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Spain’s rulers don’t need to speak English: Ex-PM

Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, mocked for his lack of foreign language skills when in power, has said demanding fluency in English would exclude the "sons of workers" from positions of responsibility.

Spain's rulers don't need to speak English: Ex-PM
Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero relied on interpreters and translators during his time in office. File photo: Georges Gobet/AFP

The remarks by the former leader of the Socialist party came during an interview with Spanish TV show, "Viajando con Chester", according to Spain's Huffington Post.

Although Zapatero prefaced his remarks by insisting that learning languages was "essential" and "very important" he added that "in Spain there are a lot of people who don't speak English" and that to exclude them from highest office for that reason would be "reactionary".

Zapatero's own language skills, or lack thereof, were derided by Spaniards during his time in office, as the video below shows. 

The socialist's latest comments show that despite political differences he has much in common with his political predecessors and successors.

Right-wing dictator Francisco Franco spoke next to no English and, like Spain's first democratic president Felipe González, preferred French.

Popular Party EX-PM José María Aznar now makes huge sums as a guest lecturer on the American university circuit but his oratory skills in English have also been heavily criticized.

Meanwhile, current PM Mariano Rajoy has freely admitted his linguistic limitations.

Despite three hours per week of English classes at taxpayers' expense,  he still struggles and has admitted in the past that "several generations of politicians have been burdened by Spain's lack of interest in language education in the past. I'm also a product of my times".

But while an inability to speak the world's political lingua franca could be seen as a weakness, Zapatero, who didn't study English at high school, insists that interpreters are on hand for all important meetings.

Spain's leaders are certainly not alone in their inability to pick up other languages.

The UK's David Cameron speaks only English and former French PM Nicholas Sarkozy spoke only French. Barack Obama said in 2008 that American children should learn Spanish and set about learning the language himself.

Although far from fluent, he has improved enough to be able to deliver scripted speeches to potential Latino voters.

It remains to be seen which language he and Rajoy will choose to communicate in when they next cross paths.

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POLL

Poll: Spaniards divided on whether to bomb ISIS strongholds

Spaniards are divided on whether Spain should take part in the international military campaign in Syria against the Islamic State, with just over half, 54, percent, opposed, a poll published on Sunday showed.

Poll: Spaniards divided on whether to bomb ISIS strongholds
One of the Spanish soldiers sent to help train Iraqis at the Basmaya camp in Baghdad. Photo: Ali Al-Saadi/AFP
About a third, 35 percent, are in favour of joining the military campaign in Syria and the rest were undecided, according to the poll published in El Mundo newspaper.
   
The poll — carried out after the November 13 suicide bomb and shootings in Paris — also found that 83 percent of Spaniards believed a Paris-style attack could happen in Spain, suggesting that national security could emerge as a theme for a December 20 general election.
   
Another poll published Saturday in the conservative daily La Razon showed 69 percent of Spaniards wanting Spain to help France “in its fight against Islamist terrorism”.
 
By contrast with the poll in El Mundo the survey showed 49.3 percent opposing “bombing the terrorists in Syria”, compared with 43.6 percent in favour.
   
Several thousand people marched Saturday in Madrid against Spanish involvement in the Syrian conflict as conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed he would not rush into a decision.
   
“No to war,” chanted the demonstrators who gathered rallied outside the Reina Sofia museum in the Spanish capital. The organisers estimated their number at around 6,000.
   
With elections looming, Rajoy's government has been holding off on any decision on whether Spain will join France, the United States and others in airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Syria.
   
“Decisions have to be well thought through, as in any aspect of life,” said Rajoy, who added Madrid was in touch with its allies on a clear plan of action.  
 
 Leftist opposition parties have voiced opposition to Spanish military involvement in the Middle East.
   
The leader of the far-left grouping Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, backs putting the issue to a referendum.
   
Rajoy is mindful of how events unfolded in March 2004 under his Popular Party predecessor, former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar. Aznar, who had backed the US intervention in Iraq a year earlier, was voted
out of office days after Islamic extremists killed 191 people in bombings on Madrid trains.
   
Aznar's stance on Iraq was in stark contrast to that of the public in a traditionally pacifist country.