THERE invariably comes a moment in the life of a new prime minister when post-election euphoria suddenly evaporates and reality sets in. This moment may just have arrived for Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, six months after his unexpected election in March in the wake of the Madrid bombings. “Too little, too late” is often a criticism of politicians who fail to meet the needs of the time. By contrast, “too much, too soon” might be the complaint against Sr Zapatero. Beginning with his almost instant decision following his election to bring back the Spanish troops serving in Iraq, he has launched a remarkable number of initiatives from ending religious education in schools to giving Spain's regions greater powers, from legislating against domestic violence to lifting a ban on stem-cell research. To some degree, perhaps, this political hyperactivity may be seen as a breaking down of a dam holding back social reforms constructed during the Aznar years.

Sr Zapatero was continuing his activism in New York yesterday at the UN General Assembly when he called for an international effort to resolve cultural and religious differences between the Western and Muslim worlds. He said that “an alliance of cultures” was necessary to “deepen political, cultural and educational relations beween those who represent the so-called Western world and the area of Arab and Muslim countries.” He also said that he had asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to set up a high-level group to study the creation of such an alliance of civilizations.

There are already several international organisations with similar objectives but one operating under UN auspices would be particularly valuable. In making the proposal Sr Zapatero shows that he sees Spain as a natural bridge between Europe and the Arab world.