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Speech by the President of the Government at the plenary session of the Upper House of Parliament

Upper House of Parliament, Madrid, Friday 27 October 2017

Mr Speaker, Members of the Upper House,

I have come to this House to ask for your support for a specific proposal that you are already aware of: I am referring to the resolution by the Council of Ministers taken last Saturday. I am going to use my time in the House to stress some aspects about what we are dealing with here. I hope that my speech will help you to decide with a better knowledge of the facts.

As you know, governments do not make use of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution as a matter of course. In fact, this is the first time that it is being applied since 1978, the date our Constitution was approved. We are therefore faced with an exceptional decision. It is being adopted in what is also an exceptional situation with very serious consequences for very many people.

Members of the House,

I'm not going to go into details that you already know well; but I believe it is worth recalling some events; at least, the most important of those that have taken place recently in Catalonia. No doubt they will be of use to you in forming your opinion.

In Catalonia, there has been an attempt - and in fact that is what has happened - to ignore the laws, among them the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia; to ignore them, repeal them, to infringe them, whatever term you may choose. What's more this is something that is recognised, and stated openly: it is recognised that the laws are ignored and that they are infringed and that they are not in force in Catalonia.

A new legal situation has been approved by those with no powers whatsoever to do so: a Referendum Law, a Transitional Law, as it is called, which is a Constitution that will be valid until the next is approved, following a constituent period; that is what we have been told. The members of the opposition were refused their right to act as such. Remember what happened in the Parliament of Catalonia on the 6 and 7 September this year. It was probably the biggest betrayal of democracy we have seen since our Constitution was approved nearly forty years ago, except for the attempted coup in 1981.

In a matter of a few hours, two laws were scheduled; the agenda was changed twice to include them in it; a period for amendments was closed (that is the most correct term); a debate was held, if it can be called that; the two laws were approved, both manifestly contrary to legality; and an illegal referendum was called. And if the members of the opposition had not had enough, the Bureau, at the request of the Government, decided to close Parliament and put an end to the checks on the Government; and the Government has not been subject to any checks since.

Members of the House,

What would you think or what would you do if this had happened, for example, in this House or in the Lower House? What would you think if the Government of Spain or the Speaker of this House suppressed the check on the Government sine die?

Members of the House,

Can there be a greater offence to the representatives of the people? What right do they have to do so? Is this democracy, Members of the House?

Members of the House,

In addition to everything, in addition to having destroyed the law, in addition to having ignored it, to having invented a new legality and in addition to depriving the members representing the citizens from exercising their rights; in addition to all that, the Constitutional Court has been ignored, and everything from it has been rejected; this is a court that has suspended or annulled the laws I referred to earlier: on the Referendum and on the Transition, as well as the Royal Decree calling the referendum, and also the additional laws to implement it.

But all this, Members of the House, was all the same to them because nothing matters. There those who make up a majority do exactly as they please; and it so happens, they are the ones who appeal to dialogue and democracy, and nothing else matters to them.

An illegal referendum has been held, with no democratic guarantees whatsoever, as you well know, Members of the House. And then they claim that the people of Catalonia have freely opted for independence.

Members of the House,

I'm not going to go on, because if I did I would never end my speech. All this has been a continuous process of anti-democratic decisions, because that is what it has been, and one should use words properly; they have been contrary to the law, because that is what they have been, contrary to the law, contrary to normal behaviour in any democratic country such as ours, and contrary to Spanish and European values, because the law, the rule of law and respect for minorities have all been trampled underfoot.

And all this, Members of the House, is what has happened, precisely that. And we are not talking about minor issues; they are very serious subjects and you know that, whatever you think and whatever you support. We are facing a clear and evident breach of the law, and therefore democracy and the rights of all concerned.

And all this, Members of the House, has its consequences. Of course, ignoring the law or destroying the principle of legality has its consequences. How could it be otherwise? It has consequences because the laws are rules that govern our life together, and when the law is broken, society is fractured, our rights are no longer guaranteed, the strongest impose themselves on the weakest, minorities no longer count, and democracy is damaged and weakened.

