PP ministers pledge far-reaching reforms but with vows of moderation

Interior chief wants ETA to disband; New trial rules on the drawing board

Kind words, praise for predecessors, and promises of open dialogue with rival factions. These were the messages members of the new Popular Party (PP) Cabinet of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were at pains to convey as they took oath Thursday.

It was a 180-degree turn from the back-biting that many of these now-ministers took part in to fuel political tension throughout José Rodríguez Zapatero's two terms. Several ministers not only recognized the "hard work" of their outgoing predecessors, but also took the time to extol their efforts in keeping Spain in line during these past years of economic and social crises.

Most noteworthy was that of Jorge Fernández Díaz, the new interior minister, who pointed out that his Socialist predecessor Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba "never let his guard down" when it came to ETA. It was a different stance from the times when Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the new deputy prime minister, would go for his jugular at every congressional session when she was PP spokeswoman in Congress.

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Sáenz de Santamaría, the new "super minister" who will hold down three jobs and wield considerable influence in Rajoy's government, promised to be humble in her efforts and open to dialogue. The incoming deputy prime minister, who will also assume the Cabinet secretary's post and be in charge of the National Intelligence Center (CNI), said that she will meet with all the country's political factions "because we can all be partly right, and we can all have our own reasons. From this contrast of reasons come the best solutions."

The 40-year-old Sáenz de Santamaría, who will also serve as Rajoy's spokeswoman, said that the number one goal of the new PP government is to create jobs. She asked her team for loyalty but restraint when it comes to criticizing her work. "You should criticize when we make mistakes - because we will make many - but mollify them as soon as possible."

Outgoing Socialist Cabinet Secretary Ramón Jáuregui advised her that governing these days was "no longer choosing between the good and bad, but selecting between bad and worse."

After his swearing in, new Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz delivered some harsh words for the Basque terrorist group ETA before commending his predecessors Antonio Camacho and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba for helping bring a close to a violent chapter in Spanish history.

"It is logical that we are happy because the armed group says that it has definitively laid down its weapons. Even though that it is one of the necessary conditions, it isn't enough: ETA must cease to exist."

The Interior chief promised that law enforcement will continue to be vigilant until the day ETA disbands and that its dissolution can be verified. "We live and will continue to live under challenging times which will need both a left and a right hand to manage."

Another high-profile appointment was that of Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who resigned as Madrid mayor shortly before taking over as justice minister.

Two of Ruiz-Gallardón's biggest tasks will be to change the way members are elected to the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) - the judicial watchdog - and modify the requirements for candidates to the Constitutional Court, a process which has been largely blocked over the past two legislatures due to disputes over appointees between the Socialists and then-opposition PP. Ruiz-Gallardón also announced that he will work on reforming court procedures, including introducing a speedy trial act for civil cases, arbitration and out-of-court dispute-resolution, and a crime victims' rights act. He said that the Spanish court system must be "efficient, rigorous and advanced," and the bottle-neck in casework must be eased.

At 8am, Ruiz-Gallardón appeared at the City Hall registry to resign his seat on the city council as well as his mayoral post. By law, Deputy Mayor Manuel Cobo was immediately appointed as his replacement. However, Cobo announced that on Tuesday the PP-majority-backed city council will hold a special session to elect Ana Botella, the third in line, to become the city's first female mayor.

The controversial 58-year-old wife of former Prime Minister José María Aznar has been serving on the Madrid council since 2003. Botella, who has never been very media friendly, waved off reporters' questions when she arrived at City Hall for Ruiz-Gallardón's resignation. "I think she will be a good mayor," said Cobo.

Botella, who serves as city environmental commissioner, has come under fire in recent years for not doing enough to bring down the levels of the pollution in the Spanish capital to European Union standards. This was the second year in a row that Madrid's pollution levels have surpassed EU limits. She has also been criticized by many sectors for her off-the-wall comments. Her most infamous statement came in 2004, when the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was drafting the same-sex marriage bill: "You cannot compare homosexual marriage with heterosexual marriage. Just in the same way that two apples put together will give you another apple, but an apple and a pear can never give you another apple."

She has also been at loggerheads with Madrid's gay community for threatening to curtail Gay Pride celebrations two years in a row because of noise levels. The events have since been toned down.

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes the pledge in front of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, with Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón looking on.
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes the pledge in front of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, with Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón looking on.

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