Biography of Loyola de Palacio, prominent Spanish politician, the first woman Minister of Agriculture of Spain.
She was the first Spanish woman to be “Vice President of the European Commission“.
Loyola de Palacio’s family
Loyola de Palacio del Valle Lersundi was born in Madrid on September 16, 1950.
Her family hails from the Basque Country, from Deva, a coastal town in Guipúzcoa.
Her father, Luis María de Palacio y de Palacio was the 5th Marquis of Matonte.
He was also a Knight of the Order of Malta and a great figure in Spanish amateur radio. Since he was a child he devoted himself to this activity and was a builder of radio stations.
One of Loyola’s great-grandparents, Silvestre de Palacio, was an engineer. He had collaborated with his brother Alberto in the creation and design of the Portugalete Suspension Bridge.
Her mother was Luisa del Valle Lersundi. One of her ancestors was General Francisco Lersundi (1817-1874), who was a deputy for the district of Bergara (Guipúzcoa), Minister of War with Bravo Murillo; and as Minister of the Navy with Narváez; also, Captain General of Cuba.
Francisco Lersundi died in Bayonne (France), but his mortal remains were transferred to the family cemetery in Deba, the town where he had resided.
When they married, Loyola’s parents lived for a time in Deba. Later they moved to the family residence of «Urrijate«, a 17th century manor house located on the outskirts of Markina.
Markina is a Basque town surrounded by mountains; everyone liked to return there during the summer holidays.
They also had a little boat in Lekeitio, a fishing village in Vizcaya, located 50 km from Bilbao. Ideal to go fishing and breathe sea air.
Loyola de Palacio was the third of seven siblings: Luis María – Ana – Loyola, Fernando, Itziar, Pepe and Urquiola.
Often, Loyola de Palacio spent her leisure periods diving and fishing in Markina and Lekeitio.
She used to spend Christmas together with her brothers at the «Urrijate» family residence.
Childhood and studies of Loyola de Palacio
Loyola studied primary and secondary school at the French Lyceum in Madrid, which at that time was on Calle Marqués de la Ensenada.
After finishing high school, she decided to study Telecommunications. Her father was a recognized genius in the field of radio stations.
Luisa, the mother of Loyola de Palacio, died of lung cancer on September 18, 1972. She was buried in Azkoitia, where part of her family comes from.
In 1992, after the death of her husband Luis María, Luisa’s mortal remains were transferred to the Deba family pantheon, where they are found together with those of her husband.
Two days before her mother’s death, Loyola de Palacios had turned 22, and, for the first time in her life, she didn’t have a happy birthday.
The little sister, Urquiola, was then four years old; the little brother, Pepe, was eight; her sister Itziar, 11 years old.
Loyola de Palacios dedicated herself to caring for her family
The father, as is normal, was devastated. So, Loyola dropped out of the Telecommunications career and took over the family reins.
Loyola de Palacio, with the help of her sister Ana Palacio, took charge of the antique store that her parents had on Serrano Street, Madrid.
Between them two and Luis de Palacio (the older brother) were in charge of the care and education of the four younger siblings.
Instead of resuming her studies in Telecommunications, Loyola decided to study Law at the Complutense University of Madrid. There she obtained her Law Degree.
Political activity of Loyola de Palacio since 1977
In Spain, at the end of the authoritarian regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, in October 1975, a great political activity had been generated tending to occupy the government of the nation.
A year later, in October 1976, a “Federation” of seven conservative political associations and other small center-right parties was formed.
This Federation was called the “Popular Alliance” and elected Manuel Fraga Iribarne as president.
Importance of Loyola de Palacio in Alianza Popular
In 1977, Loyola de Palacio was one of the most active youth organizers of that party. The headquarters were at Calle Silva, 23. She contributed decisively to the success of “Alianza Popular”.
She was the first General Secretary of “New Generations“, the name given to the Youth of the Popular Alliance. Loyola de Palacio held this position between 1977 and 1978.
She was a 27-year-old girl, tough, incisive, implacable and quick to reflect on the political terrain. Those who worked side by side with her emphasized her inexhaustible capacity for work and her frenetic pace. It was one of those who squeeze seconds.
Between 1979 and 1982, she served as the General Technical Secretariat of the Federation of Press Associations.
The following year, in 1983, she held the General Technical Secretariat of the Popular Parliamentary Group of Congress and the Senate. She remained in this position until 1986.
Public offices held by Loyola de Palacio
Loyola de Palacio was a determined and very intelligent person. From her emanated the strength of reason and common sense. Shewas always loyal to her own and to her rivals.
In 1986, her Party decided to present her as a candidate for Senator for Segovia.
