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Interview with the President of the Government by the EFE Agency

Thursday 5 October 2017

José Antonio Vera: Thank you very much, Mr President of the Government, for receiving the EFE Agency and for sharing these words with us.

Mr President of the Government, the whole of Spain is today very, very concerned with events in Catalonia - and of course you must be all the more so. Do you see any possibility for a solution to the crisis?

President of the Government: Yes, but the best solution - and I believe that we all share this idea - is a return to legality: all the people and political leaders who have decided on their own account and at their own risk to do away with the law and put themselves outside the law should return to lawful activity. This involves doing away with the project of issuing a unilateral declaration of independence and complying with the legal provisions, as all citizens do. That can prevent even worse situations from occurring in the future, and that is what the whole of society is asking for: the editorials of the mass media, the business world, trade unions, and millions and millions of citizens in Catalonia and the whole of Spain.

If you ask me, "is there a solution?" the answer is "yes". The best way forward is a swift return to legality and a statement as soon as possible that there will be no unilateral declaration of independence, because that will also avoid greater evils.

J.A. Vera: Mr President of the Government, yesterday Mr Iglesias called you and informed you of his willingness to mediate between the government of the country and the Regional Government of Catalonia. Do you see any possibility that this could be the right way forward?

President of the Government: Look, this isn't a problem of mediation. You referred to Mr Iglesias... And there are many other people, many with the best will in the world. But this is not a problem of mediation, this is a problem of obeying the law; and what people who are not obeying the law should do is to obey it. When that happens, then we would be living in a normal situation. Then we could talk, we could engage in dialogue and we could come to agreements, inside or outside Parliament. What we are dealing with here, basically, is returning to legality and returning to a situation of normality. And this can only be done by those who have violated the law and who have created a situation of these characteristics.

But then, mediation about the unity of Spain... The unity of Spain cannot be the object of any mediation or any negotiation. So what I hope for, as I mentioned before, is a return to legality, which means a return to normality. And once we have that, we can talk, dialogue, in Parliament, in one or the other...

J.A. Vera: You know, Mr President of the Government, that you are accused in some quarters of being a person who doesn't want dialogue on this issue. Really, if this return to legality were actually to take place, would you be prepared to meet again with Mr Puigdemont?

President of the Government: I have always declared myself to be in favour of dialogue. Having said that, I am not in favour of disobeying the law or of dialogue designed to dissolve national unity, because I believe that there is nothing to talk about in this respect and nothing to negotiate.

Having said that, if Mr Puigdemont takes the legal path, obviously, we would be in a different situation; but I think that the first dialogue Mr Puigdemont must engage in is that with the members of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, whom he did not allow to express their opinions in the two plenary sessions that took place on 6 and 7 [September], when in only a few hours he decided to eliminate the Spanish Constitution of Catalonia, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, and approve what is a new constitution, the Transience Act.

This is the dialogue that has to be restored: first, dialogue in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, and respect for the rights of all the Members of Parliament; and second, dialogue with the Catalans whom he has divided to a truly dramatic extent, as we have seen in recent days. That is the first dialogue.

J.A. Vera: The President of the Regional Government of Catalonia announced yesterday that the King has disappointed many Catalans. What do you think about the criticisms made of H.M. the King with respect to the fact that he did not expressly mention the word "dialogue"?

President of the Government: The King made a wonderful speech and has done what is to be expected of a head of state. What he has asked for, in essence, is what the vast majority of Spanish society is asking for, which is that everyone, starting with the political leaders, obey the law, because this is a State governed by the rule of law, and we all have the obligation to obey it - and of course all the more so our leaders.

What the King asked for is a return to normality. The King was critical with the recent situation that has been brought on by some people in Catalonia, because, to put it plainly and simply, doing away with the Constitution of a country that has existed for forty years and that was agreed on by everyone, by a tiny majority and without having the powers to do so, is crazy.

So the King said some very sensible things. The vast majority of Spanish people felt comforted by his words and accept them fully. Not mentioning dialogue? That goes without saying: dialogue is something that takes place every day in Parliament and that is practised every day in democratic regimes. What there can't be is dialogue under a threat of blackmail, and much less so when we are talking about national unity.

J.A. Vera: Mr President of the Government, the former Socialist Vice President of the Government, Alfonso Guerra, yesterday made a statement that has been featured widely in the media. Among other things, in it he called the Regional Government of Catalonia "fascist" and "instigators of a coup". Do you share Mr Guerra's opinions?