Members of the House,

Destroying the law not only fractures our coexistence; destroying the law causes a rift in society, it divides families and ends friendships that have lasted years. We've seen it happen and we can all provide some example of this situation.

Members of the House,

Disregarding the law also has very serious economic consequences. Financial institutions are leaving - how could they not? Companies are leaving as well; depositors have their doubts, and their actions could endanger many things. Investment is suffering because there is no legal security and economic growth and employment are beginning to slow.

Well, Members of the House, so much for the events and their consequences; given these, it could not be otherwise: an autonomous region that does not recognise the laws we have all created between all of us - between all of us, Members of the House - and that breaks with legality and replaces it with another; that does not allow the opposition to exercise its function; that closes Parliament, ends the check on the Government and ignores the resolutions of the courts.

Members of the House,

It is a series of illegal and anti-democratic actions that has put an end to our coexistence, done away with people's rights, created a rift in society and caused serious harm to the economy and welfare of our citizens.

Honourable Members

And what would the Government's answer be in this situation? What would be the response in any countries like ours in a similar situation? What would the most leading European countries do? What would France or Germany do, for example, if one of their regions called an illegal referendum on independence, or did away with their Constitution, or did not comply with court judgements or did not allow the opposition to act as such? Members of the House, these are the questions that we have to answer today.

In my opinion, there is no alternative. All we can do, and moreover must do, in a situation such as this is to apply the law for the very purpose of enforcing the law.

That is why we have triggered this mechanism established by article 155 of our Constitution; a legal, democratic mechanism, that has been approved by the people of Spain, similar to that existing in the immense majority of countries similar to ours - countries that are all - as goes without saying - democratic; the article itself, as you know, reads literally as follows: "If an autonomous region does not comply with the obligations imposed on it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government, must issue a formal demand to the President of the autonomous region in question. If the demand is answered satisfactory, it may, with the approval of an absolute majority of the Upper House of Parliament, adopt any measures needed to oblige the region to comply with these obligations or to protect the abovementioned general interest."

Members of the House,

This procedure is being launched on countless grounds. Exceptional measures should only be adopted when there is no other possible remedy to correct a situation that is also exceptional and contrary to the general interest.

We could have implemented this initiative when we were required to by many people, who in fact reproached us for not doing so: when the Referendum Law was approved, when the Transition Law was approved, when the attempt was made to do away de facto with the Constitution and Statute, when a decree was signed to call a referendum, when the Constitutional Court was ignored... We didn't do it at the time. We thought that we were still in time for things to return to normal. But that wasn't the case. Members of the House, it wasn't the case.

The appearance of the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia in Parliament on the 10th validating the result of the referendum, despite the resolution of the Constitutional Court, and stating that he would propose the suspension of its effects and begin a dialogue with the Government of Spain - what dialogue, Members of the House? ... That was the final straw. Even so, the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia was offered the opportunity, no less than twice, to clarify whether a declaration of independence had been made or not.

Members of the House, 

As all those present can appreciate, this is not a trivial matter: it is not the same thing for there to be a declaration of independence as for there not to be. So clarification was needed on his part, and the answer was not difficult: he had to answer whether or not a declaration had been made.

And the answer was also very pertinent because the speech by the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia and his subsequent signing together with other members of the Regional Parliament of the declaration of independence generated a situation of confusion; which he was, Members of the House, obliged once more to clarify. In fact, sociological studies published after this plenary session demonstrated that half the population understood that there had been a declaration of independence and the other half understood precisely the opposite.

Members of the House,

This is not serious behaviour. A political leader cannot treat people like that. There are issues that cannot be played with or confused and a government, any government, of any country, cannot be impassive in the face of an event such as this, acting as if nothing had happened.

The truth is that the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia did not answer the formal demand stipulated in article 155 of the Constitution, despite, I repeat - because there are things that are worth repeating - having sufficient opportunity to do so. He preferred to send a letter, in fact two; the last of which was particularly unfortunate.

