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Interview with President of the Government on programme "Herrera en COPE", on Cadena COPE

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Carlos Herrera.- From the studios of Cadena COPE, home to all of you, I welcome the President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy Brey, who I am truly grateful to for coming here at such a fraught time. Mr Rajoy, how are you? A very good day to you.

President of the Government.- Very well. A very good day to you. Thank you very much, I am pleased to be here.

C. Herrera.- What assessment do you make of the application of Article 155? And if this is working, why was it not triggered earlier?

President of the Government.- Article 155 is an exceptional measure that is unprecedented in Spain. It is not even regulated as such in the Constitution; there is simply a brief point which states that the State may adopt measures in the event that the general interest is seriously harmed by an autonomous region.

I believe that things are working reasonably well. We removed the Regional Government of Catalonia, the government took on the powers it exercised and this is working well. The public services are in a situation of normality, public servants are collaborating well, elections have been called and, for the time being, things are being done as in any normal election process. Hence, I believe that this has served to return us to normality to a great extent, aside from this having other consequences of a political nature.

Why didn't we apply this earlier? Fundamentally for two reasons: first, this is something exceptional that has never been applied in the history of Spain, and hence exceptional decisions need to be thought through and must be very well grounded. No-one in Spain can say that this was not well grounded on the day that we triggered Article 155. If we had done this two months earlier, as some people called for, there may not have been so many good reasons. And there is a second very important argument: neither the Socialist Party nor Ciudadanos wanted to trigger Article 155 until right at the very end. I believe that it was important for the People's Party not to take this decision by itself, despite its majority in the Upper House of Parliament, but rather for it to be accompanied by at least these other two political forces. In the end, it was accompanied by these two, the Canary Island Coalition and some other smaller parties.

C. Herrera.- What happens if the pro-independence formations once again win on 21 December?

President of the Government.- We are going to work hard to ensure that the pro-independence formations do not win. The government has done its job and it is now down to the people. In other words, the people must also decide and I hope that there is a mass turnout, and that many people who vote in the general elections - the People's Party receives a great many more votes in the general elections than in the regional elections - can also see the importance of these elections as well.

Hence, I would call for a mass turnout and I hope that the parties not in favour of independence win the elections. At any event, whoever wins the elections must obey the law. The law must be obeyed by those not in favour of independence and obviously by those in favour of independence, who are not in the best position.

C. Herrera.- In other words, Article 155 will still be there?

President of the Government.- Article 155 is always there, but Article 155 is an exceptional measure, and hence, it should only be applied for a short period of time. So what I hope is that, once the new regional government is formed after the elections, things return to a situation of institutional normality, and hence, that Article 155 will not need to be applied at that time. We are holding elections so that it can cease to be applied, quite clearly.

C. Herrera.- And if this government, or part of this government, is made up of people who are on trial at present, and in prison, regardless of whether they may be out on bail or not - out on bail, not remanded in custody - in the coming weeks or months?

President of the Government.- Everyone who is in prison at the moment can stand in these elections. All those can stand who have not been disqualified from office. Disqualification can only derive from a final ruling handed down by the courts, which has not taken place so far. That is why we have seen that some people who are in prison are standing in these elections. It would be absurd for someone who was in prison to become a regional councillor; I think that makes no sense whatsoever, as they cannot perform their duties. For the time being, no-one has been disqualified.

Justice takes time. There is a process that has its guarantees, people are entitled to a defence and what we have at the moment is a situation where some people have been remanded in custody.

C. Herrera.- Do you consider the Socialist Party of Catalonia to be on the side of the forces not in favour of independence or sitting on the fence as regards forming a regional government, aside from Esquerra [Republican Left] and the gentlemen…, the Colaus, so we can all be clear?

President of the Government.- It is very difficult to know what type of government will be formed in the future; what is clear is that the Socialist Party of Catalonia has backed the application of Article 155 of the Constitution and I believe that this is very positive. In all frankness, I can say that I consider the people I know in the Socialist Party to fall within the constitutional framework and, in fact, the Socialist Party was one of the most important parties in approving the Constitution 40 years ago, and they have governed within the scope of this Constitution and have accepted the application of Article 155.

I don't know what type of coalition will be formed after the elections but I have no doubts that the Socialist Party will respect national sovereignty and hence it will never accept a referendum in which the goal is for the Spanish people not to decide on their own country.

C. Herrera.- In the last few hours we have heard some statements in which some pro-independence leaders distanced themselves from recent events: stressing that the process was unprepared for the period following the elections, and that Mr Puigdemont has stated that there are other ways to conduct relations with Spain. Do you believe that or do you just think it is another tactic with a view to the elections on 21 December?

