In 1975 after the death of Franco, González became one of the leaders of the legal democratic opposition as a part of the Platform for Democratic Convergence. In March 1976 this group became part of the ruling Democratic Junta of Spain. In 1977 the PSOE was legalized and ran in the June elections, Spain's first since the 1930s. The PSOE gained sufficient seats to become the principal opposition party.
In the October 1982 elections the PSOE won a plurality with 42 percent of votes cast, and González became the first socialist premier of Spain since before Franco. González played a key role in the transition to democracy. He pushed for liberal reforms and a restructuring of the economy, extended social security, and made education free to the age of sixteen. He also greatly expanded the university system. When one of Spain's largest business and banking groups, Rumasa, was threatened with bankruptcy, González authorized its nationalization. This prompted fears of a more aggressive socialist agenda, but González claimed that it was a one-time action to secure the jobs and savings of a large number of Spaniards. Indeed, he dropped the adjective of "Marxist" from the party description and adroitly moved the PSOE toward the center. He also sought membership for Spain in the European Economic Community (EEC).
In 1986 the PSOE held on to the majority in parliament, and González implemented a number of initiatives, some of which were heavily criticized by the Left of his own party. Spain joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community in 1986 and sent troops to the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
González won a third election in 1989 and a fourth 1993. Despite a growing scandal in his cabinet over how Spain had dealt with Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, Basque Country and Liberty) separatists in the Basque region, González led his party in the May 1996 elections. The scandal, combined with a worsening economy, led to a PSOE loss to the rightist People's Party, and González resigned from the PSOE in 1996. He currently heads the Madrid-based Global Progress Foundation (FPG).
David H. Richards
Gillespie, Richard. The Spanish Socialist Party: A History of Factionalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.; González, Felipe. Socialismo es libertad. Barcelona: Gslba Editions, 1978.