By my laws they shall know me

When all the dust has settled on Zapatero's stint as prime minister, the Socialist leader will be remembered as the force behind a whirlwind of legislative activity

Before the crisis came and swept everything away - in fact, even when it was already visible on the horizon, even though he kept denying its existence - Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's administration embarked on a lawmaking marathon that will leave a deep mark on the annals of parliament. These last seven years (there is still one left before general elections are held) have witnessed some of the deepest reforms in recent history, not to mention some of the most controversial. Still other initiatives never materialized, such as the promise of constitutional reform or the religious freedom law. What follows is a review of the 20 laws that have defined Zapatero's two terms in office.

» One: The law against domestic abuse. By the late 1990s, Spanish society was painfully aware of the dramatic situation of battered women (even though Spain by then was registering one of the lowest rates of murdered women in the EU). Zapatero had promised that his first piece of legislation would be aimed at curbing abuse and in December 2004, Congress unanimously passed a pioneering Gender Violence Law that included judicial, educational and social measures. The most controversial provision of this law established much harsher penalties for male abusers than for female abusers.

» Two: Repeal of the Ebro River water transfer. On June 18, 2004, the administration rolled back an initiative by the previous Popular Party (PP) government to build a giant pipe and transfer water from the Aragonese section of the Ebro to the areas of Valencia, Murcia, Almería and Barcelona. Environment Minister Cristina Narbona promised 20 new desalination plants to get water to these regions instead, though by 2009 only four had been built. The transfer's repeal earned praise from environmentalists, although later Zapatero's government carried out other, smaller water transfers that were criticized by the same groups.

» Three: An immigrant regularization drive followed by tougher immigration laws. When Zapatero took office there were around a million immigrants working in Spain without papers, even though the PP had carried out five regularizations benefiting 480,000 individuals. Zapatero launched a "last chance" program, granting legal documents between February and May 2005 to 580,000 migrants who could prove they'd been in Spain for six months, had no criminal record and could produce a job contract. This initiative cast light on thousands of jobs that had been in legal limbo. A year later, official statistics showed that there were once again about a million illegal aliens in Spain. By now, no new regularization programs were being contemplated, and in 2009 the executive reformed legislation to restrict family reunification and extend illegal alien detention times to 60 days.

» Four: Fast-track divorce. One of the first changes to the Civil Code came about in 2005, and its goal was to speed up divorce proceedings. Judges could now also award shared custody of children even if the parents did not come to such an agreement. Finally, fast-track divorce was allowed after three months of marriage, without the need to provide reasons and without a prior separation period.

» Five: Same-sex marriage. Despite head-on opposition from the Vatican, which called it an "aberration;" hesitations voiced by the General Council of the Judiciary, which questioned its constitutionality; rejection from the pro-family group Foro Español de la Familia, which produced 500,000 signatures "in defense of marriage and childhood;" and contempt from the PP, in June 2005 a legal reform enabled homosexuals to wed and adopt children jointly, rather than just individually. A few PP mayors rebelled and refused to marry gay couples, although the justice minister warned this would be "a flagrant breach of their public duties." Since 2005, over 17,000 same-sex marriages have taken place, according to the National Statistics Institute.

» Six: Points-based driver's license. It went into effect in July 2006, and Interior Minister José Antonio Alonso said "it will help save lives." Since then, road deaths - which had been steadily declining for five years - were nearly halved: from 4,442 in 2005 to 2,714 in 2009. In 2007 the Penal Code was reformed to toughen the penalties for speeding, drunk driving and driving without a license.

» Seven: The Salamanca papers. In 2006, Zapatero's administration fulfilled an old demand by the Catalan government: the return of historical documents seized by Franco's regime and kept in the Civil War National Archive in Salamanca. After the law's heated passage through parliament, during which the PP accused the executive of reopening the wounds of the 1936-1939 war, 500 boxes filled with archive material arrived in Barcelona at dawn on January 31, 2006. The transfer was carried out in the dead of night and without prior warning. Culture Minister Carmen Calvo explained it was "an act of justice" that would not extend to other regions, because only Catalonia had a government of its own when hostilities broke out in 1936.

» Eight: Anti-smoking legislation. On January 1, 2006, Spain's non-smokers (and Health Minister Elena Salgado) won a battle while smokers began to feel the effect of legal restrictions that would only get stricter. Smoking was prohibited in the workplace and establishments with a surface area of more than 100 square meters were forced to create non-smoking areas. During Zapatero's second term in office, restrictions were extended to all public spaces, including children's playgrounds and bus stops.

» Nine: New education law. The sixth education reform since the advent of democracy was encoded into law in 2006. And just as the PP did when it was in power, the Socialist Party rammed it through parliament without first reaching a consensus with the main opposition party. Despite that, Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba asserted that this law would last "many, many years." Besides opposition in Congress, the law also had to overcome a protest by 35,000 Catholic demonstrators in Madrid. The cause: the legislation introduced a new civics course called Educación para la Ciudadanía in which homosexual marriage and alternative family arrangements were given the same treatment as the traditional model.