President of the Government.- It is clearly very difficult for me to get inside the head of Mr Puigdemont; moreover, I have no interest in doing so. What I believe is that people are now being told that they have been deceived, something that some of us have been warning of for some time now. This is a process of the whopping lies, isn't it? Not only were they unprepared to do something that was impossible, but they also said that it would not affect the economy and yet more than 2,000 companies have already left and we have had to lower the economic growth forecast for next year to 2.3%.

Now, in the same way as I say this, I would also say something else - if Catalonia recovers its normality starting in January, the growth forecast for the economy in 2018, which at present stands at 2.3%, would rise to between 2.8% and 3%. In other words, the growth forecast would rise by between 5 and 7 tenths of a percentage point and we would clearly be able to create more than 500,000 jobs, as we have this year and the one before that. That is why it is important for us to return to a period of calm and tranquillity.

What was said about the economy was a lie; it was a lie that they were prepared, it was a lie that if they became independent they would not leave Europe and it was a lie that they would have the support of Europe. They have not had the support of a single country of the 28 that make up the EU, not one.

C. Herrera.- Be a little self-critical. What would have happened if the State had been a little more involved in Catalonia earlier?

President of the Government.- If the State had been more involved in recent years? It is difficult to say. We have created a very de-centralised constitutional model. Just think for example about Catalonia, a region that has powers over the main fundamental public services - healthcare, education, social services… And it has one power that is of key importance, which is security, in other words, to guarantee individual right and liberties. As you know, this power is only de-centralised in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

This is a very de-centralised model. It was agreed in 1978 so that everyone could feel at home in Spain and, at that time, there were people who did not want autonomous regions, while there were others who wanted to go a great deal further. But a very important agreement was reached and a set of rules were laid down. The problem is that this agreement back in 1978, which caused tremendous political de-centralisation, was based on a key principle in de-centralised States, which is institutional loyalty. Of course, when this institutional loyalty breaks down, we reach a situation such as we have seen in Catalonia recently.

If the Regional Government of Catalonia had behaved loyally, things would undoubtedly have functioned differently and we would have avoided all the problems we have and which still persist, but that I hope which we can resolve soon.

C. Herrera.- How far are you prepared to go to reach a constitutional reform so that the people of Catalonia can fit in better, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs said in an interview with the BBC?

President of the Government.- I don't know how he couched this nor did I hear the statements he made. What I cannot accept is that the will of a minority is imposed on the will of the majority. That is unacceptable in any way. The principle of the equality of both the right and obligations of all Spaniards, including their access to public services is something that cannot be wiped out. And there are some things, such as national unity, national sovereignty, in other words, the right we all have to give an opinion on what we want our country to be, the equality of all Spaniards and the defence of fundamental rights.

As you are aware, I have never been in favour of reforming the Constitution, unless we are very clear as to what needs to be done. A committee has now been set up in the Lower House of Parliament and I am prepared to listen and to talk with everyone but I am not prepared to stand against, I repeat, our unity or our sovereignty, or against the equality of all the people of Spain under any circumstances whatsoever. And what Spain is - this happens in every country in the world, because this is the principle of national sovereignty, will be decided by all the people of Spain and not just a part of them.

C. Herrera.- What was the last conversation you had with Mr Puigdemont like? Can you remember?

President of the Government.- Yes, it was a few months ago now. The truth is that it was a very frustrating conversation. I haven't come here to criticise anyone in particular, but in all honesty the dialogue with Mr Puigdemont was about the referendum - about the fact that the referendum had to be held and that we had to talk about the independence of Catalonia. So, I could decide on the date and I could decide on whether it was necessary to have 50% or 60% of the votes to achieve independence. He said that "the terms and procedures were up to me, but there was no point talking about the referendum because it was going to be held regardless".

That was an impossible negotiation. If you go somewhere, here there are five newspapers and then I say that all five are for me. It is clear that you are then left in a position you don't want to be in, as you would expect.

In reality, Mr Puigdemont knew, and everyone else knew, that I was not going to authorise the referendum, and they knew that because I had said that to them; but it was no longer necessary for me to say this because they were aware of this. In all honesty, it was very frustrating. There was no interest in negotiating, or even in dialogue. We hear a lot of talk about dialogue and that "we must talk, there must be dialogue", but you need to have dialogue about something and set some terms.

But, I repeat, the last talk was when I reached the absolute conviction that it was totally impossible to reach any form of understanding and that was a tremendous mistake because what that leads to is a breakdown and what we have seen now, whereby it was necessary to trigger Article 155 of the Constitution for the first time in our history.

C. Herrera.- Do you think that Mr Puigdemont might return a couple of days before the elections, be arrested and, thus take advantage of his status as a victim in prison to increase his votes on a list on which it would seem he is not the favourite?

