Pedro Solbes (Pinoso, Alicante, 1942), former Vice President of the Government with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has died this Saturday at the age of 80, according to sources close to him. He was one of the fundamental Spanish politicians in the process of integrating Spain into the European Economic Community. His intense participation in this essential process in Spanish history and his management of the 2008 financial crisis marked his life.

Solbes arrived in Brussels in 1973 as commercial adviser to the Spanish mission to the European Communities (EC) with Ambassador Alberto Ullastres. He, then, was one of the officials best intellectually equipped to take on that task. He had a doctorate in Political Science, a degree in Law and a diploma in European Economics from the Free University of Brussels. His command of French and English and his extensive knowledge of German facilitated his relations with officials from other countries in the difficult years of the political transition from dictatorship to democracy. In Brussels he met Joaquín Almunia, who then represented the Chambers of Commerce, with whom he soon established a strong and lasting friendship.

The former minister was a solid, independent, inclusive professional, allergic to any type of sectarianism, who always recognized the work that the men and women of Adolfo Suárez’s Union of the Democratic Center (UCD) had done in bringing Spain closer to Europe. “During the UCD period, what could be done was done, which was the technical preparation of all the negotiations,” he later wrote in a work on the economy of democracy, coordinated by Miguel Ángel Noceda.

His work to integrate Spain into Europe was the determining vector of his life. He continued these works of rapprochement with Europe from Madrid in Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo’s team to negotiate the accession process, which culminated in 1985 and which, in his opinion, meant “the greatest modernization in our economic history”.

In the socialist government of Felipe González he was Secretary of State for Relations with the European Communities, with Francisco Fernández Ordóñez as Minister of Foreign Affairs, until 1991. From this year on he joined the cabinet, first as Minister of Agriculture and later Economy and Treasury (from 1993 to 1996). That period included the Banesto crisis, which ended with the bank’s intervention. Solbes always described the accusations of political motivations in that difficult decision as unfounded, which in his opinion was based on “a technical analysis by the Bank of Spain with the clear support of the Government.”

His European commitment reached its maximum relevance as European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (1999-2004). Those were the years of adaptation of the euro in a difficult climate in which euroscepticism had begun to appear. The adoption of the single currency was an event that marked him decisively in those years. He thought that “with the euro Spain passed from the 19th to the 21st century and had a very positive impact on the perception of our country in those years”.

Vice President with Shoemaker

In 2004 President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero chose him to take charge of the economic area as Vice President of the Government. At that time the Spanish economy was launched, driven by the boom of a real estate bubble that very few had detected except the Bank of Spain inspectors, who even sent a letter warning the Executive of the risks involved in certain banking practices. Then the moment of truth arrived for the Government, which was not able to detect the crisis until several months had passed.

Solbes left office in July 2009 in a rarefied climate due to certain discrepancies with the president, which he hid while he held office. He was concerned about excessive public spending, considering that the Spanish economy did not have enough muscle to take on new disbursements without increasing its imbalances. Prudence, sometimes considered excessive, characterized his management style.

In his appearance in Congress in the commission of investigation on the financial crisis, in 2018, he had the honesty and courage to openly admit his mistakes: “There were clear forecast errors in the macro field. We were not able to detect the strong Spanish recession in 2009″. “It was thought,” he added, “to return to a situation of growth in 2010 and from there to return to normality, but that didn’t happen either.” It was a thorough and blunt self-criticism: “In the years since, especially with regard to the second recession of 2011, we got it completely wrong. Another aspect that I want to highlight is that the risk of the current account deficit was underestimated”.

In this same line of assumption of mistakes, he recognized the deficiencies in the management of the financial crisis. “Now we know we shouldn’t make the same mistakes. It is very clear that savings banks would be a priority issue today. We definitely should have started earlier.” This attitude and these words define very well the sobriety and the absence of any hint of prosopopeia in his character. “My fundamental characteristic,” he told the deputies, “is that I am not an economist: I am a doctor in Political Science.”

With a similar tone, in an interview with EL PAÍS in 2017 he also admitted mistakes: “The crisis is very complex. It has been larvae since the entry into the euro, with measures from governments prior to ours that lead to the expansion of credit and housing, to the expansion of the financing of companies in the international arena… and it is true that we inherited all of this and we were not able to correct enough. And the global crisis and the financial system in the United States also ended up affecting us. Therefore, I have the responsibility that corresponds to me. Undoubtedly. The Zapatero government was the one that had to face the bull when he got angry, but the problem had been going on for a long time.

In the same conversation, Solbes acknowledged his differences with the President of the Government regarding how the challenge should have been faced: “My biggest mistake was staying in the Zapatero government in the second legislature. I think my time was up. The perception that I had of the crisis was not the same as that of the president, when at that time it was essential to have a unique position to act. Yes, I regret that.”

In April 2011, Solbes became an independent member of the board of directors of the Italian utility Enel, owner of Endesa. The same year he signed him to the British bank Barclays as a director and adviser.

“A statesman”

Joaquín Almunia, a personal friend, who has also been a member of the Governments of Felipe González and Vice President of the European Commission, remembers him fondly: “He was a fantastic man, a very good friend, of whom you could spend time without speaking but you knew that the friendship remained, a very good professional, democrat, progressive and above all a great public servant”.

“I am sorry for the death of Pedro Solbes. I am very sorry personally and also for the loss of someone who had the best qualities that can be attributed to a public servant: seriousness, rigor, reliability and honesty. Let us know how to remember him like this, let us know how to honor his memory ”, lamented former President Zapatero. The current head of government, Pedro Sánchez, has classified him as a “statesman dedicated to serving his country and defending social democratic values”. “The Federal Executive Commission of the PSOE and the Federal Committee express their regret over the death of Pedro Solbes”, The PSOE has indicated in a statement distributed this Saturday, which emphasizes “his exemplary career at the service of Spain and its institutions; Thank you for having contributed to improving the lives of all of us”.

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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