President of the Government: I'm not going to start name-calling. The only thing I would like to do is to thank Mr Guerra, who was Vice President of the Government for some years, for his loyalty to the Spanish Constitution, in which he participated, and his loyalty to Spain, which is his country.

J.A. Vera: Mr President of the Government, Mr Guerra also said that one of the problems is that your government, and specifically you, "doesn't know how to take decisions" (and I quote literally), with the necessary speed, or the speed that some people say they should be taken. You are also being accused in some quarters of lagging behind the separatists and not taking the initiative. Is the government planning to take action to prevent a unilateral declaration of independence for Catalonia, or are you going to wait for the Regional Government of Catalonia to declare this independence and act later?

President of the Government: I'll tell you one thing: we're not going to allow the independence of Catalonia in any shape or form, and I can tell you that this is not going to take place. You can be positively and absolutely sure of that.

That being said, what has to be done, and how and when we have to do it is something about which many people have an opinion; most people, with the best possible intentions. Their opinions differ: some believe that one decision has to be taken; others think that another; others say that it has to be taken before the plenary parliamentary session on Monday, others after it... In other words, there are opinions for all points of view. Well, I can tell you that we are not going to permit the independence of Catalonia, and that is something that will not take place. The government knows perfectly well what will be done in any of the possible scenarios, how it will be done and when it is going to be done, because that is our duty.

So I would ask for calm. It is important for there to be confidence in the government. We handle a great deal of data, of information, and it is clear that we are in agreement with the vast majority of people.

It won't happen, but having said that, opinions are free. I talk to many people, they give me their opinion. Some go one way and others another; but you can be quite sure that the government knows perfectly well how it must handle this situation.

J.A. Vera: And do you believe, Mr President of the Government, that there is a solution that may be better than that of applying Article 155?

President of the Government: Absolutely. The best is a return to legality and for those who have ridden roughshod over it to move to a position where all the normal people in advanced and civilised democracies are situated. They should say there is no unilateral declaration of independence, and, I repeat, they should do so as quickly as possible. That is the best solution, because it is the one that brings us back to normality; and this solution is in the hands of those who have broken with legality and those that have done away with the normal activity that occurs in any democracy.

J.A. Vera: At any event, Mr President of the Government, and sorry for being so insistent, are you prepared, if necessary, to apply Article 155 of the Constitution? In this respect, I would remind you that there are those who say that if it is done after the declaration of independence, what is known as the "DUI", on Monday, which is when it has been said that it could occur, we would be late if this application is carried out afterwards.

President of the Government: What I say is that we aren't going to do anything late, because the independence of Catalonia is not going to take place. We won't allow it. Having said that, I repeat, there are many opinions: some believe that it should be done before; others, after; others never; and yet more that other decisions should be taken. But that's all normal, because it is something that concerns us, that is important, that affects us and people have feelings about it. We're talking about our country, about Spain, which is our country; and there are many people who have ideas and pass them on to the government; but they have to trust the government.

We have all the data and we know perfectly well what has to be done. There can be an opinion about everything, but what is important is to achieve the objective, and the objective is to return to legality, return to normality as quickly as possible; and of course, to continue as we have for centuries, living together as one of the most important countries in the world.

J.A. Vera: You are aware that Mr Rivera and his party Ciudadanos have suggested the application of Article 155 in order to call elections in Catalonia. Does this appear to be a good solution?

President of the Government: That is one of many suggestions they have made to me, he has suggested that to me personally; then there have been others who told me precisely the opposite and yet more with a different approach. As I say, we are at a time when it is to be expected that everyone has their own opinion and criteria. Everyone knows or thinks that what has to be done is, of course, what he or she supports. But, well, that's undoubtedly an opinion I respect and take into account. But it's simply another one, in this case made by a political representative, one of many that are out there. But there are people, I repeat, that have a radically different approach.

And what I hope is that the government, which is working hard, gets it right. I believe that we are going to do so and I hope to have support from Mr Rivera's party, from the Socialist Party, from other political parties and from Spanish society as a whole.

J.A. Vera: You know, Mr President of the Government, that the State law enforcement agencies have been accused of using excessive force on Sunday, and that these same State law enforcement agencies are being put under pressure, so that in some places pressure is even being put on them to leave the places where they are staying. Two questions in this respect: Do you recognise any errors in how the State acted on Sunday? And second, will the State Security Forces have to abandon the places where they are staying in Catalonia?