Well, Members of the House, this is what obliged the Government to continue with this process in which we are now immersed. All that was necessary was an explicit statement by the Catalan Government renouncing any promotion or implementation of acts or decisions that are contrary to the Constitution, to Spanish law, and to the Catalan people. Or to put it another way, it was enough to behave in a way that is normal in any democracy. But the President of the Regional Government didn't want to. He is the one who has chosen to go ahead with the process to trigger article 155 of the Constitution. He and he alone.

Members of the House,

What do we want to do now? What are the goals? What are we asking your vote? Basically, there are four goals:

  • First, to restore the law. A country where political leaders rebel against the law is an unjust society, it is a country without rules for action, without rules for coexistence, without guaranteed rights and subject to a single law, the law of the jungle.
  • Second, we aim to recover confidence. This should be the main goal for everyone, and it will not be easy. There are many people who have suffered too much.
  • Third, to maintain the high levels of economic growth and job creation of recent years, which have been seriously damaged now by the situation in which we find ourselves in. We are talking about the lives of people and their rights, not about the lives or rights of hectares or territories.
  • ourth, to hold elections in a situation of institutional normality.

These are our goals, Members of the House, and to achieve them we are asking you, ladies and gentlemen, to approve the measures that were presented last Saturday to public opinion after their adoption by the Council of Ministers. They are the same as the ones we approved at the meeting of the Council of Ministers last Saturday. They are the same because nothing substantial has occurred since then to justify a change in the proposals decided on at the time, because what we are experiencing now, particularly yesterday, could not be taken into account or explained without resorting to impropriety.

Members of the House,

The first thing proposed by the Government is closely related to the proposal that there should be elections in Catalonia. For this, if the Upper House so decides, the power to dissolve the Regional Parliament of Catalonia will pass over to the President of the Government of Spain, who must call elections within a maximum period of six months. And I can tell you that my wish is to hold those elections as soon as possible.

As well as this, we ask you to authorise the Government to adopt the following decisions:

  • First, to dismiss the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, the Vice-President and the regional councillors that make up the Regional Council of Ministers. Exercise of those functions will correspond to the bodies or authorities that the Government of the Nation creates or appoints to that end.
  • The second important measure - and I won't go into details that in any case you know very well - refers to the fact that the Parliament of Catalonia will exercise the representative duties assigned to it; but, to guarantee that this happens with full respect for the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy, the Upper House is proposed a series of provisions, among which I would highlight that the President of the Government of Catalonia may not propose a candidate to the Presidency of the Regional Government, nor may the Regional Parliament hold an investiture debate and vote.

These are the most important measures, although, I repeat, there are others in the text of the Agreement.

To sum up, my Government has requested the application of article 155 of our Constitution to restore law, democracy and stability in an autonomous region whose leaders have wiped out the Spanish Constitution, abused social harmony, engaged in open defiance of territorial unity and caused serious economic uncertainty that is forcing companies and financial institutions to leave for other Spanish regions.

Allow me now to give you some brief reflections at the start of this last part of my speech. I am doing so because I think that they come at the right time, on a day and under circumstances such as those of today.

The first is about dialogue. Dialogue is a beautiful word, a synonym of conversation or talk, which generates good feelings. It is something that should be practised. It is a word that reveals good intentions and a predisposition to agreement, and something that is talked a lot about in Spain and that is practised. Dialogue has been practised a lot, now and before, in Spain, in all facets of life, and also in politics, for many years. It is practised in local councils, in deputations, in parliaments, and here, in the Lower House. As you know, our Spanish Constitution was the product of dialogue and our laws are also the products of dialogue between many people.

Well, dialogue has two enemies, two: first, people who abuse the law, ignore them or infringe them, because it is worth remembering that these laws are the product of dialogue between all; the second enemy of dialogue are people who only want to listen to themselves, who don't understand or don't want to understand others, who do what they want without any interest in the person they are speaking to.

Members of the House,

I give you this information for whoever is interested. The only dialogue, the only negotiation to which I was invited as President of the Government of Spain was to discuss the terms and deadlines for the independence of Catalonia; that was the only dialogue I was invited to. It is worth remembering that: the only one, Members of the House. And the independence of Catalonia is something that, as you all know, I can have no judgment on.

