It was not an easy or quick negotiation. The Spanish economy was going through a dramatic situation and the Transition was at a crossroads. But in the end all the political forces agreed. The La Moncloa Pacts were signed on October 25, 1977, four months after the first democratic general elections. Only seven months had passed after the legalization of the Communist Party on that Red Holy Saturday.
The Moncloa Pacts, in the plural, included two agreements, supported by two documents: one, economic and the other, political. In the first, a series of adjustment measures were included to stabilize an economy badly damaged by the impact of the oil crisis in the 1970s. In that year, unemployment grew by one million people, a record number, while year-on-year inflation exceeded 30% in some months. The peseta had to be devalued in July.
In the political agreement, initiatives as relevant as the protection of women’s equality, freedom of the press and the elimination of censorship, recognition of the right of assembly and free expression of ideas, the right of trade union association were included. , the decriminalization of adultery and the suppression of the National Movement. Some far-reaching reforms that would later translate into laws, including the amendment of the Penal Code.
The idea of pacts to confront the crisis and consolidate the Transition emerged in July 1977 with the new UCD government, chaired by Adolfo Suárez, who had won the June elections without an absolute majority. UCD had removed 165 seats, well ahead of the PSOE, become the second political force. Alianza Popular, the Francoist party, had crashed with just 16 seats. Suarez appointed the eminent professor Enrique Fuentes Quintana as Minister of Economy and Second Vice President of the Government, a person with academic authority to pilot that difficult moment. Fuentes appointed Manuel Lagares, professor of Finance, who would have an important role in the drafting of the economic agreement and as confidant of his frustrations.
As soon as the new government was constituted, in July 1977, the super minister and Adolfo Suárez spoke of the need for pacts to stabilize an uncontrolled economic situation that had led to a sharp increase in public spending in a climate of growing demands by unions. “Either there is a great agreement or democracy can collapse,” Fuentes warned.
But the idea of a compromise between all the political forces met at that time with a harsh response from the UCD barons, who believed that it was better to apply the recipes of the newly created party without agreeing with the left. Suárez did not want to confront the families of his training and opted for an ambiguous equidistance that caused Fuentes Quintana’s discouragement. In that month of August, the new head of the Economy fled Madrid and went to the beaches of Huelva, along with his friend Juan Velarde. Fuentes Quintana had promised to teach a course at the University of La Rábida. According to sources very close to the professor, he even went so far as to weigh his resignation when he doubted Suárez’s support.
But the situation was unblocked in early September with an interview between the president and Felipe González, who promised to promote a great political and economic commitment. King Don Juan Carlos was a strong supporter of that agreement and discreetly made it known to the political forces. He knew that, if the pacts came to fruition, the monarchical institution would have taken a great step towards its consolidation.
It was from that moment on that contacts emerged that led to working groups to outline future Pacts. Fernando Abril Martorell, Minister of Agriculture and friend of Suárez, carried the weight of the negotiations by UCD. In the Communist Party, Ramón Tamames played an important role, as did Alfonso Guerra in the PSOE. It is important to underline that, in the summer of 1977, relations between the PSOE and the PCE were practically non-existent both due to their electoral rivalry and the recent past, which had increased deep mistrust. The two parties had been unable to coordinate their opposition in the final stage of Francoism, creating two parallel organizations: the Democratic Board, led by the formation of Santiago Carrillo, and the Democratic Platform, led by the PSOE.
The two hegemonic parties on the left decided to collaborate with Suarez and sit at the negotiating table, without which any understanding would have been impossible. “Carillo had to demonstrate that he did not have horns or smelled of sulfur,” says one of the leaders who participated in the talks, which underlines the sense of the state that the communist leader demonstrated in those months after the elections. When the text was very advanced, Fuentes Quintana called the economist Julio Segura, then a member of the PCE, to the Ministry and allowed him to read the draft in an office without the possibility of making a copy. Segura expressed his agreement and transmitted to Carrillo that there was no obstacle to his signature. Suárez, Fuentes Quintana and Abril Martorell also managed to allay the misgivings of the UCD barons, who realized that the economic situation was unsustainable. The then Governor of the Bank of Spain, former Minister López de Letona, had warned that there were no funds to finance imports and continue to support the peseta, in free fall.
By mid-October, an agreement had been reached whereby the left and nationalist parties such as the PNV and CiU accepted an economic adjustment plan that eliminated the indexation of wages to inflation, a necessary measure to contain prices, return trust in the markets and encourage investment. A tax reform was also agreed to be translated the following year into the IRPF law, which involved a great modernization of the tax system that came from Francoism. Lastly, the dismissal was made more flexible, although with serious limitations.
In exchange, the UCD assumed important political concessions, which were not accepted by Alianza Popular, the party led by Manuel Fraga and which included important Francoist figures such as the technocrat Silva Muñoz, Cruz Martínez Esteruelas, Licinio de la Fuente, López Rodó and Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, one of the ideologists of the yoke and arrows regime. Consequently, Fraga did not sign the political document, but the economic one.
On October 25 there was the ratification of the Pacts by party leaders. On behalf of the UCD, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, future successor of Suárez, signed. González and Carrillo did it for their two formations. The PSP of Tierno Galván and the PNV and CiU also joined. Weeks later, they were approved by Congress and the Senate.
The Pacts were in force for a year in which they were translated into laws and decrees. But at the end of 1978, with the Constitution already approved and the Transition practically concluded, the political forces resumed their struggle in a climate of increasing tension. The PSOE then decided to intensify its opposition to the Government of Adolfo Suárez, which was already beginning to show its first symptoms of decomposition. All this occurred on the eve of the new general elections in March 1979, in which the UCD validated the results obtained two years earlier. The PSOE emerged as the alternative with 121 seats, although there was some frustration in its ranks because expectations were higher. On the contrary, support for the Communist Party and the Popular Alliance was minimal, which created a major internal crisis in both formations.
With the perspective offered by the four decades that have elapsed, the Pacts of La Moncloa were not only an impulse to the newborn democracy, but they also transmitted a powerful message of unity to Spanish society, demonstrating that the parties were capable of reaching agreements in a situation of extraordinary deterioration of the economy. Just four years later, the PSOE would win the elections with an overwhelming absolute majority while UCD disappeared from the map. No one would have said it in that autumn of 1977 when discouragement and uncertainty made those historic Pacts of La Moncloa necessary. .