President of the Government.- I don't know but, in all honesty, the situation in which Mr Puigdemont has put himself in is truly complicated, isn't it? In reality, his election campaign, if in the end he stands as a candidate in the elections on behalf of PDeCat or on behalf the platform he wishes, will be a purely victim-based election campaign. And Mr Puigdemont is not in Brussels because anyone has sent him there; he is there because he wanted to go to Brussels, and other colleagues of his have taken different decisions, some are out on bail while others have been remanded in custody.

But, if Mr Puigdemont decides to do what you have just mentioned and turn up here three days before the elections, I don't know whether this will give him sufficient political gain as a victim or whether many people are now fed up with so much foolishness, so let's see whether we can all behave with at least a modicum of common sense.

 C. Herrera.- Is it true that the government knew of Mr Puigdemont's flight from Spain on the very Sunday it took place?

President of the Government.- I found out… I don't exactly know when this happened but I was told… I believe I found out the day after, when he appeared in Brussels, and that was when they told me he had gone by car to Marseilles.

C. Herrera.- Did that surprise you?

President of the Government.- After everything I have seen in recent months, few things surprise me now.

C. Herrera.- Going back to 1 October, and allow me to return to the days of that referendum, or non-referendum, of half referendum, or whatever you want to call it, did the CNI [National Intelligence Centre] assure you that there would be no ballot box in Catalonia?

President of the Government.- No, neither the CNI nor the intelligence services assured us of anything. What these services did - both the Guardia Civil and the National Intelligence Centre and the National Police - was their best to do whatever was necessary to ensure that things worked reasonably well: they seized all the ballot slips, all the IT equipment, which made it impossible to count the votes and present any tally sheets… They did a truly important job but it is true that they could not seize all the ballot boxes. They managed to prevent certain contracts being realised and halt public tenders that had been put out, but it is true that things cannot always be done 100% well. But I must say that the efforts made by all our intelligence services and police forces, which, by the way, are among the best renowned in the world, was commendable and I am very grateful to them for that.

C. Herrera.- Will you raise their salaries to that of the Mossos [Regional Police Force of Catalonia]?

President of the Government.- Do we have to pay them?

C. Herrera.- If you are going to raise the salaries of police officers and Guardia Civil officers to the same level as the Mossos.

President of the Government.- Yes, I would like to make the salaries of police officers and Guardia Civil officers, and many other public servants the same. In general, the salaries in the regions are higher than the salaries of the General State Administration, not only for the law enforcement agencies, but also in many other sectors.

We have gone through a really tough period in Spain, in which salaries had to be frozen. We suffered five years of negative growth and lost a great deal of revenue, and of course it is in the government's interest to be fair and to ensure that these things are gradually resolved.

C. Herrera.- Coming back to that day, when did the government detect that there was an organised campaign using bots in the social media, which was perhaps run from abroad, to spread lies and launch false news, discredit Spanish democracy and other situations?

President of the Government.- Although we were very clear that European governments would support us because, logically, I had already spoken with the vast majority of Prime Ministers and Heads of State about this matter, and this indeed turned out to be the case that all these countries supported us, the issue of news is much more complicated: there are a great many newspapers, TV stations and other forms of media. We saw that there was indeed an avalanche, a perfectly organised effort using bots to launch false news, always against Spain that spread through the Internet, and this is what happened during the first two or three days. Then, little by little, we managed to restore the situation, and we then discovered that 55% of these false profiles were in Russia, 30% had their origin in Venezuela, and that only three were actually real.

But these things have happened in other places in Europe recently. Whenever there is something that can de-stabilise Europe, this situation unfolds. I remember that this happened with 'Brexit', this happened with the last French elections when there was support for Marine Le Pen. This is a battle of which we in Europe are aware and work is being done on it. The Commission is handling this and I am absolutely convinced that we, the democrats and those people who use the rulebook of decency, of liberty and of democracy, will prevail in the end.

C. Herrera.- Do you suspect that the Russian Government is behind this?

President of the Government.- No, not at all. Suspect? I can only make statements about proven facts, because I am the President of the Government, and hence I will be responsible. I have no information that points to the Russian Government being behind this, none at all. What I can say is that, indeed, as I said before, 55% of these false profiles came from Russia and 30% from Venezuela.

We have now seen some events and there was a publication yesterday that stated that one of the people who most strongly supported independence in Catalonia and who was advising Mr Puigdemont gave an interview with Mr Assange, and no-one knows why, which was given over to supporting the independence of Catalonia. I believe that it would be very important for these people to give an explanation to the public as a whole about what exactly they were doing there.

C. Herrera.- The thing is that this certain number of Russian citizens met up because they did. Is this a group? Do they have some form of common group interest? Someone must know.

President of the Government.- I don't know; they don't even need to be Russian citizens; they could perfectly well be citizens of other countries. What is clear is that there are people who may be interested in things not going well in Europe. I am interested, as are you, and as are all those who are listening to us at the moment, in things going well in Europe, and hence, also in Spain; but there are people who may think differently.