President of the Government: I've already given the order that they shouldn't abandon any hotel. They will go when they have to go, because obviously the deployment was planned for a few days in some cases and for longer in other cases; but there is no doubt that no-one will be going, no-one, under duress on anyone's part. I consider that to be absolutely shameful and intolerable behaviour. So you can be absolutely sure of that. I've given orders to the Ministry of Home Affairs that no-one at all should leave, unless of course they have to go for reasons that have nothing to do with the threats.

I have to say that the action of the State law enforcement agencies, the Police and Guardia Civil on 1 October was exemplary. It's obvious that there has been a major action, but they have acted in an exemplary fashion. It's been carried out and they have acted with rigour and professionalism. They have been hounded and they have been provoked. It's very difficult to remain in a situation like this when there were thousands of people in different parts of Catalonia. I have to say, and this is what I have passed on to their officers and to the Ministry of Home Affairs, that I am proud of the Spanish State law enforcement agencies.

J.A. Vera: Were you surprised by the action of the Mossos d'Esquadra (regional Catalan police force)? Have you lost your trust in this police force?

President of the Government: The actions of some in Catalonia have given rise to an enormous rift in Catalan society, an enormous rift. They have also divided the Mossos, but the fact is that they have caused a great deal of damage to the image of the Mossos. The damage has been done by those who have stirred up this whole operation and those who have then tried to make use of them.

At any event, the Mossos were under the orders of the judicial authorities, they were not under the orders of the government on 1 October, and it is the judicial authorities that will have to decide whether or not they agree with the action of the Mossos and that will have to take the decisions they consider most appropriate in any case.

But I repeat, always looking at the big picture, harm has been done to their image by those who have stirred up this whole treacherous operation.

J.A. Vera: Mr President of the Government, are you prepared, as the Socialist Party has asked you, to revise the Constitution to accommodate Catalonia better or differently within the State? And in this respect, what opinion do you have of the position that has been adopted recently by the Socialist Party with respect to this crisis? Are you afraid that a rift could open up in the Socialist Party with decisions such as for example that taken in relation to the Vice President of the Government?

President of the Government: I'm not going to reproach those who agree on what is essential, which is to obey the law and defend Spanish unity. So I'm not going to reproach the Socialist Party or Ciudadanos, or any other political parties that are acting loyally under the law.

I believe that the motion to issue a condemnation is not fair; I believe it makes no sense. But of course, everyone makes their own decisions.

You also ask me about reforming the Constitution. That is another of the suggestions that has been made. Before you asked me about the approach of Ciudadanos and now about the approach of the PSOE. There are many people involved. And we've talked about others who want a mediator. Well, this is a subject where of course everyone has their own criteria and opinions. I have to say that what I am not in favour of is playing at swapping cards, and excuse me for using that expression. What I mean by it is saying "we're going to appoint a mediator and now, in exchange for me taking a decision, you take another"; well, no, because the unity of Spain and compliance with the law can't be negotiated.

So having said that, I've never refused to talk about reforming the Constitution. What's more, this initiative can be taken in Parliament. Then, obviously, we have to see what the content is.

I say this because what I have never refused is to talk about what is permitted by our laws and using the procedures to change them, because the laws can also be changed. But if we don't respect the law, we enter a territory of arbitrariness, of injustice, and what is most dangerous of all, of the law of the jungle; and that is precisely the opposite of democracy and citizens' rights.

J.A. Vera: Mr Rajoy, these days, concern for the political situation in Catalonia has been heightened by concern for the consequences that there could be for the economy. We've seen a major fall in the stock markets, the rise in the risk premium is giving cause for anxiety and there is also this panic with respect to the possibility that there could be some problem with the Catalan banks. Are you afraid, Mr President of the Government, that the economic recovery could be derailed due to the Catalan crisis? Aren't you afraid of capital flight from Catalonia?

President of the Government: To be perfectly frank, a situation of instability such as this one is very bad for a country's economy. That is something anyone can understand. In other words, there is nothing worse for the economy than political instability. A situation of these characteristics is worse than political instability. And there are some data that, yes, I don't like and that are very negative. Yes, there have been companies that have decided to move their registered offices, and we have already read about it and seen it in the media over recent days.