Everything else is irrelevant. "I am not attending the Conference of Regional Presidents, in case I have to deal with someone who is undesirable: the debate on regional finance is something I am not interested in." When it was suggested he should attend the Lower House of Parliament to explain his ideas there he did not do so. He was not here yesterday and will not be here today in this House. I would have come here to defend my position, even if I had been in an immense minority.

Allow me, Members of the House, to make a second reflection. Politicians should not embark their citizens on an impossible trip to an Ithaca that does not exist. Tall stories, lies, half-truths, can captivate well-intentioned people in the short term, whatever their form or way of thinking, but if you ignore or manipulate reality it always ends up wreaking its vengeance. I don't see anything good about this process, although perhaps it has served to make patent the lies and those who have spread them.

Members of the House, despite what the citizens of Catalonia were told, this does affect the economy, and for the worse, much worse.

Members of the House, despite what the citizens of Catalonia were told, if this were to take place, which it will not, it would lead to exit from Europe, from the European Union, and from the institutions, with all that means.

Members of the House, despite what the citizens of Catalonia were told, this did not have, does not have will never have the support of anyone, because among other things it goes against the principles and values that underpin Europe.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am coming to a close Given the existence of overt facts that no one can deny, what is being debated here is whether Spain, on an issue that affects its stability, its image abroad, its territorial integrity and the welfare of its people, has the right or not to defend itself by appeal to the Constitution and to the law. This is the debate, that is what is at stake; not the facts that have led to the Government's formal demand, which lie outside the discussion, but the measures that authorise the Government to react to these facts.

To sum up, Members of the House, what is being debated here today is whether the time has come to enforce the law above any other consideration. Not against Catalonia, but rather to prevent the abuse of Catalonia; not to suspend Catalan autonomy, but to consolidate it; not to restrict liberties and rights, but rather to protect them by putting an end to illegal actions.

Contrary to what some propose, what threatens Catalonia today is not article 155 but the attitude of the Regional Government of Catalonia. And what Catalonia has to be saved from is not the application of an article of the Constitution, but from the ravages being caused by anti-Constitutional conduct. What all the Catalans have to be protected from is not, as some say, Spanish imperialism, but a minority that are acting in a intolerant fashion and believe they are the owners of Catalonia: they consider the history, culture and feelings of a particular region are exclusive to them, and they aim to subject all the Catalans to the yoke of their doctrine.

Members of the House,

I will finish now. We are faced by a challenge of unprecedented proportions in our recent history, a challenge that goes far beyond contempt for the law, beyond economic disaster, social discord, disobedience of the Constitutional Court and the express desire to break up Spanish unity. And the fact is that while each of these questions is very serious and all of them together are exceptionally grave, we are faced above all by a challenge to the State that questions and threatens to destroy what the Spanish people have created, between all of them, over so many years.

We are talking about a project on which all the Spanish people have participated together; a project which we have constructed between us all, in which we managed to establish rules for harmonious coexistence. Together we approved the Constitution and together we enshrined in it the principles and values that govern our society.

We are not faced by a question of parties or a problem that is exclusively Catalan. It is not a question of these Spanish people or those Spanish people. It is something that we must all be committed to, and that is the State. It is not exclusively Catalonia that is at stake, although the problem is now in Catalonia. What should claim our attention is Spain as a whole, because the challenge affects all of Spain, its laws, its principles and the rules underpinning social harmony.

But above all, in particular it raises the questions as to whether when we share the benefits, we should also have to share the duties, or if we should allow exceptions. To put it another way, if in exchange for appeasing this defiance we have to recognise the existence of unequal categories among our citizens. 

This concern underlies the formal demand that the Government presented to the House. That is why I trust that if we are co-responsible for protecting what belongs to everyone, what we call the common good, the State that we have created together, we will all know how to provide the answer required by the circumstances.

History will not exclusively judge the lack of moderation, abuses or illegalities that we can see in Catalonia; it will also judge those of us that are responsible for presenting a response and it will judge our wishes in this response. I trust that far from party selfishness, electoral calculations, ideological inclination or minor acts of mean-spiritedness, we know how to make a gesture and provide a response that rises to the expectations placed in us by all the people of Spain.

Thank you very much.

Non official translation