In June 1997, the 34th congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, PSOE, elected Joaquín Almunia as Secretary General. Then, at the age of forty-nine, he had already been a long-time prominent member of the party and a man familiar with the workings of the PSOE all over Spain.
He was born in Bilbao in 1948 and gained his degree in Law and Economics at the University of Deusto, also in the Basque Country. Nevertheless Almunia early in his career transferred to the capital and for a time taught labour law and social security at the University of Alcalá de Henares. He joined the PSOE and the UGT labour confederation in 1976 and became an adviser to the UGT two years later. He has always represented voters of Madrid since he first became a deputy in the Cortes in 1979. Three years after becoming a member of parliament, he won his first place in the cabinet as Minister for Labour and Social Security, a brief he held until 1986 when he took the Public Administration portfolio. As well as being leader of his party he is now the socialist candidate to succeed José María Aznar, the head of the Spanish government and leader of the Popular Party, PP.
Public opinion polls taken in September show that the PSOE is increasing its popularity, as is their leader, Almunia. The forecast that he made towards the end of last year to the effect that "Aznar is more fragile than ever", certainly seems to be coming true.
In October 1998, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Spain's constitution, he gave his definition of what modern democracy means.
"Today", he said, "democracy is the equality of men and women. Today democracy is the mingling of races. Today democracy is equality in education. Today democracy is development cooperation. Today democracy is participation in missions of peace and security. Today democracy is more than ever a state with a social conscience. Today democracy is also the development of the rights of the citizen; those which make up personality and bonds of affection. And, as a result, democracy today is the acceptance of new forms of the family, democracy is respect for sexual preferences. Democracy is the decriminalisation of abortion, democracy is the right to be different. Democracy is tolerance."
In October of this year, the Spanish public got more of an idea of the details of the political platform on which Almunia will fight the elections due to take place early in 2000.
Speaking in Madrid at a party gathering, the candidate for the premiership said that education would be the party's priority if the PSOE won the poll. He would see to it that state schools would be open for eleven months of the year and for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Everything would be done so that at the end of their schooldays, young Spaniards would have a good grasp of information technology and be able to speak one foreign language fluently. A PSOE government would make every effort to ensure that there would be no more than twenty-two pupils in a class.
The conservative Aznar government, Almunia said, had "abandoned public education in favour of private education." They had left aside education as a way to encourage equality and the progress of the individual and society. "Any government that I lead will do the opposite", he declared.
People would be at the heart of a PSOE government, Almunia has made clear, with policies promoting the socialist commitment to giving support to the family, moving away from the right-wing concept of the role of men and women in society. Initiatives would also include plans for assisting older people and a programme for preschool education. Almunia stresses the importance of providing a government plan in which Spanish men and women feel their lives and concerns are reflected. Consequently, his government would dedicate itself to defending the rights which affect all family members.
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