But of course, when political leaders in a country decide to ignore the law, then things become worse. It's impossible for nothing to happen and far less so for them to improve. When you ignore the law, when there is commotion in the streets, when the State law enforcement agencies are being assaulted, when there are threats, as has happened with journalists, and when the opposition is not allowed to speak in Parliament, this generates a situation that obviously leads to bad results. But more than being bad, it's that they are becoming increasingly worse. That's why, the longer we take to say "let's end this situation and submit to the rule of law" as happens in all the European democracies, the worse it will be for us all.

J.A. Vera: Have you felt supported by the international community, in particular by the European Union, in the matter of Catalonia? Mr Puigdemont has warned that what happens in Catalonia could also extend to other regions in Europe. Do you believe that this will also in some way influence the image of the Regional Government of Catalonia abroad?

President of the Government: The fact is that making a statement like that makes you think; because in addition to what Mr Puigdemont himself is doing, saying that this could take place in the whole of Europe is tantamount to saying "look, we're going to throw everything out of the window, we're going to break up Europe and we'll see what we'll do in the future."

I'll tell you one thing to be absolutely frank: one of the basic principles of what the European Union is today is the rule of law, respect for the law and the guarantee of the individual rights of its citizens. That is what is being done away with by some as a result of what they are proposing and doing in Catalonia.

And that, of course, is Europe's view. I have had calls from practically all the European leaders and I've been talking this morning to some people: I've spoken to the British Prime Minister, to the German Chancellor, to the President of the French Republic, to the President of the European Commission... Yesterday there was a debate in the European Parliament where it was said with absolute clarity that the law has to be obeyed and where it was also said with absolute clarity that there was no referendum on Sunday and that nothing that was done was valid. These are things that we all know and are obvious, but it's good that they should be endorsed abroad as well.

No-one in their right mind can support a situation of these characteristics where the law is done away with, everyone does whatever they want and if people don't agree, I'll go after them. That's not democracy; that's a major attack against what are the basic principles of democracy.

J.A. Vera: What opinion do you have, Mr President of the Government, of the attitude of the lehendakari (Regional President of the Basque Country), Mr Urkullu, to the Catalan crisis? Do you think it's possible to convince the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) to vote in favour of the Budget under the current conditions?

President of the Government: I believe that the lehendakari wants this to be resolved in good faith and in a reasonable way. That's what I think. Another matter is whether we have the same opinions or the same criteria.

With regard to the Budget, I believe that the Budget has nothing to do with the situation in Catalonia. So over the coming days we will present our Draft Budget and we'll try to win sufficient support, as happened last year, to push it through. The Budget is very important for consolidating the recovery and to help ensure that jobs, which are growing in Spain, do so at the same rate in the coming years, and we manage to have 20 million Spanish people in work, which is the challenge that we have set ourselves for this term in office. Employment is growing. Some 500,000 Spanish people a year are finding jobs. We need at least three more years creating 500,000 jobs per year to be in a position to consolidate the recovery for good.

J.A. Vera: Mr President of the Government, we're coming to an end here. We started this interview saying that there is great concern, because there is, among the citizens at large about the situation in Catalonia. Are there grounds for hope? Do you consider that there can be grounds for hope? Do you see it possible to return to a situation of normality?

President of the Government: Absolutely. Yes, I believe so. Spain is a country that over its history has lived through very difficult, very complicated situations. We managed to emerge from them and today, as I said before, we are one of the most important countries in the world: the 12th biggest economy.

We have overcome extreme circumstances, even since I have been President of the Government: towards the end of 2011, when we came to power, and in 2012, Spain was at the brink of bankruptcy. No-one was lending us money, there were autonomous regions that could not access the markets and the State had to rescue them. Everyone said that Europe was going to rescue Spain and that they were going to put us in a situation like Greece. We experienced an economic crisis with five consecutive years of negative economic growth.

Well, the Spanish people were capable of overcoming this situation. I recall that at the time many people told me what I had to do. Many said to me: "What you have to do is accept the bailout and submit to their orders, and what's more you should do so now." At the time I did what I believed I should do and now, because it's my obligation, because that's why I am President of the Government of Spain, I'll do what I believe I must do, what I believe is best for Spain and at the time when I consider it best to do so.
I will listen to everyone, but the decision is mine. I know it isn't easy, but I also had to take another decision once and that wasn't easy either.

J.A. Vera: Thank you very much, Mr President of the Government, and good luck.

President of the Government: Thank you.


(Transcription edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation