The "axis of prosperity" that Aznar promoted against Zapatero and that Ayuso wants to reissue

The agreement was signed in Palma de Mallorca, in July 2004.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 March 2023 Sunday 21:46
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The "axis of prosperity" that Aznar promoted against Zapatero and that Ayuso wants to reissue

The agreement was signed in Palma de Mallorca, in July 2004. In the photo that recorded the moment, Francisco Camps, Esperanza Aguirre and Jaume Matas appeared happy. They announced the creation of the “axis of prosperity, Madrid, the Balearic Islands and Valencia”. An association between communities governed by the PP that, as justified, was built to increase economic synergies between these regions.

But that it was also an alliance, promoted by José María Aznar, to create a bloc against the government of the socialist José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero and, most importantly, to force a new vision of geopolitics in Spain facing the Mediterranean arc and against the rapprochement strategy between the Valencian Community and Catalonia (as president Aznar would vote against including the Mediterranean corridor as a trans-European axis in favor of the Atlantic corridor).

Isabel Díaz Ayuso wants to reissue this "axis of prosperity". But it is important to know how the previous one ended. From the outset, its autonomous protagonists were affected by the action of justice for cases of corruption. Jaume Matas, former president of the Balearic Islands, was convicted and imprisoned for the Palma Arena case, and sat in the dock for the Nòos case. Francisco Camps, former Valencian president, had to resign in 2011 due to the case of the suits, part of the Gürtel case, of which he was acquitted. He is currently being tried for another piece by Gürtel, the one referring to contracts of the corrupt network with the Generalitat Valenciana. Esperanza Aguirre was the last to fall from the front line of politics affected by suspicions about her in the Púnica case.

But at that time, that initiative did not respond to a simple propaganda act for the benefit of the PP. "The axis of prosperity was a geopolitical operation, a give and take of territorial conceptions, which sought to reinforce a certain political vision: radial and central Spain", stressed Professor Josep Vicent Boira at that time.

In his second volume of memoirs, Aznar wrote about that initiative that “Valencia had a special meaning for us. The link between Valencia and Madrid would generate very important synergies for reasons of geographical proximity (...) that would contribute to strengthening its own position against the harassment of radical nationalist expansionism from Catalonia”.

And he added: “The first instruction received by the Minister of Public Works of the first government, Rafael Arias-Salgado, was to finish the Madrid-Valencia highway as it were. A specific policy was designed for the entire Spanish Levante”. That is why Josep Vicent Boira reasons that that "Axis of Prosperity was the regional response to the state geopolitical conception of the Aznar-Arias Salgado government."

In some way, Aguirre, Camps and Matas were pieces of a strategy that, moreover, confronted other geopolitical conceptions that were beginning to take shape, such as that of the “Mediterranean axis”. An alternative that was opposed to the model of radial Spain and that was committed to increasing infrastructures, and economic collaboration, between Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Murcia and the eastern area of ​​Andalusia for a better connection with Europe. An area, by the way, that accounts for more than 50% of GDP in Spain, as well as exports, among others.

Josep Vicent Boira, who had thoroughly investigated the axes of growth in Spain, concluded on those dates that "the operation of the 'axis of prosperity' did not respond, therefore, only to a certain historical coincidence of some leaders in power of Madrid, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, but should also be interpreted as the "regional" response to the ordeal launched by Madrid during the Aznar government "to increase relations between the center of the peninsula and the east coast".

The “axis” was created a few months after José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero won the general elections and became president of the government. José María Aznar needed to build a counterpower to the hegemony of the PSOE. Other regions such as Murcia, Castilla y León, La Rioja and Galicia, all governed by this party, immediately joined. But after a short time, the harmony between the leaders of the "axis" began to fade.

It was the case of Francisco Camps and Esperanza Aguirre. The first, which was not yet plagued by corruption, opted for Mariano Rajoy to lead the national PP; A position that was consolidated in the Valencia congress of 2008. Aguirre, quite the contrary, narrowed his entente with Aznar. That division fractured the “axis of prosperity” politically, since Jaume Matas did not have enough political weight to serve as a balm for the unleashed internal war. At the Valencia congress sparks flew between Aguirre and Camps.

And the year 2008 arrived. The year in which the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor opened proceedings against Jaume Matas for the Palma Arena case, later extended to the Nóos case, with ramifications in Valencia. That year also broke out the so-called case of the suits, a separate piece of the Gürtel case, which forced Francisco Camps some time later to abandon the presidency of the Generalitat Valenciana and the Valencian PP. The Gürtel case confirmed corrupt connections between the PP of Valencia and that of Madrid. The one who resisted the most was Esperanza Aguirre, once the all-powerful leader of the Madrid PP.

Corruption and political weakness sank the protagonists of the "axis of prosperity." But as Boira well denounced, the radio vision of Spain, almost twelve years later, had imposed itself to the detriment, once again, of the Mediterranean axis. But politically, and in geopolitics, the Mediterranean axis has imposed the logic recognized by the European Union. Of course, that photo and that moment in which the three regional barons of the PP –Aguirre, Camps and Mata– idealized a model of counterpower that over time has been forgotten will remain for the memory.