Europe, at the end of the day, accounts for 25% of global GDP; we continue to be the best region in the world in terms of democracy, liberty, human rights, citizen care and the Welfare State. We must defend ourselves, the European Union is aware of this, that there are other people interested in things going badly for us, because they consider that they can benefit from this.

C. Herrera.- Mr Aznar - with whom you maintain an idyllic relationship - argues that if things remain the same on 21 December, then in reality we will be worse off. Do you also believe this?

President of the Government.- No, I think exactly the opposite. I believe that we are already better off and I am going to tell you why we are better off - because this has at least served to show all the people of Spain - everyone - that the State knows how to defend itself. In other words, people now know what Article 155 is and people now know that if someone acts against the Constitution, the Constitution will be applied. That is the message that everyone is now aware of: Spain can defend itself when someone attacks Spain is such a brutal manner as happened here.

In fact, there is one figure that is also very positive, which is that all those political groups are now going to stand in regional elections called by the President of the Government of Spain pursuant to the Spanish Constitution and to the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.

These are very important steps forward and people, at least those who are intelligent, tend to take note of these things.

C. Herrera.- Do you consider that, in some way, those companies that have left Catalonia will return some day?

President of the Government.- I hope they do return, because we are talking about more than 2,000 companies. This is another of the major deceits and lies that we have seen throughout this whole process. They said that this was not going to affect the economy, that banks would give them credit and that everything was wonderful. That is an outright lie and unfortunately there were many people who believed it. I don't know whether they will come back, but I will obviously call for them to do so.

I would like to see a situation of normality and calm return as from January, and for everyone to come back. In the same way as I would like everyone to buy Catalan products because, if not, those Catalan businessmen that sell in the rest of Spain will suffer twice over: firstly, due to the treatment meted out to them by the pro-independence parties there in Catalonia, and secondly, because there are many people who are logically angry, because this makes their blood boil, and hence they will not support them either.

We are all going to commit to common sense and to normality, and this involves everyone turning out to vote on 21 December - a mass turnout - and then we can enter into a situation of normality because, furthermore, I can state that this would be wonderful for the economy. If things calm down, the economy may rise by five or six tenth in terms of growth next year, which means a great many jobs, and a significant increase in levels of wealth and well-being.

C. Herrera.- Did you or your government feel some kind of relief the day on which the Supreme Court decided to let Ms Forcadell and the other members of the Board of the regional parliament out on bail?

President of the Government.- There has been a lot of talk and a lot written about that. I am the President of the Government and hence I know what my duties are very well; I also know very well what the duties of the Judiciary are and I know very well what the duties of Parliament are. Hence, as regards the rulings handed down by the courts, what the President of the Government has to do, whether he likes them or not, whether they affect him or not, whether he thinks they are better or worse, is shut up and obey them. If we all did the same - those of us who have other duties - then I don't think that things would go very well for us.

C. Herrera.- But can the President of the Government in some way influence, apply pressure or convince the Public Prosecutor's Office to act one way or another before a court?

President of the Government.- While the President of the Government cannot even talk with a judge who, at the end of the day is the person who takes the decision, it is clear the Chief Public Prosecutor is appointed by the government, but he is independent, he holds office for five years and cannot be dismissed. I believe that the more independent the Public Prosecutor's Office, which at the end of the day defends the public interest, the better for everyone.

C. Herrera.- We have some questions that our listeners have given us. They have asked whether a victory for the pro-independence parties in Catalonia on 21 December would bring this Legislature to an end.

President of the Government.- Not at all. The only thing a victory would give them and empower them to do is to form a government as a result of regional elections and that has nothing to do with whether the legislature lasts longer or not.

I have always been in favour of legislatures lasting for four years, because this transmits normality, offers security and ensures things are calm. In fact, in my first Legislature in the 2011 elections, these were held on 20 November and those in 2015 were held on 20 December, four years and one month later.

Hence, if this is in my power, this Legislature will last for four years.

C. Herrera.- Why, Mr Rajoy, does a good part of public opinion have the sensation that governments, and not just yours, have acted rather cautiously on the issue of Catalonia?

President of the Government.- This sensation may indeed be true. We approved the Constitution back in 1978 and then, for a very long time there was a process which is now practically, but not totally, over. I, as President of the Government, have not transferred anything to the Regional Government of Catalonia, nothing, and I have been in the Presidency of the Government for almost six years now. And why? Because all these transfers of power were made before, in another time: education was transferred, healthcare was transferred and many other things were transferred. No-one ever wanted to get to a point where we had to trigger Article 155, but it has been triggered because constitutional loyalty has broken down, which is the very foundation for the de-centralised system that we have set up, as I said earlier.

Now, cautious? I triggered Article 155, which wasn't very cautious. I had to dismiss the Regional Government of Catalonia. That was highly exceptional. It is so exceptional that in Europe, since the Second World War, this has never been done. I had to explain how this was to be done and everyone understood this. This is an article contained in our Constitution, as it is also contained in the German Constitution, for example. Germany is a federal State and it has the equivalent of Article 155. This has never been triggered because no-one, not in Bavaria or in any other German Länd [region] has decided to adopt the decisions that have been adopted here.

C. Herrera.- Would you be in favour of studying the possibility of a Cupo - a special tax regime - such as exists in Navarre or in the Basque Country, for Catalonia?

President of the Government.- No. In 1978 we maintained… Not maintained; the model in Navarre already existed under [Francisco] Franco and the Basque model as well, although only in the province of Alava. Hence, back in the year 1978, when we approved the Constitution, we asked what we were going to do, whether we would approve a Constitution that would serve everyone, and this served Santiago Carrillo, who was a communist who came back from exile, this served some people who had been ministers under Franco and this served Convergència i Unió [Convergence and Union], which was a very important Catalan party at that time, as it subsequently was for a long time afterwards, while the Basque Nationalist Party abstained. But a major effort was made and as part of this effort the special tax regimes were included in the Constitution. They are both contained in the Constitution and were voted for by everyone. It was then agreed to set up a regional financing system for the rest of the autonomous regions that would be negotiated from time to time.

But, we have now set up a committee in the Lower House, which I believe will be constituted tomorrow - I think tomorrow is the 15th - at which we will evaluate how the State of the Autonomies has worked in recent years and we will also talk there about the model of regional financing. By the way, we agreed to revise the model of financing at the Conference of Regional Presidents held at the start of this year, the experts have now given us their opinion and there is a working group made up of representatives of all the regional governments except the regional government headed up by Mr Puigdemont because he did not want to attend. It would be good, when there are forums for dialogue to defend one's own position for one to attend, don't you think? He didn't want to come to the Lower House, to the Upper House, nor did he want to take part in the debate on financing.

Hence, I am in favour of a model that involves everyone. We will need to correct certain things that are not right, but it is impossible to implement a model of financing that is not backed by everyone because, aside from the fact that it is impossible, it is not desirable.

C. Herrera.- The teaching of Spanish in regions such as Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and recently the Region of Valencia is, shall we say, at the very least, weak. Sometimes we have the feeling that the common language spoken by all Spaniards is under persecution and, of course, there are families that cannot decide to educate their children in Spanish unless they send them to a private school, and hence, they have to pay to do so. This is the way the powers are designed and the regional governments are independent to do this. Whenever there has been a ruling, let's say that they have freely done exactly what they want; even rulings handed down by the Constitutional Court. What can we do henceforth, taking into account the new situation that has emerged, for example, in Catalonia and that may serve as a warning for some other regions?

President of the Government.- The first thing I am in favour of is dialogue. I mentioned the committee to you. I believe that on this committee to be constituted in the Lower House it would be good for us to talk, among other things, about this issue you have raised, which is an issue that has generated a great deal of controversy, and a great deal of disappointment for many people, and which has already led to rulings not being obeyed, as you rightly said.

First, let's talk about this issue, and second, I believe that shortly in the Lower House of Parliament, since some initiatives have already been presented, we are going - apart from this committee - to address the work and the function that the education inspectorate can play. This is a very delicate and a very complex issue. The best way to resolve this is to respect the rights of everyone by reaching an agreement and an understanding. Hence, it would be best to resolve it in this manner; but, if not, we will definitely need to see what we can do in the future to ensure that this situation does not come about.

C. Herrera.- The media. People have asked, why has the government's intervention not also affected the media of the Catalan Corporation of Radio and Television?

President of the Government.- The government's intervention is exceptional and we are in an exceptional situation. This will last for the duration of the election campaign, and then, for as long as it takes to form a regional government following the results from the ballot box, as I said earlier.

We have removed the whole regional government; we have removed the whole of the inner circle of the Department of Home Affairs, which is what seemed to us most important, and we have overturned the powers assigned that were not provided for in either the Spanish Constitution or the Statute of Autonomy on foreign affairs. They set up a whole host of offices on foreign affairs issues which recently occupied themselves with solely and exclusively talking badly about Spain. This is something truly incredible. That was the function of the different offices that they set up with political content in different places, which is why we have closed them. We have maintained trade issues, etc., but not political issues because they were solely and exclusively used to speak badly about Spain.

In other words, we have touched on those powers that are State powers: foreign affairs, home affairs, not defence, because there weren't any, and we have also taken control of the treasury. We didn't want to take control of all the other powers, because it didn't make sense to do so for just three months and because we considered that the former issues were more important.

There is then another matter… Of course, freedom of expression is one of the basic and most emblematic rights not only in our Constitution, which it is, and for a very long time there was no freedom of expression in Spain, but also in other constitutions, and it seemed to us right to take this decision in the talks we also had with the rest of the political groups.

C. Herrera.- Is it true or not that the Ministry of Home Affairs instructed the police, including the Mossos, not to remove the secessionists from the highways and from the railways on the day of the infamous strike as if the government, on the one hand, was afraid to think that scenes would be repeated such as those that served as counter-propaganda previously, and, on the other hand, with the aim of some people in Catalonia knowing what it means to be at the service or under the control of certain political groups?

President of the Government.- No. I think that the strike we saw in Catalonia a few days ago was not a typical strike. In fact, the main Spanish and Catalan trade unions, because the latter are in the majority there, such as Comisiones Obreras and UGT, did not support that strike. That was an action by the extremists, the radical pro-independence groups, playing their usual game whereby the worse things are, the better for them.

The strike made virtually no uptake, but in order to make it effective what they did was try to ensure that the transport didn't work. There were some truly dramatic scenes, such as placing children in the middle of the motorway, actions that are truly revealing. I am not talking about politics here, but about the human quality of those who are capable of placing children in the middle of a motorway so that the traffic couldn't move. But, in short, let's leave that issue to one side.

I must say that police operations are carried out by the police forces. Neither the government, nor the Minister for Home Affairs, nor anyone else knows how to carry out a police operation, and both on 1 October, which was fundamentally down to the Guardia Civil and during the referendum and a few days ago when this badly named "strike" was held, it was the police who said that things had to be done a particular way, or that it is more prudent to do things one way or another, or that if we do this, things would be much worse than if we try to avoid this… In fact, there was a certain moment when the railway tracks of the AVE [high-speed railway] were invaded by hundreds of people and I remember that it was the senior police officers who said to them that we recommend you don't act that way.

However, there were more than 200 people and 200 vehicles identified, and the opportune proceedings have been commenced, in some cases judicial proceedings, in other purely administrative proceedings, to punish these people. In other words, these people are now on record and will be punished.

Of course, I sometimes meet some political leaders who are truly shameless, because on 1 October they said that "the police charges were intolerable" and yet now, when this strike was held, they said that it was "intolerable that the police did not charge". Just listen, everyone has their own responsibilities in life and I clearly trust the Spanish law enforcement agencies a great deal. Among other things, I know them well because I was also Minister for Home Affairs once.

Let's let them work. No-one get things 100% right in life; you don't, I don't and no-one in this room does; but, in all honesty, I believe that we have good law enforcement agencies. I understand that some people may be annoyed because this was really tough and unpleasant; but this is what the barbarians that acted those days wanted to see. And I should state that the police forces, in the same way as on 1 October, did everything that was in their hands to ensure that things turned out well. Of course, they cannot be soft one day and tough the next day and, above all, for this to have been stirred up by politicians who should be more prudent is a truly negative point. It is easy to criticise.

C. Herrera.- Who are you referring to?

President of the Government.- No-one in particular.

C. Herrera.- I don't believe that.

President of the Government.- You might be right; you might not. Who knows.

C. Herrera.- Do you have a problem if my colleagues, who are interested in greeting you, who you have seen around…? Antonio Jiménez wanted to ask you a question.

Antonio Jiménez .- I will ask two related questions. Firstly, regardless of any potential criminal liability - I refer to Messrs. Puigdemont and Junqueras - are they now ruled out, politically disqualified from being future opposite numbers after 21 December?

Secondly, going into further detail about what Carlos asked you, the position of Catalonia with respect to the rest of Spain. Catalonia enjoys full self-rule, it has all the powers transferred except those that are reserved for the State: foreign policy, defence, etc. In all honesty, what formula can you see on the horizon so that the pro-independence forces in Catalonia are satisfied with the way their region fits in with the rest of Spain? I don't know if you have some kind of formula that could be applied as from 21 December, or whether this can be negotiated.

President of the Government.- I have had my back to you the whole time. I was placed here and had no alternative. I am very sorry.

C. Herrera.- Presidents of the Government don't have a back.

President of the Government.- Indeed those are two questions, albeit closely related.

The only people disqualified here are those following a decision from the courts. Now, for me, all those people who have deceived the citizens of Catalonia ought to be politically disqualified because, as I said earlier, this has been a tale of a major deceit. Now they are saying, "We are not ready". Well they should have said that before, don't you think.

Now Mr Puigdemont is saying, "maybe there are other formulas aside from independence". Well you should have said that before, don't you think. "This will not affect the economy". Well it did. "We will not leave Europe". Yes, they would have left Europe if they had become independent. ""Everyone will back us". Well no-one has backed them.

People like that are politically disqualified, although it is true that they can stand in the elections and people can vote for them. Now, logically, the Regional Government of Catalonia will be chosen by the Regional Parliament of Catalonia which, in turn, will be chosen by the citizens of Catalonia, regardless…

A. Jiménez .- And would you negotiate with them, Mr Rajoy, or do you reject now any form of negotiation with them?

President of the Government.- For the time being, the negotiations that are under way are through a committee in the Lower House of Parliament. All of the parliamentary groups are entitled to be represented on this committee in the Lower House of Parliament and I hope that all of them will attend in order to talk about these issues. Representatives exist in order to talk about normal issues between different tiers of government.

You talk about the famous fit. Back in 1978, the Regional Government of Catalonia had no budget, because it did not exist, while now the Regional Government of Catalonia has a budget that is higher than all the ministerial departments together, without including the heading of pensions. This is a figure that shows very well how the State model has evolved in Spain.

So, I believe that at this time the most important issue is not whether I can give, not give or take away, but rather it is fundamentally a question of political will. This is an issue of political will and institutional loyalty, and of all if us being able to take on board where the world is heading at this time.

We are in the 21st Century while these processes do not fit in in the 21st Century. The 21st Century is synonymous with integration processes. We are talking about Europe here. I have to go to Gothenburg to talk about Social Europe on Thursday and Friday, to see if we can make progress on creating a Social Europe. We no longer have our own currency, there are no borders, we now have free movement of goods, capital, people… Just look, there was a very important piece of news yesterday, which is that a very decisive step is going to be taken - PECSO - on the matter of European defence, which I believe is something very important.

Hence, where are they heading with this discourse of wanting to now be smaller, of wanting to be isolated, of wanting to return to recover borders? This goes totally against the sign of the times and common sense, and it is a question of us taking this on board, of us being loyal to one another and of us realising what this country has done. This country, that everyone talks so badly about - everyone inside the country, that is, of course, because it would seem to be fashionable - is the 12th largest economic power in the world. We have a system of well-being, of healthcare, of public pensions and public education like none other in the world.

We have high-speed trains, and are only behind China in this field; we are the second leading power in the world in high-speed trains. We have good infrastructures, highways, motorways… We are the third ranked in the world in terms of receiving the highest numbers of tourists and the first ranked to receive the most Erasmus students. Listen, sometimes we should all speak well about Spain and feel a little proud of our country, because it seems like everything is always going badly. And even those people who want things to go badly should realise this.

Antonio San José.- I am wondering about something and have a question. Very briefly, you have called on people - it seems reasonable to me - not to boycott Catalan products. Will you celebrate Christmas this year in Moncloa and in Sanxenxo (Galicia) with Catalan champagne? I was just wondering.

Secondly, my question for you. Which of your European colleagues have you had to convince the most on the phone? I imagine that your agenda has been very busy in these last few weeks. Where have you found the most reticence? Because we read in some editorials and in some articles, particularly in the British press, that there was a certain understanding, let's say, for the argument of the pro-independence followers. Have you found your colleagues to be understanding? Have you come across any reticence? And, particularly Belgium, how is the situation there?

President of the Government.- As regards what you were wondering, I will be delighted to, although I still haven't thought about it. Christmas seems a long way off to me, but thinking about it, it's not that far off. What is clear is that I am going to go to Sanxenxo, at least to spend some five or six days there, and let's see if it rains, by the way, because one of the worst problems we have at the moment is drought, because there is no rain absolutely anywhere in Spain.

A. San José.- But what will you toast with? With Catalan champagne or not?

President of the Government.- I may toast with Catalan champagne or even with Albariño from Galicia or with Rioja; with any of them. They are all Spanish for me and, more importantly, they are wonderful and much better than imports.

Secondly, in general, everyone in Europe was very loyal to Spain, because everyone is well informed and everyone knows what is happening here - people are well informed - and because let's not forget one thing: Europe is, among other things, a community of values and European values consist of democracy, liberty, the rule of law and legal certainty. The law and the rule of law have been hit hard here, which means a return to the law of the jungle because, if we do not follow the law it means the survival of the fittest.

There was a problem with Belgium, but not caused by the Prime Minister, whose conduct was loyal towards our country at all times, but rather by some people from very extremist Flemish nationalist parties. But the Flemish Parliament - I am not talking about the Belgian Parliament, but the Flemish Parliament - held a vote a short time ago and only four extremists from a far right nationalist party voted in favour of independence in Catalonia, while the rest of the House, 90 something percent, voted against. That was the only incident.

The actions by the British Prime Minister were impeccable right from the outset.

Hence, I feel well backed, supported and appeased by all our European partners, I repeat, because this is an operation that goes against all the fundamental principles of the European Union, the first of which is the rule of rule, followed by legal certainty.

Bieito Rubido.- Lessons can be learned from a process such as this. Part of the Spanish population, according to the CIS [Centre for Sociological Research], and almost a majority - 40 something percent, very close to 50 - would prefer some powers to be returned to the State; and furthermore, there are some great thinkers… The other day I made a reference to a report from Barclays; but there is also an article from the thinker [Thomas] Piketty, which is nothing suspicious, published in the daily 'Le Monde', which states that Spain is over-decentralised. He reaches this conclusion and quotes the example of the United States, of who controls Personal Income Tax, which is controlled by Central Government, and the example of Germany. The level of de-centralisation in Spain, including the administration of taxation… In the United States, the State is only left with between 5% and 10%, but not of Personal Income Tax, but rather of other types of taxation.

Is there a chance that we could re-think the regional model in such a way that precisely Central Government could guarantee greater strength of exactly these values that you are invoking: of liberty, democracy, inter-regional solidarity, etc?

President of the Government.- This is a recurring theme. Let me give you my opinion. This is a plural country and there are different opinions on every issue, let alone about an issue of the characteristics of the one you are raising - the very organisation of our State.

I believe that there is a large majority consensus in favour of autonomous regions. There are some people who want to do away with the State of Autonomies while others want to leave Spain altogether, but there is a majority consensus that the State of Autonomies has worked reasonably well. We can then discuss how to improve education, which Carlos referred to in one of the questions he asked me earlier, and on some other subjects, but I believe that this is important.

We are different. Of course, in the United States there are some things that are more centralised, but others aren't. Just look, in the United States, there are some states with the death penalty and others without it. That is amazing to me; a murderer in the state of Louisiana can be sentenced to death, while the same murderer may not be sentenced to death in more northerly states. In other words, you have comparative law for all tastes.

Regarding the issue of taxation, the Spanish State receives 100% of Corporate Income Tax and the State collects revenue from Personal Income Tax; the question is that the autonomous regions receive, I think, a percentage of between 50% and 55%; I am not absolutely certain, but there or thereabouts. This is collected by the State but the regions, in the exercise of their autonomy, can adjust somewhat the rates, which is why you have regions with higher levels of Personal Income Tax and others with lower levels. Madrid is one of the regions with one of the lowest levels.

Inheritance Tax was transferred some time back, which was controversial, because there are some regions that have removed it from parents to their children. And Tax on the Transfer of Assets has also been transferred. In contrast, VAT and special taxes acts the same way as Personal Income Tax: they are collected by the State, but a part of them is for the regions. Can this be improved upon? Undoubtedly, but that does not seem like the most important issue to me. The issue of taxation has evolved over time, we started with 15% and this is where we are now but, of course, there are fewer direct transfers by the State.

Now, I believe that in this committee we are setting up in the Lower House we will be able to study all of these things and try to ensure they work better. And I believe that the present State of Autonomies guarantees equality and solidarity among Spaniards quite well. In fact, the instrument of solidarity par excellence where you can see that a State is a true State, is the Social Security system. When we talk about Social Security, solidarity exists between those who work and the elderly, because the former pay the pensions of the latter, but prior to that, these elderly people had paid the pensions of others, and those who come after us will pay our pensions. Furthermore, Social Security contributions are alike in Huelva, Barcelona and in Pontevedra; they all come out of the same fund. And this is the instrument of solidarity par excellence.

Hence, I believe that the system can be improved upon, but I am not in favour of turning it upside down.

C. Herrera.- Do you like the new shirt of the Spanish football team?

President of the Government.- I have seen some controversy, but haven't paid much heed to it. The Spanish team belongs to us all, however we may think and, moreover, I believe that we can win the World Cup this year. Just remember then what I have said here today.

C. Herrera.- It would be great for you to tell me and that way I can punch out a headline.

President of the Government.- I've already given you a few today!

C. Herrera.- Yes, but this would be the most interesting of them. Are you going to stand for re-election?

President of the Government.- Let me tell you something: I feel good. It is also important to see what my party feels, but I feel good. I believe that I am in a good period of my life, just like you. I am one year older than you, in other words both of us are doing well.

C. Herrera.- I may well continue. It depends on whether the company signs me up again, which I am not sure of.

President of the Government.- I think so. I would renew your contract.

C. Herrera.-So, that's a "yes" then?

President of the Government.- Well…

C. Herrera.- A "yes" in gallego.

President of the Government.- There Mr Rubido, perhaps…

C. Herrera.- We'll take that for granted then. Ladies and gentlemen, Mariano Rajoy announces that he will stand for re-election as a candidate for the Presidency of the Government.

Mr Rajoy, thank you very much for you time. It has been very kind of you.

President of the Government.- Thank you very much, it has been a pleasure

 (Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation