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Speech by President of the Government following extraordinary meeting of Council of Ministers

Moncloa Palace, Madrid, Saturday 21 October 2017

President of the Government.-  Ladies and gentlemen, a very good afternoon to you and thank you all very much for attending this press briefing.

I wish to start with a procedural issue. I am going to divide this morning's speech into five parts - I will do so briefly because the issues are all familiar, although we should not forget them - I will refer to how we got here firstly; secondly, I will speak about dialogue; thirdly, about Article 155; fourthly about the objectives sought by the government when it triggers Article 155, and lastly, about the most important measures that we will propose to the Plenary Session of the Upper House of Parliament and to the committee that will be set up and empowered to address this issue next week, just the most important measures.

After my speech, I will take any questions and following that there will be a briefing to go into more detail. I would like the questions to be general because if not, I will have to refer them to the briefing which, as I said, will take place subsequently.

How have we come to this situation? This is a process that was unilateral, in violation of the law and seeking confrontation. It began with the attempt to force the government to accept a referendum on the independence of Catalonia; a referendum that everyone knew that the government could not accept. There was a debate in Parliament in which a negative response was given to the request via Article 152.2 of the Constitution to approve the power to hold a referendum on independence in Catalonia. And from then on, they began to take unilateral decisions. The President of the Regional Government of Catalonia was invited to Parliament to outline his intentions there, an invitation he declined.

The most striking and anti-democratic aspect of this unilateral process that I am referring to took place on 6 and 7 September in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia. On 6 and 7 September, the rights of the opposition MPs were violated in an unprecedented event in the history of Spanish democracy: a draft law was outlined in a quarter of an hour that had not first been passed through the parliamentary Board, the agenda was modified, the deadline for amendments was reduced to nothing and the debate that took place there was a debate that was unworthy of a democratic system. What is true is that in just a few hours a majority wiped out the Spanish Constitution in Catalonia, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, the Referendum Act was passed as well as the so-called Transience Act - a form of Constitution of Catalonia until a new one was definitively approved.

All of this was suspended, as you know, by the Constitutional Court, but that didn't matter. The regional government had placed itself above the law and hence it did not consider that it needed to heed the resolutions of the Constitutional Court.

They tried to hold a referendum despite the ban imposed by the Constitutional Court; they sought to validate something that had been prohibited by the Constitutional Court and which, moreover, was held, as everyone knows, without any democratic guarantees. This whole process came to a head on 10 October when the resolutions you are all familiar with were adopted in a plenary session of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia.

What did the government do in this situation? On 11 October, the government sent a formal demand to the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia to explain something that was easy to explain: whether or not independence had been declared. The government could have made this formal demand earlier, as some people called for. It could have done this when the Referendum Act was approved, when the Constitution was violated or when the Transience Act was approved. It had a great many opportunities to do this but we preferred to act, as I believe should be done in these cases, with prudence, with responsibility and with common sense and in an endeavour to achieve a rectification that did not come to fruition, in reality, by a decision of those who could have done this - the Regional Government of Catalonia. They did not respond to this, because they did not want to, in the due time and form.

I am under the impression, after having seen how events have unfolded recently, that some people could rightly think that what some people wanted was for things to reach this situation, in other words, for Article 155 to be triggered. I cannot categorically state this. I don't want to be critical but I am under this conviction because things could not have been done worse, even for the very interests of those who did this, than they have been done recently by the Regional Government of Catalonia.

Secondly, I wish to refer to dialogue, a beautiful word that, on this occasion, has become something magical. I should state that no-one, on behalf of the Regional Government of Catalonia has proposed dialogue; what was proposed - I have said this on several occasions and believe it is important to mention it again now - was an imposition; they tried to impose something on the government that they knew it wasn't going to do and which, moreover, it couldn't do.

The President of the Regional Government of Catalonia was invited to Parliament to outline his approaches and he declined the invitation. He was invited to attend the Conference of Regional Presidents and he declined that invitation as well. He was subsequently invited to attend a meeting on a very important issue - regional financing - and he declined that invitation. He was also invited to send those representatives that he saw fit and opportune to take part in the working groups to talk about regional financing, but he chose not to. The only thing he did was break the law and invent, without any powers to do so and illegally, a parallel legality. He did not even practise the dialogue that he has spoken so much about with almost half of the MPs of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia who he did not let take part to defend their own positions.

Dialogue does not mean that others are forced to accept your demands; that is not dialogue, that is an imposition or a membership agreement, if you prefer to put it that way. Dialogue outside of the law and the rulebook is profoundly undemocratic and it is quite clearly not dialogue to impose that the governors - in this case the Government of Spain - deliberately break the law.

For all these reasons, and I am now moving on to the third point - I will do so briefly, and then spend more time on the fourth and fifth points of my speech - the government has been forced to apply Article 155 of the Constitution. That was neither our wish, nor our intention. It never was and I believe that the whole of the Spanish public opinion is aware of that. Article 155 is a constitutional article, and it is an article that is only applied in exceptional circumstances. In fact, it was about to be applied on one occasion, under the government of [Felipe] González, but, in the end, it was not applied because things returned to legality.

On this occasion, that was not possible and we are going to trigger Article 155 because no government - I repeat, no government, of any democratic country can accept the law being ignored, the law being violated, the law being changed and all of this while trying to impose their criteria on others. That is the reason why we have triggered an article such as exists in many other European constitutions, which is constitutional and voted for by all the Spanish people.

I will move on now to explain, in what is the fourth point of my speech, the goals of this decision we have adopted. Then lastly, I will refer to the measures taken.

Fundamentally there are four goals: the first is to return to legality; the second, to recover normality and co-existence which have so badly deteriorated, and greatly so, in Catalonia; thirdly, to continue with the economic recovery - that means people's lives - with jobs, salaries, with people in work, the economic recovery that is in danger in Catalonia at this time, in clear danger, because of the whimsical and unilateral decisions adopted; and the fourth goal is to hold elections under a situation of normality. I repeat, four goals, to return to legality, recover normality and co-existence, continue with the economic recovery and hold elections. Returning to legality means restoring the validity of the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in Catalonia itself.

I will move on now to make a brief reference to what economic recovery means because this is assuredly one of the main stories here, one of the issues where the truth has failed the most in terms of the beneficial effects for the people of Catalonia in the event of obtaining their independence.

The latest figures we have are alarming: more than 1,000 companies have already moved their registered offices and tax domiciles outside of Catalonia, including, obviously, the vast majority of the large corporations from throughout Catalonia that provide work to a great many citizens of Catalonia; and investments, both from abroad and domestically, have been discouraged, as has tourism which is a very important contributor, as you know, to the GDP of Catalonia and one of the most important factors for growth. I will not go into further detail on this matter, which is already very well-known by all of you, but I would like to mention some of the related issues that are important.

If Catalonia gains its independence, despite what has been told to the citizens of Catalonia, then the region will leave the European Union and the World Trade Organisation, and become a third country for the purposes of trade relations, which would mean it would become subject to common external customs duties, as well as customs controls on its borders. We are talking about an economy for which foreign trade represents a large part - more than half - of its GDP.

From a financial point of view, all of the facilities offered by the European Central Bank would disappear. That was the reason why there is no financial institution that has remained in Catalonia and why all of these financial institutions have had to transfer their tax domicile to other parts of Spain, something they are doing in defence of the interests of their own workers, depositors and those people who have their savings in these financial institutions. There would be a serious credit crunch, which has already begun. There would be disproportionate inflation, with the corresponding effects on consumption and investment.

And all of this would lead to a downturn in the economy of Catalonia of between 25% and 30% of the Gross Domestic Product, leading to an unsustainable economic situation.

