‘In retrospect our biggest single mistake was to have allowed the elections
to go ahead. Our downfall can be traced from there’.
Brigadier Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho
‘Spain is the problem, Europe is the solution’.
Ortega y Gasset
‘Europe is not just about material results, it is about spirit. Europe is a state
In Northern Europe, domestic and international change was played out against the ever-present backdrop of these Great Power dealings and the East-West division of the continent. But in Mediterranean Europe local concerns dominated. Until the early Seventies, Spain, Portugal and Greece were peripheral to Europe in more than just a geographical sense. Despite being ‘Western’ in their Cold War allegiance (Portugal and Greece were members of NATO), all three countries stood otherwise quite apart. Their economies—heavily dependent upon the remittances of a surplus rural workforce employed abroad, and a growing tourist trade—resembled those of other countries on Europe’s southern perimeter: Yugoslavia, or Turkey. The standard of living in southern Spain and most of Portugal and Greece was comparable to that of Eastern Europe and parts of the developing world.
All three countries were governed in the early 1970s by authoritarian rulers of a species more familiar in Latin America than Western Europe; the political transformations of the post-war decades seemed largely to have passed them by. In Portugal—ruled by António Salazar from 1932 to 1970—and Spain, where General Franco had staged his military coup in 1936 and ruled unchallenged from 1939 to his death in 1975, hierarchies of authority from another era were frozen into place. In Greece, a military cabal had overthrown king and parliament in 1967; thence-forward, the country was governed by a junta of colonels. The spectre of their unstable past hovered oppressively across the unpromising future prospects of all three countries.
The recent history of Greece, like that of Spain, was heavily back-shadowed by civil war. In the post-World War Two years, the Communist KKE terrorized villages under its control, leaving a legacy of fear and associating the radical Left in many Greek memories with repression and atrocity. After the Communists abandoned the struggle, in October 1949, it was the Left’s turn to suffer sustained repression. Wartime partisans (including many who had fought against the Germans in earlier years) were forced into foreign exile for decades to come. Those who remained, together with their children and even their grandchildren, were forbidden public sector employment until well into the seventies. At the notorious prison on the island of Makronisos, Communists were detained at length and treated with notorious brutality.216
But the political divisions of Greece, however tidily they appeared to fold into Cold War categories, were always dominated by distinctive local concerns. In March 1949, at the height of the Tito-Stalin struggle, the slavishly pro-Moscow KKE issued a radio announcement (from Bucharest) endorsing demands for an independent Macedonia. By encouraging the territorial fragmentation of Yugoslavia this was intended to weaken Tito, but it had no such effect. Instead it undercut for a generation the domestic credibility of Greek Communism, by suggesting that a Communist victory would result in autonomy for the Macedonian north, with its Slav and Albanian minorities, and thence to the break up of the Greek state.
If this mattered so much, it was because Greek nationalism was peculiarly insecure, even by regional standards. Permanently on the qui vive for conflict with their former imperial masters in Turkey, in a state of war with Albania since 1940 (a circumstance left un-remedied until 1985), and unwilling to concede even the fact of a large Slav community abutting their frontiers with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, Greece’s conservative post-war politicians emphatically opted for order and stability over democracy or post-war reconciliation. Conflating old Greek concerns with new international divisions the Greek king, his army and his ministers presented themselves to the West as the most reliable allies in an unstable region.
They were well compensated for their loyalty.217 In February 1947, the Treaty of Paris obliged Italy to cede the Dodecanese islands to Athens. Greece was a major beneficiary of American aid, both following the pronouncement of the ‘Truman Doctrine’ and under the Marshall Plan. The country was admitted to NATO in 1952 and the Greek armed forces were the happy recipients of copious practical assistance with planning and matériel. Indeed, the role of the army was to prove crucial. The British had originally hoped to bequeath to liberated Greece a properly non-political army and modern police force; but in the circumstances of time and place, this proved impossible. Instead, the Greek army emerged from eight years of war as uncompromisingly anti-Communist, royalist and undemocratic, its allegiance to NATO and to its American colleagues considerably firmer than any commitment to the political institutions or laws of its own state.
Indeed—and much like the traditional Spanish officer corps in this respect—Greek officers saw themselves, rather than the ephemeral constitutional documents they were sworn to defend, as the guardians of the nation and its integrity. The army was active from the outset in post-war Greek political life: in the national elections of the early Fifties, the victorious ‘Greek Rally’ Party was led by Marshal Alexandros Papagos, commander of the government forces in the Civil War. Until 1963 the military were happy enough to give their support to Constantine Karamanlis, who led the re-named Greek Rally party (now the National Radical Union) to election victories in 1956, 1958 and again in 1961—though he was suspected after the last and greatest of these successes of widespread electoral fraud.
Karamanlis was not himself ideologically anti-Communist nor even especially close to the armed forces. But it is not irrelevant that he was born in Greek Macedonia and was profoundly anti-Slav. Of peasant background and Orthodox faith, he was instinctively provincial, nationalist and conservative—a fitting representative of his country and a safe pair of hands in the eyes of American diplomats and Greek officers alike, evincing no desire to enforce civilian oversight of the military or investigate too closely the growing rumors of anti-parliamentary political networks and conspiracies in high places. Under Karamanlis, Greece remained stable, if economically stagnant and more than a little corrupt.
But in May 1963 a left-wing parliamentarian, Dr. Grigoris Lambrakis, was assaulted in Thessaloniki while speaking at a peace rally. His death five days later created a political martyr for the Left and the nascent peace movement in Greece, while the authorities’ studied failure to investigate the murky background to Lambrakis’ assassination gave rise to widespread suspicion.218 Six months later Karamanlis narrowly lost the elections to George Papandreou’s Center Union, a centrist party backed by the country’s growing urban middle class. The following year, at a fresh round of elections, Papandreou’s party and its allies did better still, winning an absolute majority of the votes cast and increasing their share from 42 percent to 52.7 percent.
The new parliamentary majority demanded an investigation into the rigging of the 1961 elections, and tensions began to mount between parliament and the young King Constantine. The king’s conservative political sympathies were public knowledge, and he was under increasing pressure from the Right to dismiss Papandreou, who was eventually maneuvered into resigning. He was succeeded by a series of interim prime ministers, none of whom could form a stable parliamentary majority. Relations between parliament and court were strained still further when a group of liberal-leaning army officers was accused of plotting with George Papandreou’s son Andreas. In March 1967, twenty one of them were court-martialed.
Parliamentary government in Greece had by now ceased to function in all but name. Conservatives and army officers warned darkly of growing ‘Communist’ influence in the country at large. The king would not work with the majority Center Union, which he accused of depending on the votes of the far Left, while the opposition National Radical Union refused to back successive efforts to install ‘caretaker’ governments. Finally, in April 1967, the National Radical Union itself formed a minority government just long enough for the King to dissolve the parliament and call for new elections.
Popular frustration at the parliamentary stalemate, and a widespread feeling that the king had played an unacceptably partisan role, suggested that the forthcoming elections would produce a further swing to the Left. Proferring just this excuse—the ‘Communist threat’ insistently invoked in Greece since 1949—and pointing to the undoubted inadequacies of Greece’s democratic institutions and the incompetence of its political class, a group of officers working inside the army’s long-established right-wing networks seized power on April 21st.
Led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, they poured tanks and paratroopers into the streets of Athens and other Greek cities, arrested politicians, journalists, trade unionists and other public figures, seized control of all the usual strong points and declared themselves the saviors of the nation: ‘democracy’, as they explained, would be ‘placed in a sling’. King Constantine passively, if unenthusiastically, assented and swore the conspirators into office. Eight months later, after a half-hearted attempt at a ‘counter-coup’, Constantine and his family fled to Rome, un-mourned. The junta appointed a regent and Papadopoulos was named prime minister.
The colonels’ coup d’état was a classic pronunciamento. Initially violent and always repressive, Papadopoulos and his colleagues dismissed nearly a thousand civil servants, imprisoned or expelled politicians of the left and center, and turned Greece in upon itself for seven stifling years. Anti-modern to the point of parody, the colonels censored the press, outlawed strikes and banned modern music along with mini-skirts. They also banned the study of sociology, Russian and Bulgarian in addition to Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. ‘Populist’ in style but paternalist in practice, they were obsessed with appearance. Under the colonels’ regime long hair was forbidden. The uniforms of palace guards and other ceremonial officials were replaced with gaudily ‘traditional’ Greek costume. Athens in particular took on a tidy, martial air.
The economic consequences of the Greek coup were mixed. Tourism did not suffer—politically-conscious travelers who boycotted the colonels’ Greece were readily replaced by tourists attracted to cheap, if suffocatingly over-regulated resorts. Foreign investment, which in Greece’s case had only begun a decade or so before the coup, and a steady increase in GNP—rising at an annual average of 6 percent since 1964—were unaffected by political developments: as in Spain, low wages (abetted by the repression of all labour protest) and a regime predicated on ‘law and order’ offered a benevolent environment for foreign capital. The junta even had widespread initial support in the rural districts from which the colonels mostly came, especially after they cancelled all peasant debt in 1968.219
But the autarkic instincts of the colonels favored a return to old-established national habits of import-substitution—inefficient local manufacturers producing low-quality products and protected against foreign competition. This was bound eventually to bring the military regime into conflict with the country’s urban middle class, whose interests as consumers and producers alike would within a few years triumph over their relief at the dismissal of the bickering politicians. And the colonels, mediocre even by the undemanding standards of their kind, had nothing to offer for the future: no project for Greek integration into the emerging and expanding European Community, no strategy for a return to civilian rule.220
Moreover the regime, secure enough at home, was increasingly isolated abroad—in December 1969 the Council of Europe unanimously voted to expel Greece; two months later the EEC broke off all negotiations with the junta. More brazenly than most, the colonels’ regime rested on force alone. It was thus altogether appropriate that the dictatorship should fall in the course of an incompetent attempt to apply force beyond its frontiers, to resolve the long-running problem of Cyprus.
The island of Cyprus, part of the Ottoman Empire since 1571, had been administered by Britain since 1878 and unilaterally annexed at the outbreak of World War One. In the far-eastern Mediterranean, close to Turkish Anatolia and far removed from the Greek mainland or any other outlying Greek islands, Cyprus nonetheless had a Greek-speaking, Eastern Orthodox majority increasingly disposed to seek union with the Greek state. The Turkish minority, some 18 percent of the island’s population, was understandably opposed to any such arrangement and was vociferously supported by the authorities in Ankara. The fate of Cyprus—caught between British efforts to dispose of a troublesome imperial inheritance and longstanding Greek-Turkish hostility—remained troublingly unresolved throughout the Fifties.
Denied their project of ‘Enosis’—union with Greece—the majority of the island’s Greek-Cypriot leadership settled somewhat reluctantly for independence, which the UK granted in 1960, retaining only certain transit rights and a strategically important airbase. The new Republic of Cyprus, its sovereignty and constitution guaranteed by Britain, Turkey and Greece, was ruled by a Greek-Turkish ‘partnership’ arrangement dominated by the presidency of Archbishop Makarios, once exiled by London as an armed and violent terrorist, now the respected spokesman of ‘reasonable’ Greek Cypriot ambitions.
Meanwhile the island’s Greek and Turkish communities lived alongside each other in suspicious unease, interrupted by sporadic outbursts of inter-communal violence. The governments in Athens and Ankara both advertised themselves as the protectors of their respective compatriots and occasionally threatened to intervene. But prudence, and international pressure, kept them from doing so, even when attacks on Turkish Cypriots in 1963 led to the arrival of a UN Peacekeeping Force the following year. Despite the Greek Cypriots’ near-monopoly of public employment and positions of authority (loosely comparable to the Protestant majority’s exclusion of Catholics from privileges and power in Ulster)—or perhaps because of it—the situation in Cyprus appeared stable. But if Cyprus was no longer a crisis it remained very much an ‘issue’.
Thus in 1973, when students in Athens (first at the Law School, later at the Polytechnic) embarrassed the colonels by publicly opposing their rule for the first time, the military’s response was to divert attention and seek to shore up public support by re-asserting the Greek claim to Cyprus. General Ioannides, a ‘hard-liner’ who displaced Papadopoulos as junta leader following the Polytechnic demonstrations, plotted with George Grivas and other Greek-Cypriot nationalists to overthrow Makarios and ‘re-unite’ the island with Greece. On July 15th 1974, units of the Cypriot National Guard along with hand-picked Greek officers attacked the Presidential Palace, expelled Makarios (who fled abroad) and installed a puppet government in anticipation of direct rule from Athens.
At this juncture, however, the Turkish government announced its own intention to invade Cyprus in order to protect the interests of the Turkish-Cypriot community, and promptly did so, on July 20th. Within a week, two-fifths of the island was in Turkish hands. Unable either to prevent or respond to this move by vastly superior Turkish forces, the junta appeared helpless: ordering full mobilization one day, canceling it the next. Faced with widespread public anger at this national humiliation, the Greek dictators themselves turned to the ageing Karamanlis and invited him to return home from his exile in Paris. By July 24th the former Prime Minister was back in Athens and had initiated the country’s return to civilian rule.
The transition was accomplished with remarkable ease. Karamanlis’s New Democracy party swept home in the November 1974 elections and repeated its success three years later. A new constitution was approved in June 1975, although the opposition parties initially protested over the heightened powers granted to the president of the republic (a post occupied by Karamanlis himself from 1980). With unexpected alacrity, Greek domestic politics took on a familiar European profile, divided roughly equally into a center-right (New Democracy) and a center-left (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement led by the late George Papandreou’s American-educated son Andreas).
The smoothness of Greece’s return to democracy was due in part to Karamanlis’s skill in breaking with his own past, while at the same time conveying an image of seasoned competence and continuity. Rather than re-establish his discredited Center Union he had formed a new party. He called a referendum on the discredited monarchy in December 1974, and when 69.2 percent of the voters demanded its abolition he oversaw the establishment of a republic. In order to avoid alienating the military he resisted calls to purge the army, preferring instead to impose early retirement on the more compromised senior officers while rewarding and promoting loyalists.221
With the monarchy out of the way, and the army neutralized, Karamanlis had to address the unfinished business of Cyprus. Neither he nor his successors had any intention of re-opening the Enosis question, but nor could they publicly ignore Turkey’s presence on the island, even after Makarios’s return there in December 1974. In a largely symbolic move that attracted widespread domestic approval on Left and Right alike, Karamanlis pulled Greece out of the military organization of NATO for the next six years in protest at the behavior of a fellow NATO member. Greek-Turkish relations entered an ice age, marked by the Turkish minority’s unilateral declaration in February 1975 of a ‘Turkish Federated State of Cyprus’—only ever recognized by Turkey itself—and by sporadic diplomatic tiffs over territorial claims in the eastern Aegean.
Cyprus itself thus became an object of international concern, as UN diplomats and lawyers were to spend fruitless decades trying unsuccessfully to resolve the island’s divisions. Meanwhile Greek politicians were thereby relieved of responsibility for the island’s affairs (though they remained constrained by domestic politics to express a continued interest in its fate) and could turn to more promising horizons. Less than a year after the fall of the colonels, in June 1975, the government in Athens formally applied to join the EEC. On January 1st 1981, in what many in Brussels would come to regard as a regrettable triumph of hope over wisdom, Greece became a full member of the Community.
Unlike Greece, Portugal had no recent experience of even the most vestigial of democracies. Salazar’s authoritarian reign had been peculiarly and self-consciously retrograde even by the standards prevailing when he first took over power in 1932—indeed, in its mix of censorious clericalism, corporate institutions and rural underdevelopment,Portugal quite closely resembled post-1934 Austria. Appropriately enough, post-war Portugal was favored by retired Frenchmen nostalgic for Vichy France—Charles Maurras, disgraced leader of the Action Française, was much admired by Salazar and corresponded with him until his death in 1952.222
The general standard of living in Salazar’s Portugal was more characteristic of contemporary Africa than continental Europe: per capita annual income in 1960 was just $160 (compared with e.g. $219 in Turkey, or $1,453 in the US). The rich were very rich indeed, infant mortality was the highest in Europe, and 32 percent of the population was illiterate. Salazar, an economist who had for some years lectured at the University of Coimbra, was not only unperturbed at Portugal’s backwardness, but saw it instead as the key to stability—upon being informed that oil had been discovered in Portugal’s Angolan territories he commented merely that this was ‘a pity’.
Like the Romanian dictator Ceauşescu, Salazar was obsessed with the avoidance of debt, and conscientiously balanced every annual budget. Fanatically mercantilist, he built up unusually high gold reserves which he took care not to spend on either investment or imports. As a result, his country was locked into poverty, most of the population working on small family farms in the north of the country and latifundia further south. With no local capital available to finance domestic industry and foreign investors distinctly unwelcome, Portugal was largely dependent upon the export or re-export of primary commodities, including its own people.
Right up to his death in 1970, it was Salazar’s proud boast that not only had he kept Portugal out of the devastating foreign wars of the century, but he had navigated his country between the Scylla of rapacious market capitalism and the Charybdis of state socialism. In fact, he had all too successfully exposed his subjects to the worst of both: material inequality and exploitation for profit were more marked in Portugal than anywhere else in Europe, while the authoritarian state in Lisbon smothered all independent opinion and initiative. In 1969 just 18 percent of the adult population was eligible to vote.
In the absence of domestic opposition, the only resistance to Salazar came from the military, the country’s sole independent institution. The Portuguese armed forces were ill paid—rather than expend scarce resources on wages, Salazar actively encouraged impecunious army officers to marry into the better-heeled bourgeoisie. But until 1961 the regime could count on at least their passive loyalty, in spite of two abortive and easily crushed military coup attempts in 1947 and again in 1958. Reform-minded junior officers in the army or navy might chafe at the stagnation around them, but they lacked allies or any popular base.
All that changed in 1961, when Delhi forcibly annexed Portugal’s mainland Indianterritory of Goa and armed revolt broke out in the African colony of Angola. The loss of Goa was a national humiliation, but rebellion in Africa was more serious still. Portugal’s considerable African ‘provinces’, as they were known, comprised Angola, Guinée-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands in West Africa, and Mozambique in the south-east. Of these Angola, with nearly half a million European residents in a total population of under six million, was by far the most important. Its untapped material wealth—in iron, diamonds and recently-discovered offshore oil—had led Salazar reluctantly to permit foreign investment (notably by the US company Gulf Oil), and in the course of the Sixties the territory was taking on growing economic significance for Portugal itself.
It was also in open revolt. In order to crush the growing Angolan nationalist movement, Lisbon inaugurated in 1967 a ‘counter-insurgency’ strategy based upon resettlement of the population into large, controllable villages: by 1974 more than one million peasants had been moved. The plan failed to break the insurgency, although it had baneful and enduring effects on Angola’s society and rural economy. It did, however, increasingly alienate the soldiers who were called upon to enforce it: both the impecunious officers who had joined the colonial army as a route to upward social mobility and the reluctant conscripts sent abroad to suppress the rebels.
In Angola the rebels were divided between different factions and the Portuguese army was able to contain them, at least for a while. In Mozambique, where 60,000 Portuguese soldiers were kept busy protecting a European settler population numbering just 100,000, or in Guinée and Cape Verde, where the charismatic Amilcar Cabral tied down over 30,000 Portuguese troops in thankless guerilla warfare against ten thousand insurgents, the situation was becoming untenable. By the beginning of the 1970s its African wars were consuming half the annual defense budget of Europe’s poorest country. One in every four Portuguese men of military age was being conscripted to serve in Africa—and, after 1967, for a compulsory minimum term of four years. By 1973, 11,000 of them had died there: a mortality rate considerably higher, as a share of the national population, than that suffered by the US Army at the height of the Vietnam War.
Portugal’s defense of its colonial holdings was expensive, bloody and increasingly hopeless; the armed forces knew this better than anyone. And they had other reasons to feel frustrated. To secure his own power and distract attention from the country’s overseas woes, Marcello Caetano—Salazar’s anointed successor—had eased credit restrictions, borrowed heavily from abroad and encouraged the flow of imports. In the years 1970-73, further fuelled by remittances from Portuguese working abroad, the country underwent a brief consumer boom. But it was followed in short order by spiraling inflation brought on by the oil crisis. Wages in the public sector began to fall far behind prices.
For the first time in many years Portugal was hit by strikes. The residents of the shanty towns around the capital, many of them recent arrivals from the impoverished Alentejo region, suffered not just their own endemic indigence but the sight of a new and showy wealth in nearby Lisbon. The army increasingly resented fighting the country’s ‘dirty wars’ in far-away lands on behalf of an unpopular government run by unelected technocrats, and its discontent was now finding a widespread echo at home. The grievances of junior officers and their families, unable to subsist on already low wages further reduced by inflation, were now shared by a rising generation of businessmen frustrated at their rulers’ incompetence and who understood that their country’s future lay in Europe, not Africa.223
On April 25th 1974, officers and men of the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas—MFA) ousted Caetano and his colleagues from office and declared a provisional government whose goals were to be democratization, decolonization and economic reform. The coup (like the young officers’ pronunciamento that first brought Salazar to power in 1926) aroused little resistance, and the leaders of the old regime were allowed to fly into exile—first to Madeira, thence to Brazil. General António de Spínola, former deputy chief of staff of the Portuguese army and governor of Guinée from 1968 to 1972, was appointed by his fellow officers to head the junta. The secret police was abolished, all political prisoners were released, freedom of the press was restored and the leaders of Portugal’s Socialist and Communist parties returned from exile, their organizations legally permitted for the first time in nearly half a century.
The revolution was immensely popular everywhere.9 Spinola brought centrists and socialists into his provisional cabinet and in July he publicly announced plans to offer the African colonies full self-determination. Within a year the colonies were all independent—and Indonesia had seized control of Portuguese East Timor. The decolonization was more than a little chaotic—guerillas in Guinée and Mozambique ignored Spinola’s insistence that they first lay down arms and Angola deteriorated into civil war—but seen from Portugal it had the virtue of being quick. It also precipitated, in the wake of the army’s retreat and violent clashes in the Angolan capital, Luanda, the return to Portugal of some 750,000 Europeans. Many of them settled in Portugal’s more conservative north and would play a significant political role in coming years.
These rapid changes disturbed Spinola, whose conservative instincts were at odds with the increasingly radical projects of his younger colleagues, and in September 1974 he resigned. For the next fourteen months Portugal appeared to be moving towards a full-scale social revolution. With the enthusiastic support of the MFA and Álvaro Cunhal’s uncompromisingly Leninist Communist Party (PCP), banks and major industries were nationalized and a massive agrarian reform was undertaken: notably in the Alentejo, the grain-producing region of southern Portugal where most holdings were still in the hands of large, often absentee landlords.
Nationalization was popular in the towns, and agrarian reform in the South—essentially collectivization of the land—was driven initially by ‘spontaneous’ occupations and land seizures by local tenants and labourers mobilized by the Communists and their allies, the Communists in particular benefiting from their well-deserved reputation as the best-organized and most effective clandestine opponents of the old regime. But the same practices in the center and north of the country, where the land was already sub-divided into thousands of small, family-run property holdings, were decidedly unwelcome. Rural and small-town northern Portugal was also (and still is) actively Catholic, with an average of one priest for every five hundred souls in 1972; the figure for south-central Portugal was 1:4500, and lower still in the far south. The anti-clerical, collectivizing projects of Communist unionists and peasant leaders thus encountered strong and vociferous opposition in the populous northern regions.
In essence, the Portuguese revolutionaries of 1974 were repeating the mistake of the agrarian radicals of the Spanish republic in the Thirties: in seeking to impose a collectivist land reform based on southern social conditions upon the privately-owned and more efficient smallholders of the north, they turned the latter against them. In the Constituent Assembly elections of April 1975 the Communists were held to just 12.5 percent of the vote. Right-of-center parties did better, but the big winner was the Portuguese Socialist Party, founded in exile two years before by Mário Soares, who campaigned very effectively on the slogan ‘Socialism, Yes! Dictatorship, No!’ and won 38 percent of the vote.
The MFA and the Communists were unhappy with the outcome of the vote, and Cunhal openly acknowledged that if the parliamentary route to power was blocked, an alternative path might have to be taken—as he put it to an Italian journalist in June 1975, ‘There is no possibility of a democracy like the one you have in Western Europe . . . Portugal will not be a country with democratic freedoms and monopolies. It will not allow it.’ From April to November tensions rose. Foreign commentators warned of an impending Communist coup, and Portugal’s NATO allies and western European trade partners held out promises of aid and affiliation if the country abjured Marxist revolution.
Matters came to a head at the end of the year. On November 8th the Constituent Assembly in Lisbon was besieged by building workers and for two weeks there were rumors of an imminent ‘Lisbon Commune’ and even a civil war between north and south. On November 25th groups of radical soldiers attempted a putsch. Initially they had the tacit support of the PCP, but when it became clear that the bulk of the armed forces and even some of the left-wing officers themselves were opposed to the uprising, even Cunhal backed off. As some of the MFA leaders were later to acknowledge, the outcome of the April 1975 elections had discredited in advance the goals of the revolutionary officers: the Left could have parliamentary democracy or a revolutionary ‘transition’, but not both.
In February 1976 the Portuguese military, still in effective control of the country nearly two years after their coup, officially handed over power to the civilian authorities. The country was to be governed under a Constitution approved in April 1976 and which continued to echo the rhetoric and ambitions of the post-’74 political mood, committing Portugal to a ‘transition to socialism through the creation of conditions for the democratic exercise of power by the working classes.’ In the legislative elections of that same month, the Socialists once again came first, though with a slightly reduced vote, and Mário Soares formed Portugal’s first democratically-elected government in nearly half a century.
The prospects for Portuguese democracy remained cloudy—Willy Brandt was just one of many sympathetic contemporary observers who saw in Soares another Kerensky, an unwitting stalking horse for undemocratic forces that would replace him at the earliest opportunity. But Soares survived—and more. The armed forces remained confined to barracks, the role of their politicized fringes increasingly marginal. The Communists’ vote actually rose—improving to 14.6 percent in 1976 and thence to 19 percent three years later, as the economy deteriorated and Soares’ moderate policies frustrated his party’s left-wing, to whom he had promised the coming destruction of capitalism in a Socialist Portugal—but at the price of abandoning their insurrectionist ambitions.
In 1977 the Parliament passed an Agrarian Reform Law that confirmed the land collectivization of the immediate past but confined it to the South, with restrictions on the amount of land that could be expropriated from existing owners. This move ended the risk of rural conflict and a conservative backlash, but it could do little in the short run to alleviate the economic mess that democratic Portugal had inherited. Deprived of cheap raw materials from its former colonies (and the captive market they had provided for its otherwise uncompetitive exports), unable to export unskilled labour to Western Europe as in the past, and constrained under the terms of vital IMF loans to balance its budgets and practice fiscal rigor, Portugal suffered years of unemployment and under-consumption.
The military had not completely left the scene: under the 1976 Constitution a ‘Council of the Revolution’ composed of non-elected representatives of the armed forces retained a right of veto, and in the course of 1980 it rejected twenty three pieces of legislation, including a plan by the right-of-center government elected that year to denationalize domestic banks. But they offered no objection when parliament revised the constitution in the course of the next two years, reducing the power of the executive (abolishing the Council of the Revolution itself in 1982), and quietly removing the anti-capitalist emphasis in the original document.
For the next twenty years the Socialists and their opponents, centrist Social Democrats led by Aníbal Cavaço Silva, were to alternate in office. Mário Soares himself, his anti-capitalist rhetoric long-since abandoned, ascended to the country’s Presidency in 1986, the year Portugal was admitted to the European Community. The country remained strikingly poor by West European standards, a tribute to Salazar’s enduring legacy. But against all expectations Portugal had avoided both a ‘White Terror’ and a ‘Red Terror’. The Communists, while still popular in the rural south and the industrial suburbs of Lisbon, remained unrepentantly hard-line under the ageing Cunhal, who stayed in charge until 1992. But their influence was permanently diminished. The repatriated colonials never succeeded in forming a far-right party of embittered nationalists. In the circumstances, the emergence of a democratic Portugal was a very considerable achievement.
To a visitor crossing from France into Spain in, say, 1970, the chasm separating the two sides of the Pyrenees seemed immense. Franco’s thirty-year long reign had accentuated the social backwardness and cultural isolation in which Spain had languished for much of the past two centuries, and his authoritarian regime appeared even more at odds with modern European political culture than it had at the outset. At first sight the Sixties appeared to have passed Spain by altogether: rigid censorship, strict enforcement of laws regulating public dress and behavior, an omnipresent police and draconian penal laws for political critics all suggested a land frozen in time, its historical clock set permanently at 1939.224
On closer inspection, however, Spain—or at least northern Spain and the cities—was changing quite rapidly. Franco was a rigid and truly reactionary dictator, but unlike his neighbor Salazar he was also an economic realist. In 1959 Spain abandoned the autarkic practices of the past two decades and, at the instigation of a group of Opus Dei ministers, adopted a National Stabilization Plan intended to stifle the country’s endemic inflation and open it up to trade and investment. The initial economic impact of the Plan was harsh: devaluation, budget cuts, a credit freeze and wage restrictions—all firmly and uncompromisingly enforced—brought inflation down but forced tens of thousands of Spaniards to seek work abroad.
But the private sector, hitherto constrained by corporatist regulations and a longstanding policy of import substitution, was freer to expand. Tariffs were reduced; Spain joined the World Bank, the IMF and the GATT, and was admitted to the OECD as an Associate Member (in 1962 Franco even applied—unsuccessfully—to join the EEC). The timing of Franco’s new economic policy was propitious. The Spanish domestic economy had been protected against competition in the early years of Europe’s post-war boom, but was opening itself to foreign commerce at just the right moment. Starting in 1961, GNP began to rise steadily. The percentage of the labor force employed on the land—one worker in two in 1950—fell precipitatelyas rural laborers from the South and West moved north to work in factories and the burgeoning tourist trade: by 1971 only one Spaniard in five was left in agriculture. Already, by the mid-Sixties, Spain had ceased to qualify as a ‘developing nation’ under UN criteria.
Franco’s ‘economic miracle’ should not be overstated. Spain was not burdened by the residue of empire and thus faced none of the economic or social costs of decolonization. Most of the foreign cash flowing into the country in the Sixties came not from the export of Spanish-produced goods, but rather from overseas remittances by emigrant Spanish workers or else holiday-makers from northern Europe: in short, Spain’s economic modernization was largely a by-product of other nations’ prosperity. Outside of Barcelona, the Costa Brava, parts of the Basque country and (to a lesser extent) Madrid, the transport, education, medical and service infrastructure of the country still lagged far behind. Even in 1973, per capita income in the country as a whole was still lower than that of Ireland and less than half the EEC average.
Nevertheless, the social consequences of even limited economic modernization were significant. In a time before television Spain may have been largely shielded from the cultural impact of the Sixties elsewhere, but the economic disparities and disruption engendered by the Stabilization Plan produced widespread labour discontent. From the later Sixties through Franco’s death, strikes, lockouts, demonstrations and widespread demands for collective bargaining and union representation became a fixture of Spanish life. The regime was adamantly opposed to any political concessions; but it could not afford to present too repressive a public face, at a time when so many foreigners were visiting the country—17.3 million in 1966, rising to 34 million the year before Franco’s death.
Nor could the Spanish authorities forgo the cooperation and skills of a growing urban work force. They were thus constrained to concede the de facto emergence of a labor movement, overwhelmingly based in Catalonia and the heavy industries of the Basque region. Together with the unofficial unions formed by public employees, banking staff and other expanding white-collar occupations, this semi-clandestine network of workers’ and employees’ representatives could call upon nearly a decade of organization and experience by the time Franco died.
Labor protest in Spain, however, was kept firmly confined to bread and butter issues. By its last years, Franco’s regime—rather like that of János Kádár in Hungary—depended not on open and violent repression but rather upon a sort of enforced passive acceptance, a decades-long de-politicization of the culture. Student protesters, who since 1956 had been seeking greater campus autonomy and a relaxing of moral codes and other restrictions, were accorded a certain liberty to organize and protest within strictly circumscribed boundaries; they could even count upon some sympathy from the regime’s internal critics—reform-minded Catholics and disappointed ‘social-Falangists’ among others. But all active expressions of sympathy or collaboration across sectors—with striking miners, for example—were strictly off limits.225 The same applied to the regime’s adult critics.
Indeed, all properly political opinions were kept firmly under wraps, and independent political parties were banned. Until 1967 the country lacked even a constitution, and such rights and procedures as existed were largely window dressing for the benefit of Spain’s Western partners. Officially a ‘regent’ for the suspended monarchy, Franco had anointed the young Juan Carlos—grandson of Spain’s last king—to succeed him in due course, but for most observers the question of the monarchy played little part in Spanish affairs. Even the Church, still a major presence in the daily life of many Spaniards, played only a limited role in public policy.
Spain’s traditional role as a bulwark of Christian civilization against materialism and atheism was a staple of the primary-school curriculum; but the Catholic hierarchy itself (unlike the modernizing ‘crypto monks’ of Opus Dei) was kept well away from the reins of power, in marked contrast to the neo-Crusading ‘National Catholicism’ spirit of the regime’s first decade.226 In June 1968, bowing to modern reality, Franco conceded for the first time the principle of religious freedom, allowing Spaniards openly to worship at a church of their choosing. But by then religion itself was entering upon a long decline: in a country that could boast over 8,000 seminarists at the start of the Sixties, there were less than 2,000 twelve years later. Between 1966 and 1975 one third of all Spain’s Jesuits left the Order.
The military, too, was kept at a careful distance. Having himself come to power by a military coup, Franco understood very well the risks of alienating a military caste that had inherited an over-developed sense of its responsibility for the preservation of the Spanish state and its traditional values. Throughout the post-war years the Spanish Army was cosseted and flattered. Its victory in the Civil War was celebrated annually in the streets of major cities, its losses ostentatiously memorialized in the monumental Valley of The Fallen, completed in September 1959. Ranks and decorations multiplied: by the time the regime fell there were 300 generals, and the ratio of officers to other ranks was 1:11, the highest in Europe. In 1967, an Institutional Law of the State made the armed forces formally responsible for guaranteeing the nation’s unity and territorial integrity and defending ‘the institutional system’.
In practice, though, the armed forces had become superfluous. Franco had for decades preserved his military from any foreign or colonial wars. Unlike the French or Portuguese armies, they suffered no humiliating defeats or forced retreats. Spain faced no military threats, and its domestic security was handled by police, gendarmes and special units formed to fight terrorists—real and imaginary. The army, largely confined to a ceremonial role, had become risk averse; its traditional conservatism was expressed increasingly in enthusiasm for the return of the monarchy, an identification that was to prove ironically beneficial in the nation’s transition to democracy.
The affairs of the country were run by a restricted network of lawyers, Catholic professors and civil servants, many of them with active interests in the private companies favoured by their policies. But because formal political opposition was banned, it was from inside these same ruling circles—rather than amongst an intelligentsia whose leading lights remained in exile—that reforming ideas and pressure for change would come, prompted by frustration at local inefficiency, foreign criticism or the example of Vatican II.
Franco finally died on November 20th 1975, aged 82. Refusing to the end to consider any serious liberalizations or transfer of authority, he had already outlived his usefulness even to his own supporters, many of whom sympathized with demonstrators who earlier in the year had demanded a lifting of restrictions on the press and political associations. The transition to democracy was thus managed from within the ranks of Franco’s own ministers and appointees, which helps account for its speed and success. In the initial stages of Spain’s exit from Francoism the traditional forces of democratic change in Spain—liberals, Socialists, Communists, trade unions—played a subordinate role.
Two days after Franco died, Juan Carlos was crowned king. Initially he kept on Carlos Arias Navarro, Franco’s last Prime Minister, together with his cabinet colleagues, the better to reassure the army and others that there would be no sudden breach with the past. But in April 1976 Arias incurred royal disfavor when he clamped down on the newly-formed Democratic Coordination, a coalition of still-unauthorized parties of the Left, and arrested its leaders. Within two months the king had replaced Arias with one of his own ministers, Adolfo Suárez González.
At forty four, Suárez was a typical late-Franco era technocrat; indeed, he had served for one year as the head of the Caudillo’s own Falangist National Movement. Suárez proved a remarkably astute choice. He formed a new political party, the Center Democratic Union (UCD) and set about persuading the sitting Francoist assembly to accept a national referendum on political reform—essentially, to approve the introduction of universal suffrage and a bi-cameral parliament. Wrong-footed by someone they had supposed to be one of their own, the Francoist old guard agreed—and the referendum passed, on December 15th 1976, with over 94 percent in favor.
In February 1977 Suárez authorized the return of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the country’s oldest political organization, now led by the young Felipe González Márquez from Seville, active in the clandestine movement since his early twenties. At the same time trade unions were legalized and accorded the right to strike. On April 1st Suárez banned and dismantled the National Movement he had once led; a week later he legalized the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), led by Santiago Carrillo and already committed (in striking contrast to its Portuguese comrades) to operating within the confines of a transition to parliamentary democracy.227
In June 1977 elections were held to form a Constituent Assembly with the task of writing a new Constitution. The election—the first in Spain since 1936—produced a plurality for Suárez’s UCD, which won 165 seats in the Cortes; the second-placed party, González’s Socialists, managed just 121, all the other contenders between them taking just 67.228 In many ways this was the best possible outcome: Suárez’s victory reassured conservatives (most of whom had voted for him) that there would be no sharp lurch to the Left, while the absence of a clear majority obliged him to work with Left-wing deputies who thus shared responsibility for the new Constitution that the new Assembly was to draft.
This Constitution (duly confirmed in a second referendum in December 1978) was in most respects quite conventional. Spain was to be a parliamentary monarchy; there was to be no official religion (though in a calculated concession to the Church, Catholicism was recognized as a ‘social fact’); the voting age was reduced to eighteen; and the death penalty was abolished. But in a major break with the recent past, the Assembly wrote into Spain’s new laws a right of autonomy for the country’s historic regions, notably Catalonia and the Basque country.
Article Two of the Constitution affirmed ‘the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, common and indivisible patria of all Spaniards’, but went on to ‘recognize and guarantee the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that compose it and the solidarity among them all.’ The subsequent Statutes of Autonomy acknowledged the ancient fact of linguistic variety and regional sentiment within Spain’s hitherto ultra-centralized state; they also recognized the disproportionate demographic significance of Catalonia in particular, and the depth of autonomist sentiment in the Basque country and Catalonia alike. But what was granted some Spaniards could hardly be withheld from others. Within four years Spain was to be divided into seventeen self-administering regions, each with its own flag and capital city. Not just Catalans and Basques, but Galicians, Andalusians, Canaries, Valencians, Navarrese and many others were to be recognized as distinct and separate.15
Under the new constitution, however, Madrid retained responsibility for defense, justice and foreign affairs, an unacceptable compromise for Basque nationalists especially. As we have seen, ETA had deliberately stepped up its campaign of violence and assassinations in the months when the new constitution was under discussion, targeting policemen and soldiers in the hope of provoking a backlash and bringing down a democratic process that seemed increasingly likely to weaken the extremists’ case.
In 1981 they might have succeeded. On January 29th, with economic discontent at its peak (see below) and Catalonia, the Basque region, Galicia and Andalucia all embarking upon separatist experiments in home rule, Suárez was forced to resign by his own party—resentful not at his failures (the 1979 general elections under the new constitution had produced another victory for the UCD) but at his achievements—and his autocratic management style. Before another UCD politician, Calvo Sotelo, could succeed him in office, a general strike broke out in the Basque Provinces. To its critics on the Right, democratic Spain appeared leaderless and on the verge of breaking up.
On February 23rd Lt. Colonel Antonio Tejero Molín Molina of the Civil Guard seized the Cortes at gunpoint. In a coordinated move, General Jaime Milans del Bosch, commander of the Valencia military region, declared a state of emergency and called upon the King to dissolve the Cortes and install a military government. Though in retrospect their actions appear theatrical and bumbling, Tejero and Milans del Bosch surely had tradition and precedent on their side. Moreover there was little the Cortes itself, or the various political parties and their supporters, could have done to block a military coup d’état, and the sympathies of the army itself were far from certain.229
What determined the outcome, and the shape of subsequent Spanish history, were King Juan Carlos I’s outright rejection of the conspirators’ demands and his televised speech uncompromisingly defending the Constitution and unambiguously identifying himself and the monarchy with the country’s emerging democratic majority. Both sides were probably equally surprised by the courage of a young king who until then had lived in the shadow of his own appointment by the late dictator; but now his fate was irrevocably linked with parliamentary rule. Lacking an institution or a symbol around which to rally their forces, most of those policemen, soldiers and others nostalgic for the old regime turned away from dreams of revolt or restitution and confined themselves instead to supporting Manuel Fraga’s Popular Alliance, a newly-formed party committed to fighting ‘the most dangerous enemies of Spain: Communism and separatism’, but within the law.
The discredit that Tejero had brought on his ‘cause’ initially afforded an opportunity for the Cortes to cut the military budget and pass a long-overdue bill legalizing divorce. But the UDC majority was increasingly caught between a clericalist and nationalist Right that was unhappy at the speed of change, disturbed by regional autonomy and offended by the relaxed public morals of the new Spain, and a newly assertive Socialist Left, open to compromise on constitutional affairs but presenting a radical face to the country’s fractious labor movement and the growing number of unemployed.
As in Portugal, the political transition had come at a difficult economic moment. In large measure this was the responsibility of the last governments of the Franco era, who between 1970 and 1976 had sought to buy popularity by increasing public spending and public sector employment, subsidizing energy costs, holding back prices while letting wages rise, and paying little attention to the long term. By 1977 the consequences of this insouciance were beginning to be felt: in June of that year, at the time of the general election, inflation was running at 26 percent per annum, the state coffers (long starved by Franco’s regressive tax regime) were drying up and unemployment was entering a long upward curve. Between 1973 and 1982 the country lost an estimated 1.8 million jobs.230
As in the short-lived Republic of the 1930s, Spain was building a democracy in the teeth of an economic recession, and there was much talk of the country going the way of Argentina, with indexed wages and government-subsidized prices degenerating into hyper-inflation. If this was averted, much of the credit must go to the signatories of the so-called Moncloa Pacts of October 1977, the first in a series of negotiated settlements in which politicians, labour leaders and employers agreed to embark upon a broad range of reforms: devaluation of the currency, an incomes policy, controls on government expenditure and structural reforms of the country’s huge and wasteful public sector.
The Moncloa Pacts and their successors (the last accord was signed in 1984) worked no miracles. Thanks in part to the second oil shock, the country’s balance of payments crisis steadily worsened; many smaller firms folded, and unemployment and inflation rose in tandem, provoking a wave of strikes as well as bitter schisms within the left-wing unions and the Communist Party, reluctant to continue sharing responsibility for the social costs of democratic transition. But without the Pacts these divisions, and their social consequences, would almost certainly have been more severe still.
In the elections of October 1982, at the height of the economic difficulties, the Socialist Party won an absolute majority in the parliament and Felipe González took over as Prime Minister, a post he would hold for the next fourteen years. Suárez’s Center Democrats—who had led the transition out of Francoism—were all but eliminated from parliament, winning just two seats. The Communist Party won four, a humiliating defeat that provoked the resignation of Santiago Carrillo. Henceforth Spanish politics were to follow the pattern of the rest of western Europe, regrouping around a center-Left and a center-Right, in this case Fraga’s PopularAlliance (renamed the People’s Party in 1989) which won a surprising 26.5 percent of the vote.
The Socialist Party had campaigned on a populist and anti-capitalist program, promising among other things to preserve workers’ jobs and spending power and get Spain out of NATO. Once in power, however, González maintained policies of economic austerity, began the modernization (and later the progressive privatization) of Spanish industry and services, and in 1986 defeated many of his own supporters in a referendum on the question of NATO membership, which he now favored.231
These reversals of direction did not endear González to old-line Socialists, whose Party he was now leading away from its longstanding Marxist commitment.232 But for a politician whose core support came increasingly from men and women too young to remember the Civil War, and whose openly-avowed goal was to overcome Spain’s backwardness—the much-debated atraso or ‘lag’ that had afflicted the Peninsula since the end of the Golden Age—the old ideological Left was part of the problem, not the solution. In González’s estimation, Spain’s future lay not in socialism but in Europe. On January 1st 1986 Spain, accompanied by Portugal, took up full membership of the European Community.
The democratic transition of Mediterranean Europe was quite the most remarkable and unexpected development of the age. By the early eighties, Spain, Portugal and Greece had not merely undergone peaceful conversion to parliamentary democracy: in all three countries the local Socialist Party—clandestine and ostentatiously anti-capitalist just a few years earlier—was now the dominant political force, governing in effect from the center. The regimes of Salazar and Franco disappeared not just from office but from memory, as a new generation of politicians competed for the allegiance of a youthful, ‘modern’ electorate.
There were several reasons for this. One, already noted, was that in Spain in particular it was the political state, not society at large, which had fallen so very far behind. The economic development of Franco’s last decade, and the large-scale social and geographical mobility that it brought about, meant that daily life and expectations in Spain had changed far more than outside observers supposed, who still looked at the country through the prism of the years 1936-56. Young people in Mediterranean Europe did not find it difficult to adapt to social routines long familiar further north; indeed, they were already doing so before the political revolutions. Impatient to be released from the constrictions of another age, they were distinctly skeptical of the political rhetoric of Right or Left and unmoved by old loyalties. Visitors to Lisbon or Madrid in the post-transition years were consistently taken aback at the absence of any reference to the recent past, whether in politics or culture.233
The coming irrelevance of the 1930s was presciently captured in La Guerre Est Finie (The War Is Over), Alain Resnais’s sad, elegiac film of 1966 in which the émigré Spanish Communist Diego—portrayed by the incomparable Yves Montand—travels clandestinely from Paris to Madrid, courageously conveying subversive literature and plans for a ‘workers’ uprising’ that he knows will never happen. ‘Don’t you understand?’ he tries to tell his Paris-based Party controllers, who dream of a revival of the hopes of 1936. ‘Spain has become the lyrical rallying point of the Left, a myth for veterans of past wars. Meanwhile 14 million tourists vacation in Spain every year. The reality of the world resists us.’ It is not by chance that the screenplay for the film was the work of Jorge Semprun, for many decades a clandestine Spanish Communist operative himself before quitting the Party in dismay at its blinkered nostalgia.
By the early Eighties the reluctance of young Spaniards in particular to dwell on the recent past was unmistakable, notably in the ostentatious rejection of old codes of public var offer a sort of self-conscious inversion of fifty years of fusty authoritarian rule, a potted exercise in the new counter-cultural conventions. Directed with a cunning, existentialist wink at their subject matter, they typically depict bewildered young women in sexually charged circumstances. In Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap, 1980), produced just three years after the country’s first free elections, the characters laugh knowingly about ‘general erections’ and the ‘war of eroticism that is engulfing us’.
Two years later, in Laberinto de pasiones (‘Labyrinth of Passion’), camp terrorists and nymphomaniacs exchange scatological banter, debating at one point whether their ‘gay little affairs’ should come before or after ‘a nation’s future.’ With each film the settings become glossier, the urban locations ever more chic. By 1988, with Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Almodóvar had achieved a convincing cinematic encapsulation of a hectic and self-consciously modernsociety desperately making up for lost time.234
It is all the more ironic that these changes were made possible not by cultural or political radicals and innovators but by conservative statesmen from the old regime itself. Constantine Karamanlis, António de Spínola and Adolfo Suárez—like Mikhail Gorbachev a few years later—were all characteristic products of the system they helped dismantle. Karamanlis, it is true, had been in exile during the colonels’ rule; but he was as irreproachably nationalist and narrow-minded as anyone and, furthermore, he bore direct responsibility for the tainted Greek elections of 1961 that played so central a role in discrediting the post-war system and bringing the army to power.
But it was the very reassurance that such men held out to their own constituency that allowed them to dismantle the authoritarian institutions they had once loyally served. And they, in turn, were succeeded by Socialists—Soáres, González, Papandreou—who convincingly reassured their own supporters of their unbroken radical credentials while implementing moderate and often unpopular economic policies forced upon them by circumstances. The transition, in the words of one eminent Spanish commentator, ‘required Francoists to pretend they had never been Francoists, and left-wing compromisers to pretend they were still committed to leftist principles’.235
The circumstances of the time thus obliged many to abjure virtually overnight long-held positions of principle. The familiar odour of judiciously broken promises and conveniently misplaced memories hung heavy over Mediterranean public life in these years and must go some way to explain the skeptical, apolitical mood of a new generation in all three countries. But those who clung faithfully and unrepentantly to past commitments, from Communists to Falangists, were rapidly overtaken by events. Constancy was no substitute for relevance.
Finally, Spain, Portugal and Greece were able to enter or re-enter the ‘West’ with such little difficulty, despite their self-imposed political isolation, because their foreign policies had always been compatible—indeed, aligned—with those of NATO or the EEC states. The institutions of the Cold War, not to speak of a common anti-Communism, had facilitated growing communication and collaboration between pluralist democracies and military or clericalist dictatorships. After many years spent meeting, negotiating, planning or just doing business with their unelected counterparts, North Americans and West Europeans had long ceased to take active offence at domestic arrangements in Madrid or Athens or Lisbon.
To most onlookers—including many of their local critics—the unpleasant regimes of southern Europe were thus not so much morally bankrupt as institutionally anachronistic. And, of course, their economies were in essential respects similar to those of other Western nations and already well integrated into international markets for money, goods and labour. Even Salazar’s Portugal was recognizably a part of the international system of capitalism—albeit on the wrong end of it. The emerging middle class, in Spain especially, modeled its ambitions no less than its dress upon managers, businessmen, engineers, politicians and civil servants from France or Italy or Britain. For all their backwardness, the societies of Mediterranean Europe already belonged in a world they now aspired to join on equal terms, and the transition out of authoritarian rule was above all facilitated by the opportunity afforded them to do so. Their élites, who had once faced resolutely backward, now looked north. Geography, it appeared, had triumphed over history.
Between 1973 and 1986 the European Community passed through one of its periodic bursts of activism and expansion, what one historian has called its ‘sequence of irregular big bangs.’ French President Georges Pompidou, released by De Gaulle’s death from the mortgage of his patron’s disapproval—and more than a little perturbed, as we have seen, by the strategic implications of Willy Brandt’s new Ostpolitik —made it clear that he would welcome Great Britain’s membership of the EC. In January 1972, in Brussels, the EC formally approved the accession of Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Norway, to take effect a year later.
The successful British application was the work of the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, the only British political leader since World War Two unambiguously and enthusiastically in favor of joining his nation’s fate to that of its continental neighbors. When the Labour Party returned to office in 1974 and called a referendum on UK membership of the Community, the country approved by 17,300,000 to 8,400,000. But even Heath could not make the British—the English especially—‘feel’ European, and a significant share of voters on Right and Left alike continued to doubt the benefits of being ‘in Europe’. The Norwegians, meanwhile, were quite distinctly of the view that they were better off outside: in a referendum in September 1972, 54 percent of the country rejected EC membership and opted instead for a limited free-trade agreement with the Community, a decision reconfirmed in an almost identical vote twenty two years later.236
British membership of the Community would prove controversial in later years, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher opposed the emerging projects for ever-closer union and demanded that Britain be refunded her ‘overpayments’ to the common budget. But in the Seventies London had problems of its own and, despite the price-inflationary impact of membership, was relieved to be part of a trading area that now supplied one third of Britain’s inward investment. The first direct elections to a new European Parliament were held in 1979—until then, members of the European Assembly sitting in Strasbourg had been selected by the respective national legislatures—but aroused little popular interest. In the UK the turnout was predictably low, just 31.6 percent; but then it was not especially high elsewhere—in France only three out of five electors bothered to vote, in the Netherlands even fewer.
The adhesion of three ‘northern tier’ countries to the EC was relatively unproblematic for newcomers and old members alike. Ireland was poor but tiny, while Denmark and the UK were wealthy and thus net contributors to the common budget. Like the next round of prosperous additions, in 1995, when Austria, Sweden and Finland joined what was by then the European Union, the new participants added to the coffers and clout of the expanding community without significantly increasing its costs, or competing in sensitive areas with existing members. The newcomers from the South were a different matter.
Greece, like Ireland, was small and poor and its agriculture posed no threat to French farmers. Thus despite certain institutional impediments—the Orthodox Church had official and influential standing and civil marriage, to take one example, was not permitted until 1992—there were no powerful arguments against its admission, which was championed by French President Giscard d’Estaing among others. But when it came to Portugal and (above all) Spain, the French put up strong opposition. Wine, olive oil, fruit and other farm products cost far less to grow and market south of the Pyrenees; were Spain and Portugal to be admitted to the common European market on equal terms, the Iberian farmers would offer French producers stiff competition.
Thus it took nine years for Portugal and Spain to gain entry to the EC (whereas Greece’s application went through in less than six), during which time the public image of France, traditionally positive in the Iberian peninsula, fell steeply: by 1983, two-thirds of the way through an acrimonious series of negotiations, only 39 percent of Spaniards had a ‘favorable’ view of France—an inauspicious beginning to their common future. Part of the problem was that the arrival of the Mediterranean nations entailed more than simply compensating Paris with a further increase in the Community’s support payments to French farmers; between them Spain, Portugal and Greece brought an additional 58 million people into the Community, most of them poor and thus eligible for a variety of Brussels-funded programs and subsidies.237
Indeed, with the accession of three poor, agrarian countries, the Common Agricultural Fund took on heavy new burdens—and France ceased to be its main beneficiary. Various carefully negotiated deals had thus to be reached to compensate the French for their ‘losses’. The newcomers in turn were duly compensated for their own disadvantages and for the long ‘transition period’ which France succeeded in imposing before allowing their exports into Europe on equal terms. The ‘Integrated Mediterranean Programs’—regional subsidies in fact if not yet in name—that were provided to Spain and Portugal upon entry in 1986 had not been offered to the Greeks in 1981, and Andreas Papandreou successfully demanded their extension to his country, even threatening to take Greece out of the EC if this was denied!238
It was in these years, then, that the European Community acquired its unflattering image as a sort of institutionalized cattle market, in which countries trade political alliances for material reward. And the rewards were real. The Spanish and Portuguese did well enough out of ‘Europe’ (though not as well as France), Spanish negotiators becoming notably adept at advancing and securing their country’s financial advantage. But it was Athens that really cleaned up: despite initially falling behind the rest of the Community in the course of the Eighties (and replacing Portugal as the Community’s poorest member by 1990), Greece profited greatly from its membership.
Indeed, it was because Greece was so poor—by 1990 half of the European Community’s poorest regions were Greek—that it did so well. For Athens, EC membership amounted to a second Marshall Plan: in the years 1985-1989 alone, Greece received $7.9 billion from EC funds, proportionately more than any other country. So long as there were no other poor countries waiting in line, this level of redistributive generosity—the price of Greek acquiescence in Community decisions—could be absorbed by the Community’s national paymasters, chiefly West Germany. But with the costly unification of Germany and the prospect of a new pool of indigent applicant-states from Eastern Europe, the generous precedents of the Mediterranean accession years would prove burdensome and controversial, as we shall see.
The bigger it grew, the harder the European Community was to manage. The unanimity required in the inter-governmental Council of Ministers ushered in interminable debates. Decisions could take years to be agreed—one directive on the definition and regulation of mineral water took eleven years to emerge from the Council chambers. Something had to be done. There was a longstanding consensus that the European ‘project’ needed an infusion of purpose and energy—a conference at The Hague back in 1969 was the first of an irregular series of meetings intended to ‘re-launch Europe’—and the personal friendship of France’s President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and German Chancellor Schmidt in the years 1975-1981 favored such an agenda.
But it was easier to advance by negative economic integration—removing tariffs and trade restrictions, subsidizing disadvantaged regions and sectors—than to agree on purposeful criteria requiring positive political action. The reason was simple enough. So long as there was sufficient cash to go around, economic cooperation could be presented as a net benefit to all parties; whereas any political move in the direction of European integration or coordination implicitly threatened nationalautonomy and restricted domestic political initiative. Only when powerful leaders of dominant states agreed for reasons of their own to work together toward some common purpose could change be brought about.
Thus it was Willy Brandt and Georges Pompidou who had launched the first system of monetary coordination, the ‘Snake’; Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing who developed it into the European Monetary System (EMS); and Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand, their respective successors, who would mastermind the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that gave birth to the European Union. It was Giscard and Schmidt, too, who invented ‘summit diplomacy’ as a way to circumvent the impediments of a cumbersome supranational bureaucracy in Brussels—a further reminder that, as in the past, Franco-German cooperation was the necessary condition for the unification of Western Europe.
The impulse behind Franco-German moves in the Seventies was economic anxiety. The European economy was growing slowly if at all, inflation was endemic and the uncertainty resulting from the collapse of the Bretton Woods system meant that exchange rates were volatile and unpredictable. The Snake, the EMS and the écu were a sort of second-best—because regional rather than international—response to the problem, serially substituting the Deutschmark for the dollar as the stable currency of reference for European bankers and markets. A few years later the replacement of national currencies by the euro, for all its disruptive symbolic implications, was the logical next step. The ultimate emergence of a single European currency was thus the outcome of pragmatic responses to economic problems, not a calculated strategic move on the road to a pre-determined European goal.
Nevertheless, by convincing many observers—notably hitherto skeptical Social Democrats—that economic recovery and prosperity could no longer be achieved at a national level alone, the successful monetary collaboration of Western European states served as an unexpected stepping stone to other forms of collective action. With no powerful constituency opposed in principle, the Community’s heads of state and government signed a Solemn Declaration in 1983 committing them to a future European Union. The precise shape of such a Union was then hammered out in the course of negotiations leading to a Single European Act (SEA) which was approved by the European Council in December 1985 and entered into force in July 1987.
The SEA was the first significant revision of the original Rome Treaty. Article One stated clearly enough that ‘The European Communities and European political cooperation shall have as their objective to contribute together to making concrete progress towards European unity’. And merely by replacing ‘Community’ with ‘Union’ the leaders of the twelve member nations took a decisive step forward in principle. But the signatories avoided or postponed all truly controversial business, notably the growing burden of the Union’s agricultural budget. They also stepped cautiously around the embarrassing absence of any common European policy on defense and foreign affairs. At the height of the ‘new Cold War’ of the 1980s, and on the verge of momentous developments unfolding a few dozen miles to their East, the member states of the European Union kept their eyes resolutely fixed upon the internal business of what was still primarily a common market, albeit one encompassing well over 300 million people.
What they did agree on, however, was to move purposefully towards a genuine single internal market in goods and labour (to be implemented by 1992), and to adopt a system of ‘qualified majority voting’ in the Union’s decision-making process—‘qualified’, that is, by the insistence of the bigger members (notably Britain and France) that they retain the power to block proposals deemed harmful to their national interest. These were real changes, and they could be agreed to because a single market was favored in principle by everyone from Margaret Thatcher to the Greens, albeit for rather different reasons. They facilitated and anticipated the genuine economic integration of the next decade.
A retreat from the system of national vetoes in the European Council was unavoidable if any decisions were to be taken by an increasingly cumbersome community of states that had doubled its size in just thirteen years and was already anticipating applications for membership from Sweden, Austria and elsewhere. The larger it grew, the more attractive—and somehow ‘inevitable’—the future European Union would become to those not yet inside it. To citizens of its member-states, however, the most significant feature of the European Union in these years was not the way in which it was governed (about which most of its people remained entirely ignorant), nor its leaders’ projects for closer integration, but the amount of money flowing through its coffers and the way that money was disbursed.
The original Treaty of Rome contained only one agency with a specific remit to identify regions within its member states that needed assistance and then dispense Community cash to them: the European Investment Bank, initiated at Italy’s insistence. But a generation later regional expenditures, in the form of cash subsidies, direct aid, start-up funds and other investment incentives were the leading source of budgetary expansion in Brussels and by far the most influential lever at the Community’s disposal.
The reason for this was the confluence of regionalist politics within the separate member states and growing economic disparities between the states themselves. In the initial post-WWII years, European states were still unitary, governed from the center with little regard for local variety or tradition. Only the new Italian constitution of 1948 even acknowledged the case for regional authorities; and even so, the limited local governments that it stipulated remained a dead letter for a quarter of a century. But just when local demands for autonomy became a serious factor in domestic political calculations all over Europe, the EC for its own reasons inaugurated a system of regional funds, beginning in 1975 with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
From the point of view of Brussels-based officials, the ERDF and other so-called ‘structural funds’ had two purposes. The first was to address the problem of economic backwardness and unevenness within a Community that was still very much guided by a post-war culture of ‘growth’, as the Single European Act made quite explicit. With each new group of members came new inequalities that required attention and compensation if economic integration was to succeed. Italy’s Mezzogiorno was no longer the only impoverished zone, as it had once been: most of Ireland; parts of Great Britain (Ulster, Wales, Scotland and the north and west of England); most of Greece and Portugal; southern, central and north-western Spain: all were poor and would need significant subsidies and reallocations of central aid if they were ever to catch up.
In 1982, taking the European Community’s average income as 100, Denmark—the wealthiest member—stood at 126, Greece at just 44. By 1989 per capita GDP in Denmark was still more than twice that of Portugal (in the US, the gap between wealthy and poor states was only two-thirds as wide). And these were national averages—regional disparities were greater still. Even wealthy countries had deserving zones: when Sweden and Finland joined the Union in the mid 1990s, their Arctic regions, under-populated and totally dependent on maintenance grants and other subsidies from Stockholm and Helsinki, now qualified for assistance from Brussels too. To correct geographical and market deformations that locked Spain’s Galicia or Sweden’s Vasterbotten into dependency, agencies in Brussels would devote large amounts of cash—bringing undoubted local benefits but also setting up expensive, cumbersome and occasionally corrupt local bureaucracies in the process.239
The second motive behind Europe’s enormously costly regional funding projects—between them the various ‘Structural’ and ‘Cohesion’ Funds would consume 35 percent of all EU expenditure by the end of the century—was to enable the European Commission in Brussels to bypass uncooperative central governments and collaborate directly with regional interests within the member-states. This strategy proved very successful. Ever since the late 1960s, regionalist sentiment had been growing (in some cases reviving) everywhere. Quondam 1968 activists, substituting regional affinity for political dogma, now sought to revive and use the old Occitan language in south-western France. Like their fellow activists in Brittany they found common cause with Catalan and Basque separatists, Scottish and Flemish nationalists, northern Italian separatists and many others, all expressing a common resentment at ‘misrule’ from Madrid, or Paris, or London or Rome.
The new regionalist politics fell into many over-lapping sub-categories—historical, linguistic, religious; seeking autonomy, self-government or even full national independence—but generally divided into wealthy provinces, resentful at being obliged to subsidize penurious regions of their own country; and historically disadvantaged or newly de-industrialized zones, angry at being neglected by unresponsive national politicians. In the first category were to be found Catalonia, Lombardy, Belgian Flanders, West Germany’s Baden-Württemburg or Bavaria, and the Rhône-Alpes region of south-east France (which together with the Île-de-France comprised nearly 40 percent of French GDP by 1990). In the second category were Andalusia, much of Scotland, French-speaking Wallonia and many others.
Both categories stood to gain from European regional policies. Wealthy regions like Catalonia or Baden-Württemburg set up offices in Brussels and learned how to lobby on their own behalf, for investment or for Community policies favoring local over national institutions. Political representatives from disadvantaged regions were just as quick to manipulate grants and aid from Brussels to increase their local popularity—and thereby pressure compliant authorities in Dublin or London into encouraging and even supplementing Brussels’ largesse. These arrangements suited everyone: European coffers might hemorrhage millions to subsidize tourism in the depopulated West of Ireland or to underwrite tax-incentives to attract investors to areas of chronic unemployment in Lorraine or Glasgow; but even if only from enlightened self-interest, the beneficiaries were becoming loyal ‘Europeans’. Ireland successfully replaced or updated much of its dilapidated transport and sewerage infrastructure in this way, and among poorer, peripheral member states it was not alone.240
The SEA expanded Community powers into many policy areas—the environment, employment practices, local research-and-development initiatives—in which the EC had not previously been involved, all of which entailed the dispensing of Brussels funds directly to local agencies. This cumulative ‘regionalization’ of Europe was bureaucratic and costly. To take one tiny example that can stand for hundreds: Italy’s Alto Adige/South Tyrol region, on the country’s northern frontier with Austria, was officially classified by Brussels in 1975 as ‘mountainous’ ( an uncontentious claim); thirteen years later it was officially declared to be over 90 percent ‘rural’ (no less self-evident to any casual traveler), or—in Brussels jargon—an ‘Objective 5-b Area’. In this dual capacity the Alto Adige was now eligible for environmental protection funds; grants to support agriculture; grants to improve vocational training; grants to encourage traditional handicrafts; and grants to ameliorate living conditions in order to retain population.
Accordingly, between 1993 and 1999 the tiny Alto Adige received a total of 96 million écus (worth roughly the same amount in 2005 euros). In the so-called ‘Third Period’ of European structural funding, scheduled to run from 2000-2006, a further 57 million euros were to be put at the province’s disposal. Under ‘Objective Two’ these monies were to be disbursed for the sole benefit of the 83,000 residents who lived in ‘exclusively’ mountainous or ‘rural’ zones. Since 1990, a government department in Bolzano, the provincial capital, has been devoted exclusively to instructing local residents how to benefit from ‘Europe’ and European resources. Since 1995 the Province has also maintained an office in Brussels (shared with the neighboring Italian Trentino province and the Austrian region of Tyrol). The official website of the Province of Bolzano (available in Italian, German, English, French and Ladino, a variety of the Swiss Romansch dialect) is enthusiastically Europhile, as well it might be.
The result, in the South Tyrol as elsewhere, was that—costly or not—integrating the continent ‘from the bottom up’, as its advocates insisted, did seem to work. When the ‘Council [later the Assembly] of European regions’ was launched in 1985 it already comprised 107 member regions, with many more to come. A certain sort of united Europe was indeed beginning to come into focus. Regionalism, once the affair of a handful of linguistic recidivists or nostalgic folklorists, was now offered as an alternate, ‘sub-national’ identity: displacing the nation itself and all the more legitimate in that it came with the imprimatur of official approval from Brussels and even—albeit with distinctly less enthusiasm—from national capitals as well.
The residents of this increasingly parcelized Community, whose citizens now professed multiple elective allegiances of variable cultural resonance and daily significance, were perhaps less unambiguously ‘Italian’ or ‘British’ or ‘Spanish’ than in decades past; but they did not necessarily therefore feel more ‘European’, despite the steady proliferation of ‘European’ labels and elections and institutions. The lush undergrowth of agencies, media, institutions, representatives and funds brought many benefits but won scant affection. One reason was perhaps the very abundance of official outlets for disbursing and overseeing the administration of European largesse: the already complex machinery of modern state government, its ministries and commissions and directorates, was now doubled and even tripled from above (Brussels) and below (the province or region).
The outcome was not just bureaucracy on an unprecedented scale but also corruption, induced and encouraged by the sheer volume of funding available, much of it requiring the exaggeration and even invention of local needs and thus all but inviting the sorts of venal, local abuses that passed unnoticed by the Community’s managers in Brussels but risked discrediting their enterprise even in the eyes of its beneficiaries. Between a reputation for policy-making by distant unelected civil servants, and well-stocked rumors of political back-scratching and profiteering, ‘Europe’ in these years was not well served by its own achievements.
The familiar shortcomings of local politics—clientelism, corruption, manipulation—that the better-run nation states were thought to have overcome now resurfaced on a continental scale. Public responsibility for occasional ‘Euroscandals’ was prudently shifted by national politicians onto the shoulders of an invisible class of unelected ‘Eurocrats’, whose bad name carried no political cost. Meanwhile the ballooning Community budget was defended by its recipients and promoters in the name of cross-national ‘harmonization’ or rightful compensation (and fuelled from the Community’s seemingly bottomless funds).
‘Europe’, in short, was coming to represent a significant ‘moral hazard’, as its carping critics, in Britain in particular, gleefully insisted. The decades-long drive to overcome continental disunity by purely technical measures was looking decidedly political, while lacking the redeeming legitimacy of a traditional political project pursued by an elected class of familiar politicians. Insofar as ‘Europe’ had a distinctive goal, its economic strategy was still grounded in the calculations and ambitions of the Fifties. As for its politics: the confident, interventionist tone of pronouncements from the European Commission—and the authority and open chequebooks with which European experts descended on distant regions—bespoke a style of government rooted firmly in the social-democratic heyday of the early Sixties.
For all their laudable efforts to transcend the shortcomings of national political calculation, the men and women who were constructing ‘Europe’ in the Seventies and Eighties were still curiously provincial. Their greatest trans-national achievement of the time, the Schengen Agreement signed in June 1985, is revealingly symptomatic in this respect. Under the terms of this arrangement France, West Germany and the Benelux countries agreed to dismantle their common frontiers and inaugurate a shared regime of passport control. Henceforward it would be easy to cross from Germany to France, just as it had long been unproblematic to move between, say, Belgium and Holland.
But Schengen signatories had to commit themselves in return to ensuring the most stringent visa and customs regimes between themselves and non-participating countries: if the French, for example, were to open their frontiers to anyone crossing from Germany, they had to be sure that the Germans themselves had applied the most stringent criteria at their points of entry. In opening the internal frontiers between some EC member states, therefore, the Agreement resolutely reinforced the external borders separating them from outsiders. Civilized Europeans could indeed transcend boundaries—but the ‘barbarians’ would be kept resolutely beyond them. 241