José María Aznar López was Prime Minister of Spain between 1996 and 2004. Born on February 25, 1953, Aznar grew up under Francisco Franco's Fascist Falange government, a fact that had a great effect on his political beliefs. His grandfather was ambassador and journalist Manuel Aznar Zubigaray, a Basque nationalist activist who later swore allegiance to Franco.
As a young man, Aznar attended the Catholic high school Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Madrid
and studied law at the prestigious Universidad Complutense, also in Madrid. During his student years, Aznar joined the Frente de Estudiantes Sindicalistas (FES), a far-right Catholic-leaning organization.
After obtaining his law degree, Aznar became a tax inspector and moved to the province of La Rioja, where he became that province's representative in Parliament under the banner of conservative party Alianza Popular.
His status as a member of the opposition earned him the enmity of Basque terrorist group ETA, which carried out an assassination attempt on April 19, 1995 against his armored car. A woman was killed in the attack, but Aznar walked to a nearby hospital unharmed.
Aznar became Prime Minister after winning a scant majority in the 1996 elections by forming alliances with the nationalist parties Convergéncia i Unió; of Catalonia, Partido Nacionalista Vasco of the Basque Country, and Coalición Canaria of the Canary Islands.
Aznar's politics are generally described as center-right, putting him on the same ideological plane as Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, at least when compared to the more stalwart liberal French and German governments; embracing market-oriented policies without attacking the welfare state, cooperation on a bilateral or multilateral basis to the exclusion of European unity, and a hard line against terrorism. During his first term in office, Spain's economic growth outpaced countries in the rest of Europe thanks to policies centered on cutting the deficit and inflation, while stimulating job growth through deregulation, privatization, and liberal monetary policies such as lowering interest rates.
Aznar also promoted Spain's integration into the European community, although he has been criticized by rivals as pro-American. In November 1996, the Congress approved The country's entrance in NATO, which led to the end of conscription in 2001 and the professionalization of the Spanish Armed Forces. From 1999 onwards, Spain was part of international peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo (SFOR and KFOR), with approximately 3,000 troops in the region. In 1998, Spain qualified for entrance into the euro zone thanks to good economic progress which many credited to Aznar's policies.
In 2003, Aznar's government supported the United States and Britain in their preemptive strike on Iraq. Despite broad public opposition, the PP maintained its majority in the May elections. In 2004, Aznar announced that he would not run for reelection to the office of Prime Minister, selecting Mariano Rajoy as his successor.
On March 11, 2004, three days before legislative elections, bombs exploded at three train stations in Madrid, killing nearly 200 people. Many saw the Aznar government's support for the Iraq was as the chief motive behind the attack, and the government's hasty reaction--blaming ETA on little evidence, although later investigations seem to link to the attacks to Moroccan Islamic extremists--drew widespread criticism. With the occupation of Iraq seeming more and more like a disaster, the Spanish public elected socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the office of Prime Minister.
Aznar speaks Spanish, French and English. He is married to Ana Botella, with whom he has three children, José María, Ana, and Alonso.
Chronology of Aznar's political career:
- 1980: Secretary of Alianza Popular-La Rioja
- 1981: Elected AP National Vice-Secretary of Autonomies and Regions
- 1982: Named AP Deputy General Secretary
- January 1982: Reelected AP Deputy General Secretary
- February 1986: Reelected AP Deputy General Secretary
- 1984: AP General Coordinator of Area of Autonomous and Local Politics
- 1985: Elected President of Autonomous Community of Castilla and León.
- June 22, 1986: Elected representative of Ávila
- June, 1987: Attorney General of Castilla and León
- January, 1989: Alianza Popular changes its name to Partido Popular, Aznar elected the party's National Vice-President
- 1989: Loses bid for Prime Minister to Partido Socialista Obrero Española (Spanish Socialist Worker's Party, PSOE)
- 1990: Elected President of Partido Popular
- 1993: Loses second bid for Prime Minister to PSOE
- 1993: Reelected President of PP
- March, 1996: Elected Prime Minister of Spain