That is why one of the goals, one of the four goals I mentioned, is to continue with the process of economic recovery which Spain has fortunately been enjoying over recent years.

Let me thus repeat the four goals: legality, normality and co-existence, economic recovery and elections.

Precisely the first measure, and I will now move on to the final part of my speech, that the government is going to adopt, is closely linked to this goal of holding elections in Catalonia. The power to dissolve the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, if the Upper House so decides, falls to the President of the Government. The President of the Government, if the Upper House so decides, will have to call elections within a maximum period of six months. However, it is my intention to do this as soon as we recover institutional normality which is one of the key goals for the future and to achieve this it is important we all apply ourselves to recovering this institutional normality.

The goal is to hold elections. Most people want this, it is what common sense dictates and the question now is to commence a new stage in which the law is respected, individual rights are preserved and co-existence is recovered, together with well-being and people's jobs. That is the goal of this new period that needs to be discussed.

I will move on now to briefly explain the rest of the measures, the most important of them, as I said at the beginning. I repeat, there will then be a briefing to go into more detail on the measures, which are also important. What we will ask the Upper House for, under the provisions contained in Article 155 of the Constitution, with the aim of protecting the general interest of the nation, is for the government to be authorised to adopt the following decisions:

  • First, to proceed to remove the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, the Vice- President of the Regional Government of Catalonia and the councillors that make up the Cabinet of the Regional Government of Catalonia. The exercise of these functions will correspond to the bodies or authorities that the Government of the Nation creates or appoints to that end. In principle, the idea will be that the ministerial departments will take on this responsibility for as long as this exceptional situation lasts. The administration of the Regional Government of Catalonia, pursuant to Article 71 of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, will continue operating as an ordinary administrative organisation that exercises the executive functions that the Statute and its implementing regulations attribute to the Regional Government of Catalonia. This administration of the Regional Government of Catalonia will act under the guidelines of the bodies or authorities set up or appointed by the Government of the Nation which, as I said before, will be those responsible for the different ministerial departments.
  • Secondly, and this is the second important measure that I wanted to mention, the Regional Parliament of Catalonia will exercise the representative function it is tasked with but, in order to guarantee that this is done with full respect for the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and the Constitution, a series of measures will be proposed to the Upper House, the most important of which are the following: the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia cannot propose the appointment of any candidate to the Presidency of the Regional Government of Catalonia, and the Regional Parliament cannot debate and vote on an investiture; the control powers will fall to the body appointed to that end by the Upper House and the Regional Parliament will not be able to adopt initiatives that are in violation of the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, with the government assigned a period of 30 days to exercise its right to veto.

I believe that these are the most important measures. There are others, which you will be provided with in more detail later on.

I would like to draw your attention to an important issue that I believe should be made very clear: neither the autonomy nor self-governance in Catalonia will be suspended; those people will be removed from office who took this self-governance outside the confines of the law, of the Constitution and of the Statute of Autonomy. Self-governance has not been taken away, but rather legality will be recovered, not just for the pro-independence supporters, but for all the citizens of Catalonia.

I will end now. Our nation and our rule of law are, as you know, open, democratic, respectful of plurality and guarantors of the rights of individuals. That is how we have lived together, with our difficulties but I believe that happily, for the last 40 years, finding ways to discover wealth through our diversity, loyal cooperation and effectiveness in one of the most de-centralised States in the world, with the democratic quality that guarantees controls and checks and balances that define open societies. That is today's Spain and that is what we want to continue to be, and I can say to you that we will achieve this by all acting together with serenity but democratic firmness.

To all the people of Spain, but especially to the people of Catalonia, I wish to convey a message of calm. I am fully aware that these are difficult times, but by all acting together we will overcome this, as we have overcome other very complicated events over the course of our history, which, by the way, has already lasted a fair few centuries. I would call for companies not to leave, nor for people to close their accounts. I believe that we should remain calm, because this will all be resolved without harming anyone further. We are going to work with normality, towards harmony, and peaceful co-existence, towards concord between us all, and we are going to work so that all of the people of Catalonia, regardless of what they think or consider, can once again feel united and take part in a shared project with a future in Europe and in the rest of the world. This project has been called, and for many centuries now, Spain.

Q.- Josep Capella, from 'Televisión de Cataluña' You have asserted that the region's autonomy will not be suspended but that those responsible for the current situation will be removed from office, but I wanted to ask you whether, by removing the whole regional government from office, and without the power to elect another regional government, and by restricting the powers of the Regional Parliament and appointing members of Central Government as administrators, this is not a de facto suspension of autonomy.

Secondly, as regards this period of six months, which you have said you will try and reduce, Messrs. River and Sánchez were talking about the end of January. Do you believe that this timeframe will be met in the end?

And allow me another question that is more personal, in relation to my medium. You said in Brussels yesterday that you didn't know about any intervention in the public media. Can you confirm or deny this question today?

President of the Government.- Those functions that previously corresponded to the Regional Government of Catalonia in the public media will now be passed over to the new administrators.

The period of six months? Let's wait and see. That is the maximum period. What is clear is that elections must be held under normal circumstances. I believe that this is reasonable.

As regards your first question, I will ratify what I have already said: the Regional Parliament has played a major hand in many of the decisions that have been adopted and what we want, quite simply, is for the Regional Parliament to obey the Spanish Constitution and obey the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia because, in all honesty, they haven't been repealed, as the Constitutional Court has quite clearly ruled.

Q.- Taking into account that we have a week ahead of us until such time as the Upper House approves the measures and they will then need to be published in the Official State Gazette in order to come into force, is there any possibility that Mr Puigdemont will take any decisions to avoid this happening in the meanwhile?

President of the Government.- The government will now present this document to the Upper House, which we will then distribute among all of you, if that has not already been done and, then all of the decisions that will need to be adopted on this matter will be in the hands of the Upper House and not the Government of Spain.

Q.- Estefanía Molina, from 'El Nacional'. I wanted to know if the government fears that Regional President Puigdemont and the rest of the regional councillors will refuse to leave their posts, and what the government will do if that happens.

Secondly, do you not fear that this measure will have a further impact on Catalan society, aside from the pro-independence supporters, and that this might provoke a new wave of protests?

President of the Government.- I believe that the only fear one may have in a situation like this, which is certainly not easy, is not meeting one's obligations. That is the only fear that one could have at this time and, as I said before, there is no country in the world that would be prepared to allow a situation like this to take place.

Just imagine if the President of the "Land" in North Rhine-Westphalia decides to do what has been done in Catalonia; just imagine this happening in Alsace of in any other country in the democratic and civilised world. That is unacceptable, in other words, that is not right in the world in which we live, and hence, the only fear that the President of the Government of Spain might have at this time is not meeting his obligations. Others have not met their obligations, but rather have flaunted the law. For them, the law does not exist. The will of the majority has not prevailed. The Spanish Constitution has disappeared along with the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.

I obviously have certain obligations, I have clear what they are and one of them is to obey the law. I have been very prudent and, as I said at the beginning, what I have been faced with I have not seen before in the many years that I have been involved in political life. But I did not choose my opposite number; he was chosen by others and they will also have to answer for what they have done.

Q.- José Miguel Blanco, from 'Agencia EFE'. In relation to a previous question, if, until such time as the measures are approved by the Upper House of Parliament, the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, for example, calls elections, will these measures be paralysed?

President of the Government.- Article 155 can only be paralysed if the Upper House does not approve it.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that these measures have been agreed with the Socialist Party and with Ciudadanos, and I thank them for their support, which I do not just interpret as support for the government, but rather as support for the law, the rule of law, our Constitution and the values in which we believe and which have made us great. That is what all of them have supported.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attention.

 (Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation