Earlier today I was in Madrid for the annual parliamentary reception in the Cortes. It is a splendid occasion in a very beautiful building, but also a surprisingly informal one. Those of us who were guests of the parliamentarians were allowed to be photographed speaking from the rostrum.
It was also a very sombre occasion. Two Spanish policemen had been murdered by ETA terrorists in southern France over the weekend.
Even so all the leading figures in Spanish politics and the media stayed to mill around and chat after the formal speeches. Spain’s socialist prime minister, Mr. Zapatero, was the center of a throng. He looks amazingly like Mr. Bean, the comic character invented by British comedian Rowland Atkinson, and has been cruelly caricatured as such.
But one of the opposition conservative MPs thought that this worked to the prime minister’s advantage: “the public thinks he’s an ordinary guy, one of them.”
That’s usually an economic question. In Spain today, however, even more important than the economy is terrorism. Zapatero has been a strong proponent of negotiations with the ETA terrorists over the opposition of the Popular Party. As the evidence mounts that the ETA terrorists are returning full time to terrorism–and the murder of the two policemen confirms this–the opposition of the Popular Party to negotiations to them looks far-sighted as well as principled. But three months is a long time in politics.