» Ten: Genetic selection and stem cells. Biomedicine made a quantum leap under the Zapatero administration. Deemed rash by some and brave by others, the Assisted Reproduction Law of May 2006 authorized the genetic selection of embryos to cure ill siblings (the PP allowed genetic selection in 2003, but only to prevent hereditary diseases in the future baby). The law also encouraged research with embryonic stem cells. In 2007, the Biomedical Research Law allowed therapeutic cloning.

» Eleven: Fiscal rollercoaster. In March 2006, lowering taxes became left-wing policy. The Cabinet approved a fiscal reform that went into effect in 2007. It included lower income taxes, more individual and family deductions, and the first corporate tax cut in the history of democracy. The tax authorities admitted this would cost the state 9.25 billion euros in lost revenues over two years. In other words, the reform would eat up the surplus that Spain had built up for the first time in 2005. On average, each citizen paid six percent less in taxes. The government also eliminated inheritance tax, which was created with the biggest fortunes in mind. The executive alleged that it had become a tax for the middle classes.

» Twelve: Dependents. Zapatero's goal was to create "the fourth pillar of the welfare state" after public education, free healthcare and the pension system. The Personal Autonomy Promotion Law, passed in November 2006, gave people who depend on others for their daily needs the right to public assistance, daycare centers, home care or economic aid. Today, nearly 700,000 people receive some kind of aid, another 360,000 dependents are on a waiting list, while a further 480,000 applicants are hoping to be declared dependent so as to be eligible for subsidies.

» Thirteen: Equality Law. A year before creating the Equality Ministry, the government approved the Equality Law (which was ratified by Congress on March 15, 2007). The law extended paternity leave to 15 days and forced political parties to have at least 40 percent of women on their election tickets. It also offered advantages in public competitions for government contracts to companies with a balanced male-female ratio.

» Fourteen: The "baby check" and the 400-euro handout. With the crisis right around the corner and general elections the following year, in July 2007 the government announced that all babies born from that date on would receive a one-time 2,500-euro aid, regardless of their parents' income. All the opposition parties called it electioneering, yet none voted against it. PP leader Mariano Rajoy summed up the generous 2008 budget thus: "The government will end up offering us a house in the Caribbean." In January 2008, with the campaign nearly underway, Zapatero promised to return 400 euros each year to all taxpayers, regardless of income. But that was the year that the crisis hit, and the measure was pulled in 2009. In 2010 the "baby check" went the same way.

» Fifteen: Historical Memory. On December 10, 2007, just when it seemed poised for failure, the Historical Memory Law made it through Congress. It was termed "an assault on the Transition" by the PP, which voted against (so did the left-wing Catalan republicans of ERC, but because it considered the law insufficient). The law provided moral redress to the victims of the Civil War and subsequent dictatorship, and said that convictions handed down by Franco's courts were "illegitimate" (although the new law failed to repeal them). Town halls were forced to remove Franco-related symbols from the streets, and the state promised to "help" open up mass graves.

» Sixteen: New regional financing model. The government first negotiated regional financing with Catalonia and later extended it to the other regions. The reform, approved in December 2009, resulted in more money for all regional governments - an extra 11 billion euros over three years - besides greater participation in state taxes and a change in the solidarity system between the regions. The PP claimed that the model was made to measure for Catalonia and voted against, even though PP-run regions accepted the additional revenues.

» Seventeen: The right to abortion. Like other historical feminist demands, it teetered on the verge of failure, but in February 2010 Congress approved abortion on demand until week 14, making it in a sense more permissive than the previous law. But on the other hand, women could no longer claim psychological damage to get an abortion beyond week 22, as was often the case earlier. Another hotly disputed clause allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to abort without parental consent. In the end, it was agreed that minors must inform their parents except when this would cause "a grave conflict."

» Eighteen: A tougher Penal Code. The 2010 Penal Code included harsher punishment for terrorism, sex crimes and real estate corruption. It also introduced probation for the most serious offenders (terrorists and pedophiles would be kept under surveillance even after serving their sentence). For the first time, legal entities could be charged.

» Nineteen: Labor and pension reform. The labor reform, which among other things made firing cheaper, led to a general strike on September 29, 2010. The unions accused Zapatero of embracing neoliberal views from one day to the next. Using the same argument - that it was essential for the country's good - the executive also approved a reform of the pension system, which pushes back the retirement age to 67 and forces anyone wishing to retire at 65 to work for 38 and a half years.

» Twenty: From the sustainable economy to the "Sinde" law. One of Zapatero's key promises was a sustainable economy law that would create "a new production model" to replace real estate as the engine of growth. Yet the law, passed last February, does not contain any radical changes, and is best known for a last-minute provision that has little to do with the economy and became known informally as the "Sinde Law" - an attempt to penalize illegal downloads of copyrighted content on the internet.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Congress in 2008.
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Congress in 2008.GORKA LEJARCEGI

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