other things divided the country into autonomous regions (see Political system).

In 1981, the military tried to take power in a coup. A group of officers broke into Parliament and took members hostage. However, the king succeeded in a courageous intervention to convince the coup makers to give up.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Spain. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The following year, Spain joined the NATO defense alliance, despite opposition from the socialists. In the same year, the PSOE won the parliamentary elections. The Socialist government, with Prime Minister Felipe González, initiated a series of social reforms and the country’s regions gained relatively far-reaching autonomy. Most extensively became self-governing in the Basque Country. Despite this, violence from the Basque separatist movement increased ETA (see Basque Country). Check best-medical-schools for more information about Spain.

Spain joins EC (EU)

In 1986 Spain joined the EC (now the EU). At the same time, the PSOE accepted the NATO membership and the Spaniards also said yes to this in a referendum. The Socialists won the elections in 1986 and 1989, but with reduced support. With the EC entry, Spain’s economy was opened and the country experienced rapid growth, which however stopped after a few years. In 1992 Spain went into a deep recession. After the election the following year, the socialists were forced to form a minority government with the support of Catalan and Basque nationalists.

At the same time, a number of political scandals with leading socialists were revealed. Most serious was that these were behind the so-called anti-terror patrols (GAL), which had killed nearly 30 suspected ETA members in 1983-87. Prime Minister Felipe González was acquitted, but in 1998 the former interior minister and the party’s security chief were sentenced to ten years in prison for their roles in the “dirty war” against ETA. The head of the Civil Guard was given 28 years in prison for, among other things, corruption.

In the fall of 1995, the Catalan Party of Assembly and Unity (CiU) withdrew its support for the government, leading to a new election in March 1996. The Conservative People’s Party (PP) won by a marginal margin. Party leader José María Aznar formed a minority government with support from CiU, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Canary Coalition (CC).

ETA saw PP as an heir to the Franco dictatorship and launched an offensive against the party’s local politician in the Basque Country (see Basque Country).

In order to qualify Spain for entry into the European Monetary Union EMU 1999, the government cut public spending in the late 1990s. The economy improved and high unemployment fell. In the 2000 election, PP got its own majority in Congress.

The terrorist act in Madrid

All opinion polls indicated that the PP would win the parliamentary elections in March 2004. Three days before the election, on March 11, the most serious terrorist attack to date in an EU country occurred. Ten powerful bombs were detonated at various commuter trains and train stations in Madrid, most at the Atocha station. 191 people were killed and nearly 2,000 were injured in the morning rush hour. The government accused the ETA of the act, despite the police finding evidence early on that it was carried out by a radical Islamist group. After the attack, the election campaign was canceled and demonstrations were held against terrorism. The day before the election, a large number of people demonstrated against the government who were criticized for their support for the US-led war in Iraq and for not disclosing all information about the terrorist act.

The election was unexpectedly won by the Socialist Party, which received 43 percent of the vote, against 38 percent for the PP. Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became the new prime minister for a minority government supported by several regional parties. Aznar’s way of dealing with the terrorist crisis was considered to have made the choice in PSOE’s favor.

In July of that year, Aznar admitted that even before the election, he knew that the police had dismissed the ETA track. But since Aznar had previously won on her tough stance towards ETA, PP would have been able to favor the election if ETA was guilty of the terrorist act. An attack by Islamists, on the other hand, would have been seen as a revenge campaign triggered by Aznar’s support for the United States and the Iraq war.

The hunt for suspected Islamist terrorists accelerated after the Madrid attack. A Spanish citizen born in Syria was sentenced in 2005 to 27 years in prison for participating in the preparation of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 and for being the leader of the terror network al-Qaeda’s operations in Spain. In October 2007, three people were sentenced to 40,000 years in prison – in practice 40 years – for 191 murders in connection with the Madrid attack. Another 18 people were sentenced to prison for up to 23 years for, for example, counterfeiting, conspiracy and assisting in terrorism. In 2008, the Supreme Court released four of the convicted and sentenced another freed man to prison.

Deep economic crisis

The Zapatero government pursued a modern socio-liberal policy, including regarding the right of gays to marry and the issue of abortion, which caused the Catholic Church to stand at the head of the opposition.

Before the March 2008 parliamentary elections, the economy was the big issue. Inflation and unemployment had risen and the real estate market had started to have problems. The Socialist Party won by 44 percent of the vote, while the People’s Party received just over 40 percent. Zapatero formed a new minority government.

After the election, the economy went into a recession. Despite the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy, unemployment and the budget deficit increased. Concerns for Spanish government finances rose as credit rating agencies lowered Spain’s credit rating. In the spring of 2010, the government tried to get the economy on the right track with budgetary tightening and savings packages that included, among other things, increased VAT and retirement age, reduced or frozen salaries for public employees and less money for the autonomous regions.

The proposals led to demonstrations and strikes. The union accused the Socialist government of bowing to the pressure of the financial market and leading Spain to disaster. The protests rose in the autumn of the same year since Parliament voted through legislation that made it easier, among other things, to terminate staff and to lower public sector wages, and the 2011 budget contained further cuts.

Despite the unpopular measures, Spain’s credit rating was again lowered, which resulted in the government submitting yet another savings package at the end of 2010.

Social concerns and demonstrations

Ahead of the regional and local elections in May 2011, a protest movement was born los indignados (the indignities), which quickly spread throughout Spain. The movement, which had direct democracy as one of its goals, brought hundreds of thousands of people, mostly young people, to peaceful demonstrations and tent camps in various Spanish cities. They objected to the cuts and the EU’s demands on Spain, thereby defying the demonstration ban that had been introduced before the elections.

The elections became a stinging defeat for the ruling party PSOE, which lost control of former socialist strongholds like Barcelona and Seville, and after 28 years in the Castile-La Mancha region. The regional elections led to PP gaining power in 13 of the country’s 17 regions.

In the Basque country, ETA’s political branch, Batasuna, had been banned, but instead the separatist alliance Bildu, which distanced itself from ETA’s violence, had unexpected success. At the same time, ETA had weakened and in the fall of 2011, the organization announced that it was discontinuing its military activity, which until then had claimed 829 people’s lives (see also Basque Country).

Prime Minister Zapatero announced in July that parliamentary elections would be held in November 2011. Zapatero, who had announced that he would resign after the election, felt it was important that a new government could address the financial problems from the turn of the year. The decision was welcomed by the opposition.

The election was won by the Conservative PP, which received almost 45 percent of the vote and its own majority in Congress. PSOE stayed at just under 29 percent.

Conservative government

In December 2011, PP’s party leader Mariano Rajoy took over as prime minister. His government presented new budgetary tightening as well as continued frozen salaries and tax increases.

The strikes and demonstrations in the wake of the crisis continued in early 2012. Unemployment was soaring, housing prices in the inflated real estate market had fallen sharply and more and more people were evicted when they could not afford to pay interest or repayments on their loans. It also made several banks in crisis. Despite austerity, GDP fell and the budget deficit increased.

The government has long claimed that Spain would cope with the crisis without external assistance, but in June 2012 it requested € 100 billion in EU support to cope with the banks’ loan losses. The euro area countries granted the loan to the banks and also postponed the Spanish government to 2014 by reducing the deficit in the state budget. A new crisis budget for 2013 was presented in September. Many of the austerity and reforms had been enshrined with the EU as a way of meeting the tough demands in advance, should emergency loans from the euro countries and the purchase of Spanish government bonds by the European Central Bank be involved.

The crisis also led to growing demands for independence in Catalonia. There was a strong dissatisfaction that the region was not allowed to recover and decide on all its taxes, such as the Basque country. In spite of a ban from the Spanish Parliament and the Constitutional Court, in November 2014, Catalonia conducted a symbolic advisory referendum, in which nearly 40 percent of Catalan voters voted, and over 80 percent voted for independence (see Catalonia).

Corruption charges against PP and Rajoy

The pressure on Prime Minister Rajoy increased when allegations of corruption were added to the separatist demands and the economic crisis. According to media disclosures, in 1990–2008 the PP had received unreported donations from the construction sector, where large sums would have gone to leading party representatives, including Rajoy. The opposition demanded the departure of the prime minister and anger grew among economically pressured Spaniards. Rajoy denied all allegations of irregularities, but prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation against the party.

The corruption charges raised questions about the origins of the Spanish property bubble, which burst in 2008 and triggered the Spanish banks’ loan crisis. If the allegations against the PP were true, the party would have received large sums from the construction sector when local and regional politicians awarded extensive construction contracts, which helped to raise property prices and increase household debt (one trillion euros in 2010).

When Prime Minister Rajoy was in charge of the Congress on the corruption charges, he blamed the party’s former treasurer and declared himself innocent and did not intend to resign. In the fall of 2013, the pressure eased somewhat against the government, as the economy began to turn up again thanks to growing exports. However, unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, remained high.

In June 2014, Prime Minister Rajoy announced that Spanish King Juan Carlos, who has been the country’s monarch and head of state since 1975, would abdicate in favor of his son, Crown Prince Felipe. On June 19, Felipe VI became the country’s new king.

PSOE and PP back in regional elections

In the fall of 2014, the policy was shaken by new corruption scandals, which had repercussions for the PP and the Socialist Party in the opinion polls, while it favored the newly formed Left Party Podemos.

In the regional elections in Andalucia in March 2015, the Socialist Party became the largest party, followed by the PP. But the major parties had lost support, while Podemos and a new bourgeois middle party Ciudadanos stepped forward. The next big election test on May 24, with elections in all Spanish municipalities and in 13 of the 17 regions. became a setback for PP. In the entire country, PP received 27 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent in 2011. The Socialist Party also lost votes to Podemos and Ciudadanos. The regional elections in Catalonia on September 27 became a success for the independence-winning parties that gained their own majority in the parliament in Barcelona.

No clear winner in the parliamentary elections

On December 20, 2015, elections to the Spanish Congress were held. The Spanish government now seemed to abandon the harsh austerity policy. The electoral movement was dominated by issues related to the economy, corruption deals and the pursuit of independence in Catalonia.

As expected, PP became the largest party in the election with close to 29 percent of the vote, followed by PSOE, which cooperated with several regional left parties, at 22 percent, Podemos at just under 21 percent and Ciudadanos with almost 14 percent.

The PP thus lost its majority in the Congress and the formation of government became difficult. A month after the parliamentary elections, there were no signs that the parties would agree on a new government. Two attempts by the PSOE to form a government with Ciudadanos were voted down in Parliament and the PSOE leader rejected Rajoy’s proposals that the PSOE and PP should rule together. When it became clear that all attempts to form a government had failed, a new election was announced until June 26.

New elections and minority government

Prior to the recent election, Podemos formed a Valalliance, Unidos Podemos (Together We Can), with the United Left (IU). This was considered to strengthen the left before the election, but the election did not mean any major changes, other than that the turnout decreased. PP again became the largest party, with 33 percent of the vote, but without its own majority in Congress. PSOE came in second with almost 23 percent, followed by Unidos Podemos and Ciudadanos with just over 13 percent.

Rajoy’s first two attempts to form a government with Ciudadanos were rejected by Parliament, with members of the Socialist Party voting against the proposal. PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez at all costs wanted to prevent Rajoy and PP from continuing to govern the country, but the party was divided on the issue. At a riotous meeting on October 1, 2016, Sánchez was forced to resign as party leader, which opened for a new vote at the end of the month. 68 MPs then cast their votes and thus allowed Rajoy to continue as prime minister, at the head of a conservative minority government.

Independence requirements in Catalonia

At the same time, the independence movement in Catalonia continued to grow. The power metric between Madrid and Barcelona was spearheaded when the regional government in 2017 decided to hold a referendum on independence, despite opposition from the Spanish government and the Constitutional Court banned it.

The referendum was held on October 1. The election day was riddled with violence as the National Police and the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) tried to prevent people from voting. According to the Catalan authorities, 90 percent voted for independence, but turnout was low, just over 42 percent. The vote was condemned by the outside world who expressed their support for a united Spain.

Now followed several trips where Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont seemed to hesitate before the decisive step to proclaim Catalonia’s independence and the Spanish government said no to all the talks on the issue of independence. On October 27, the Catalan Parliament adopted a Declaration on Catalan Independence. As a result, Madrid, for the first time, activated Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, and took over the rule of Catalonia (see Political system). On the same day, the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan parliament and dismissed the regional government. New elections in Catalonia were announced until December 21.

In the separatist bloc, it somewhat reversed, but still managed to retain a scarce majority in the regional parliament. The major lost election became the PP, while Ciudadanos, who opposes Catalonia’s independence, became the single largest party in Parliament (see Calendar). When the election results were clear, Puigdemont called from his exile in Brussels for new talks between the separatists and the central government, which was rejected by Rajoy.

Government formation became a complicated process when the winning side’s leader either sat in jail, had moved abroad or was investigated for crime. At the same time, the parties that opposed independence could not reach a majority in the regional parliament (see also Catalonia). Only in May of that year did the Catalan parliament succeed in appointing a new regional president: Quim Torra, who was hand-picked as a candidate by Puigdemont.

Government formation became a complicated story when the winning side’s leader either sat imprisoned, fled abroad or investigated for crime. At the same time, the parties that opposed independence could not reach a majority in the regional parliament. It was not until mid-May of that year that the Catalan parliament succeeded in appointing a new regional president: Quim Torra.

Shift of power

After several PP politicians, including the party’s former treasurer, were sentenced to long prison sentences for corruption, in June 2018, the PSOE succeeded in defeating the PP government through a declaration of confidence with the support of Unidos Podemos and several regional parties. This meant that government power was taken over by the PSOE, with Pedro Sánchez as prime minister. Several women were given heavy ministerial posts and the new government consisted of six men and eleven women.

Spain Modern History