Spain gets the pregnant defense minister

And how much is Spain a conservative country. Carme Chacon was appointed to Spanish defense minister.

Questions:

1. Carme Chacón is a new minister of defense of Spain. But some critics are unsatisfied with her not because she is the pregnant woman but because she is self-proclaimed pacifist. Is her appointment as Spanish ministry of defense first of all kind of gesture from Prime Minister Zapatero to promote bigger representation of women in politics?

2. Also some people from opposition Partido Popular criticized Zapatero he picked nine women to his governmental team just to be in the news but his cabinet is inexperienced. Opposition mentioned for example Mrs. Chacón was before her new position Minister of Housing and she do not know much about military. What is you opinion? Is new Spanish government inexperienced?

3. Is Spain still conservative and Catholic country? How would you describe the chances of Prime Minister Zapatero to change the roots of Spanish society a how successful is he till now in this effort?

Answers:

Joan Botella, Professor of Political Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

1. I am not sure Ms. Chacón is a self-proclaimed pacifist: of course she’s not in favour of war as a tool of foreign policy (Spanish Constitution forbids that), but the Spanish Cabinet, and certainly herself, are committed to continue the Spanish military presence in Afganistan, in the context of the UN mission. Possibly the “image factor” has been an important element in her appointment, but she is quite important politically in her party, and I am sure she is looking towards higher goals. And then the symbolical element: a blonde, young, pregnant woman running the Spanish armies, in the past enormously un-democratic, “macho”, agressive forces… Just goes to show how big the change in the last 25 years has been.

2. The new Spanish Cabinet includes both quite aged and experienced individuals (Moratinos in Foreign Affairs, Solbes in Economy, Pérez Rubalcaba in the Home Office, etc.) and younger individuals, with a short political experience, or maybe no political experience at all (as Ms. Garmendia, Minister for University and Innovation, directly arrived from industry). But most of those new names were in the second line of the previous Cabinet: many of them were General Secretaries or General Directors; therefore, they are not really new, and certainly not unexperienced.

3. Your question has two different sides. On one hand, Spain is still a Catholic country, but the loss of religious practice has been dramatic in the last 3o years: for the whole Europe, Spain is currently the most de-Christianized society. Take any indicator (rates of birh; number of religious novices; attendance to mass; rate of religious marriages over the total number of marriages; and the like), and you will find an abrupt and continuous loss of presence. I cannot be long about it, but the strong implication of the Catholic church with the Franco dictatorship (for instance, bishops could only be appointed among candidates presented to the Vatican by General Franco himself) is largely responsible for this.

I am not so sure about the second part of your question. In fact, I am not sure at all that M. Zapatero is trying to “change the roots of Spanish society”. I would rather say that his government has acted accordingly to the phenomena described in the previous paragraph: if an increasing part of the Spanish society is distant from the Catholic church, then the criteria and rules of the Church may not be taken to be mandatory for the full society. If abortion, or a non-religious education, or genetical research, or elimination of Francoist monuments, are forbidden by the Catholic Church, then those rules or interdictions have to be followed by Catholics, but not by the rest of the society. In this sense, I think M. Zapatero is not changing Spain at all: I would rather say, he is surfing over a wave of changes within society – and certainly taking advantage of it – but not really promoting changes: those changes were already there, taking place long before his arrival to office

I am very bad at predictions (specially when it comes to make predictions about the future…), but, if my analysis is true, those trends will be hard to redress. See, in this line, how the Vatican stand towards M. Zapatero Cabinet has been very different from Spanish bishops: less agressive, more respectful, more sympathetic.

Sebastian Balfour, Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Spanish Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science

1. By appointing Chacon, Zapatero is no doubt sending out a progressive message of gender equality, in particular that women can carry out that political duty most identified with men. Since his government is in a minority, it is a somewhat risky decision in that it leaves him even more exposed to the unremitting criticism of the Opposition. We must be careful when we use the term pacifist. According to opinion polls, the vast majority of Spaniards are pacifist in that they would only support humanitarian military intervention abroad. No politician, except on the far left, talks about abolishing the armed forces or reducing them to any great extent.

2. The Zapatero government of 2004 was relatively inexperienced and so is this one. But that is true of any new executive. Nevertheless, given that this is a minority government, Chacon will need to prove herself quickly.

3. Spain is not a conservative and Catholic country. For several decades, opinion polls suggest the balance of opinion is between centre and centre-left. The Catholic Church still plays an important role because of its institutional strength but not because it commands large numbers of church-going faithful. Church attendance has continually fallen and Spain is becoming increasingly secular. Nevertheless the Church can still mobilise many people on to the streets over issues such as abortion and gay marriage.But they are a small minority of the population.

Richard Gunther, Professor of Political Science, The Ohio State University

1. Indeed, the formation of this cabinet reflects a commitment by the new government to increase the political representation of women in the government. But her appointment, in particular, was also intended to include a Catalan in the government. (Despite her Spanish name, she is Catalan by birth.)

2. Zapatero would almost certainly respond by claiming that what is most important is the overall level of competence of the minister, rather than her initial knowledge of the subject matter of the ministry. Others, however, might criticize the assumption that “on the job training” would be sufficient to run a large and complex ministry like Defense. This is always an open issue whenever new ministers are appointed to governments in parliamentary systems.

3. Spain is definitely NOT conservative, and it has undergone a substantial process of secularization. In most public opinion polls, Spaniards place themselves at an average position of about 4.7 on the 10-point left-right scale (with 5.5. being the mid-point on the scale). This makes them the most progressive electorate in Southern Europe, and perhaps in Europe overall. With regard to religious practice, only about one third of Spaniards attend religious services regularly, in comparison with about two thirds as late as the early 1970s.

Carsten Humlebæk, Department of International Culture and Communication Studie, Copenhagen Business School

1. The fact that Carmen Chacón is a woman is surely one factor in Zapatero’s nomination of her and a part of his strategy to build a balanced cabinet. But I wouldn’t say it is the most important. Zapatero’s is very careful to appoint only very capable people as ministers and the fact that she previously was Minister of Housing only proves that she has lived up to Zapatero’s expectations and therefore he has judged her fit to ascend to her new position. As a gesture it is probably more important to appoint a self-proclaimed pacifist as Minister of Defense.

2. Of course, one might criticise the relative inexperience of the new Zapatero cabinet, and there is a certain amount of gambling involved in Zapatero’s appointment. It was not very different with his last government, and although a couple of his former ministers showed weaknesses caused to some extent by inexperience, it is fair to say that he has been successful in introducing a new generation of politicians to top positions. Zapatero from the very beginning has made a point of this aspect in an attempt to distance himself both from the Partido Popular but also from the former elite of his own party. In the present situation, Zapatero has seen it more important to be coherent with his own proclamations regarding equal rights and promoting a real change in Spanish politics than to ‘play it safe’ with a cabinet of more experienced (and surely more ‘male’) politicians.

3. It is a generalization to characterise Spain as a Catholic and conservative country. It is more fair to describe Spain as a country which since the 19th century has been divided between two national projects, one catholic-conservative national project and another republican democratic. But, of course, the Catholic religion and Catholic Church historically have played an important political role in Spain. And in periods of conservative government – like for example the former Aznar government or the Francoist dictatorship – this role has been more important. In other periods – like under the present Zapatero government -, the Church and the Catholic religion has seen its importance reduced. In general the majority of the Spanish public supports Zapatero’s initiatives and in that sense he is right in saying that he is only adjusting the relationship between Church and State so that it accords with reality. That part of the population gives prominence to democratic values and the plural nature of Spain in their conception of the nation, and finds the importance given to the Catholic Church a relic of former times. But the reaction from the conservative side and from the Catholic Church has been very violent allegating that Zapatero is destroying the fundament of identity of Spain (because that is the way they understand the Spanish nation). Therefore, although, in accordance with the opinion of a majority of the Spanish population the conflict with the Church has led to an increasing polarisation of social and political life and in that sense the success of Zapatero’s initiatives has been limited.

Jonathan Hopkin, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Department of Government, London School of Economics

Chacon’s appointment clearly has symbolic value, but she is also a powerful figure in the Catalan Socialist Party, and Zapatero needs to keep them on board. Spain has had plenty of female ministers in the past, and this is not much more than the continuation of a trend. Similarly, the youth of the government is not particularly a break with the past, Zapatero himself of course, like his predecessors Aznar and Gonzalez, reached the Prime Minister’s office in his early 40s. Spain is not as conservative and Catholic country as it perhaps appears, the electoral majority is rather more progressive on social issues than in Italy, for example.

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