José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has been the only Prime Minister during the Spanish democracy who has gained the support of more than eleven million votes. In fact, he won the Spanish Presidential elections for two consecutive terms (2004 and 2008). The political measures applied by his government focused above all on the development of an extensive programme based on the egalitarian and universal extension of civil rights through pioneering laws.
In the face of the struggle to achieve effective equality between women and men his act against Domestic Violence stands out; a comprehensive, new regulatory instrument, which has served as a model for other countries; and the Equality Act, which includes, among other specific measures, the introduction of an extendable 15 days of paternity leave for men, an extension of maternity leave for women, and establishing parity as a rule for lists of candidates, consistent with the personal decision of Mr. Zapatero to establish governments with an equal number of men and women.
"I think if there’s one thing that contemporary democracy needs it is the restoration of trust between those in power and the people."
Among other laws intended to boost civil rights and equal opportunities he also inspired the act that made same sex marriage possible. This law guarantees equal rights to all types of marriages, including in relation to adoption. He also drove forward the creation of the Dependent Care Act which assures that those who need the assistance of others at all times receive state help. This law created the 4th pillar of the Social State along with the healthcare system, education and the pension system. In that regard, his government was able to increase the minimum pensions and the number of scholarships.
Another example of Mr. Zapatero´s important, reformist and modernizing impulse was his concern for developing politics to boost R+D+I programmes, sustainable development and clean energy solutions.
A cornerstone during his terms of office was that of analysing the future of Europe within the framework of a devastating global crisis. This boosted Spanish participation in peacekeeping missions (Lebanon, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Libya) under UN and NATO command. He also strengthened Spanish presence in Europe and Latin America. Nevertheless, he did not forget about the importance of relations with emerging powers like China and areas historically linked to Spain such as the countries in the northern region of Africa. A key event in the international arena for Rodríguez Zapatero was the creation, along with the Turkish Government, of the Alliance of Civilisations (that already has over 100 nations as members), an international initiative that was adopted as an official program by the UN in 2007.
"We must create a balance between security and freedom. A democratic system has to protect civil rights and liberties. We cannot undermine those limits."
Since 2008, he focused on responding to the crisis. In this sense it is remarkable how, in 2007, Spain achieved a budget surplus of 2% of GDP and how, after the efforts of his government, as recognised by Sarkozy, the Spanish economy is out of the most dangerous zone. Rodríguez Zapatero, a professor of Constitutional Law, was elected as President of Spain for two terms.
Previously, he had been a member of the Spanish government since 1986, a term during which he was the youngest member. After winning the elections in 2004 he become the fifth Prime Minister of the young Spanish democracy. In 2008 Rodríguez Zapatero won the elections again, obtaining five more seats. Among his government’s most internationally recognised achievements over the last few years was the end of ETA’s terrorism, which was defeated by means of law and democracy.