Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez indicated yesterday that his government is in no hurry to hold a promised referendum on Spain's withdrawal from NATO, but warned that "Spanish public opinion finds it incomprehensible" that military cooperation with the West has not paid off in increased economic cooperation.
Despite Spain's commitment to western defense, which Gonzalez said was demonstrated by the recent five-year renewal of the agreement authorizing U.S. air and naval bases in his country, its longstanding request for membership in the European Community was again left pending at last weekend's EC summit, and U.S. markets "remain impenetrable and restrictive" for many Spanish products.
"It's the kind of thing that makes propaganda easy for the Communist Party," which counts 4 to 7 percent of the Spanish electorate, Gonzalez said in a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "We haven't felt very much solidarity from the West."
During last year's electoral campaign, Gonzalez's Spanish Socialist Workers' Party opposed NATO membership, sponsored by the previous centrist administration, and promised a nationwide vote on whether to withdraw. Opinion polls have shown the majority of Spaniards would prefer to return to Spain's longstanding tradition of neutrality.
Since their October victory, however, the Socialists have declined to call a referendum because of what Foreign Minister Fernando Moran has called "existing East-West tensions" and a desire to build more friendly relations with Western Europe and the United States. But Gonzalez has been under growing pressure from the left wing of his own party and the Spanish Communists, who last week led a demonstration in Madrid of about 100,000 people demanding withdrawal from NATO.
"We haven't delayed" the referendum "because no date was set for it," Gonzalez said yesterday. "The pledge was that it would be sometime during the administration, and we've only been here six months.
"Who's in a hurry? Fundamentally, the Communist Party, for obvious reasons. And, paradoxically, the right because they want to catch the government contradicting public opinion."
But Gonzalez went on to add "a couple of nuances" to the question of the referendum. "First, the government and I accept that Spain has a responsibility to be part of western security. We have shown it" by the bases agreement.
"Second, Spain wants to integrate itself into the Western European structure" and improve its trade balance with the United States, which is "worse today than it was in 1975 when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was alive. Said in another way, just the soy and corn that we buy from the United States equals all of our exports to the United States."
Changing this imbalance, Gonzalez said, "is important for the stability of our program."