Loyola de Palacio‘s ability to summon was impressive. One of her collaborators commented that it was only necessary to say: “Loyola will be there“, so that the place where the rally was held would fill up.
She won the elections by majority; and she was a senator for Segovia from 1986 to 1989. In the following elections, held in 1989, she obtained the act of deputy for Segovia.
In addition, in 1990 she was appointed deputy spokesperson for the Popular Group in the Senate. She held this position until 1996.
Loyola de Palacio, Minister for the Popular Party
In 1996, the Popular Party chaired by José María Aznar, won the general elections held that year. President Aznar appointed Loyola de Palacio Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
As a minister, she topped her party’s list to the European Parliament. At that time, the so-called “flax fraud” came to light.
She was accused of a crime of documentary falsification, arranged in order to distribute the European subsidies for the cultivation of flax.
The investigation of the case was in charge of Judge Baltasar Garzón.
Despite the scandal aired by the press, Loyola de Palacio won these elections with an absolute majority.
She became the first and only Spanish Vice President of the EU.
Over time it was shown that “the linen scandal” was a campaign orchestrated by the socialist José Bono, in order to discredit the then Minister of Agriculture.
In 2006 the courts ruled that Loyola de Palacio was innocent. The National High Court acquitted all the accused, and the Supreme Court confirmed the acquittal on April 23, 2007.
Vice-President of the European Commission
In 1999, after her victory in the elections to the European Parliament, Loyola left the Ministry of Agriculture and was appointed head of the Spanish Delegation of the Popular Party in the European Parliament. Loyola de Palacio was 49 years old.
In Brussels her personal qualities emerged clearly. Loyola arrived willing to work hard; and also, to do things that were seen politically.
She went far beyond what the community competitions allowed; and she surprised Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, with bolder initiatives than expected.
Loyola de Palacio was appointed Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Relations with the European Parliament; and Commissioner for Transport and Energy. She held this position until 2004.
On December 13, 2002, she was awarded the “Golden Seagull“, awarded by the Popular Party of the Madrid town of Fuenlabrada “for her drive to achieve a better society from within the party itself.”
In November 2004, the International Federation of Roads named her “Woman of the Year 2004” for her contributions to transport policy and road safety.
Loyola de Palacio’s activities had national and international relevance. She was the great promoter of transport in the EU and the Galileo project.
Galileo is the European radio-navigation and satellite positioning program, developed by the European Union, in conjunction with the European Space Agency.
This program provided the European Union with technology independent of US GPS and Russian GLONASS.
Unlike these two, Galileo is for civil use, the system could be put into operation on December 15, 2016.
Activities after leaving the European Parliament
In 2004, after leaving her post in the European Commission, Loyola held the presidency of the Council of Foreign Policy of the Popular Party.
In addition, she was elected president of the “think tank” (laboratory of ideas) of the European People’s Party.
In May 2005 she joined the board of directors of BNP Paribas, the first French private bank.
That year 2005, Loyola de Palacio took over the coordination of the high-speed rail project, which connects Lyon and Turin.
Since July 2005 she was one of the six coordinators for the development of the Trans-European Transport Network.
On June 27, 2006, Loyola was appointed European Advisory Counsel to Rothschild Investment Bank.
On July 6 of the same year, she was appointed advisory director of Sonaecom, the telecommunications and media division, of the Portuguese group Sonae.
Loyola de Palacio’s severe illness
In the early summer of 2006, Loyola began coughing excessively.
The doctors consulted believed that it was a symptom caused by allergy.
Slight back pain followed. On August 20, 2006, she went underwater fishing in the Cantabrian Sea. She did it near the manor residence that the family has in Markina, Vizcaya.
When she went to lift the anchor, she suffered a very severe lumbar impingement. Upon landing, she had to request admission to the Galdácano hospital.
A week later, on August 28, 2006, she was diagnosed with a very advanced cancer, located in the lung.
Loyola de Palacio decided to move immediately from Galdácano to Houston.
In Houston, her sister Ana had been successfully treated for the tumor she suffered in 2000.
Pepe de Palacio, the youngest of her brothers, accompanied her on a medicalized plane.
Death of Loyola de Palacio
Loyola de Palacio died on December 13, 2006 at Hospital 12 de Octubre (Madrid), unexpectedly.
The next day she was buried in the Deba family pantheon. The mortal remains of their parents also rest there.
The priest dedicated the “Agur Jesusen Ama” to her and dismissed her with the “Agur Jaunak” sung by the attendees.
In 2013, posthumously, the agricultural professional organization ASAJA awarded her its “Gold Badge“. It is the highest distinction awarded by this organization.
On this website of notable women, I have included two other extraordinary Spanish women who, in their time, decisively influenced the politics of Spain. Isabel la Católica (1451-1504), and Clara Campoamor (1888-1972).