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Interview with President of the Government on Tele-5 News Programme

Telecinco, Madrid, Monday 27 November 2017

Pedro Piqueras.- Mr President of the Government, welcome. A very good evening to you. Welcome here to Tele-5 once again.

President of the Government.- Thank you very much. Good evening.

P. Piqueras.- I was just thinking about what Mr Puigdemont said yesterday. I don't know if his words surprised you, regarding voting in the future on Catalonia remaining in Europe.

President of the Government.- They are truly surprising, don't you think, because no-one would think about making this kind of statement. The question is that, given the dynamic Mr Puigdemont has adopted for quite some time now, this is not quite as surprising now. Now nothing he says surprises me.

Just look, Tarradellas said a few years ago that anything can happen in politics, except ridicule and yet, unfortunately, I believe we are now seeing many things from some political leaders that border on the ridiculous.

P. Piqueras.- At any event, let's look at those words that are, to some extent, an invitation to follow the path that the United Kingdom took to end up with Brexit. Let's listen to him: Puigdemont said, "There are perhaps not too many people that want to form part of this European Union of Mr Juncker and Mr Tajani. I am in favour of the European Union, I am in favour of the Euro and I will work to change the European Union and to strengthen the Euro. But, in the end, in the same way as everything we have done to date, the people of Catalonia should also take a decision on this matter".

Today he hasn't clarified anything but rather has insisted that he is the defender of the Euro. I imagine that after all the criticism there has been, even within his own party, that this has affected him somewhat, don't you think?

President of the Government.- This idea of criticising Mr Juncker, who is the President of the European Commission, and or Mr Tajani, who is the President of the European Parliament, makes little sense, because the vast majority of the more than 700 MEPs in the European Parliament have defended the position that Spain has defended; 100% of European Governments and even all the regional governments where this issue has been raised. In other words, they haven't been supported by anyone, have they? This is one of the main lies throughout this process.

They said "they would be helped by Europe", "they will recognise us"… This is all absolutely false, among other things, because this whole process that Mr Puigdemont set in motion is a process that goes against the principles and basic values of the European Union itself, such as the rule of law, legal certainty, and respect for the rights of minorities. All of this has been wiped out by Mr Puigdemont, and those who support him, and it is clear that no-one in Europe will support him, as has indeed been borne out.

P. Piqueras.- Don't you think that Mr Puigdemont's fear at this time, that is the day after, in other words today, is that he will have been seen to be aligned with the nationalists and populists, like Le Pen, the Northern League and Nigel Farage?

President of the Government.- Yes, that was the support: Farage, one of the proponents of Brexit, another very sad operation for the United Kingdom and for Europe as a whole; he was supported by the Flemish far-right - four MPs supported him in Parliament; and by a few far-right and far-left extremists in the European Parliament. Very little support, all of it from extremists and all of it from people that have no other interest in Europe except for it to go badly and clearly this problem doesn't help Europe at all.

P. Piqueras.- Do you believe that there is a kind of international plot to weaken Europe and, as has been mentioned on some occasions, its origin lies somewhere in Russia?

President of the Government.- You can't make statements, far less as the President of the Government, without evidence.

P. Piqueras.- Your minister did; he said "Russian territory". I am not saying the government.

President of the Government.- Russian territory. Yes, that is true. That happened in the case of some of the false accounts. 55% of the accounts dealing with the topic of Catalonia were false and came from Russia", and 30% from Venezuela. That is an objective fact.

We also saw something similar with the Brexit, during the French elections, with strong support for Le Pen, and strong support for the far-right in the recent German elections. In other words, whenever someone stands against the traditional parties, democratic parties, pro-European parties, there is always this kind of support.

P. Piqueras.- Is Catalonia another link in this chain?

President of the Government.- In reality, all the approaches adopted by Mr Puigdemont have been in a similar vein to all these political forces that I have just mentioned.  Just remember that he said that "in Catalonia, the Constitution does not exist; and neither does the Statute of Autonomy". He invented a parallel legality.

Something happened in Catalonia that is unprecedented, which is that there was a plenary session of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia on 6 and 7 September at which the opposition was not allowed to participate. This is when it was said that the Spanish Constitution was not in force in Catalonia and when they approved the laws on the referendum and the Transience Act. This was when the law and the Constitution were wiped out. In other words, something truly incredible in a democratic country such as Spain.

P. Piqueras.- A little after, exactly a month ago… We said this at the beginning - it is now a month since the approval to trigger Article 155 of the Constitution and apply it in Catalonia. What has changed since then, President of the Government?

President of the Government.- Many things have changed since then, and believe me that taking the decision to trigger Article 155 was not easy. It had to be thought through well and you can only implement this in an exceptional situation and, in all honesty, when someone declares independence in your country that is a truly exceptional situation.

What has changed? Firstly, we have returned to legality; secondly, elections have been called in accordance with the law, and thirdly, we are now in a far more normal situation. Just look, this happened a month ago and I should state that the public servants in Catalonia, after such a major and traumatic change as the one that has taken place, are fulfilling their duties and doing so well. I received a figure today that showed that in this month in which the Government of Spain has been acting in Catalonia, invoices have been paid to suppliers for a sum of a little over 1.5 billion euros.

In other words, the public authorities are working normally, calmly and the goal now is that after the elections to be held on 21 December, Catalonia will return to a period of calm, co-existence and normality, and that the economic recovery can continue. This has affected the economy of Catalonia at this time.

P. Piqueras.- The pro-independence followers insist, however, that this is an anti-democratic act, not only due to triggering Article 155 but also because of imprisoning some of the regional councillors.

President of the Government.- Article 155 is a democratic action, because Article 155 is contained in the Spanish Constitution which was approved by the vast majority of Members of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament in 1978, and also backed by the vast majority of Spanish citizens. This article exists in Spain and in many other countries in the European Union. It is an article that states that in exceptional circumstances the State is entitled to defend itself and, when someone unilaterally declares independence, and ignores all the laws approved by the people, the State is entitled, and indeed obliged, to defend itself and to defend its citizens.

Hence, this is a highly democratic article; what is not democratic is to say, "here, because I say so, by a majority, the Spanish Constitution does not exist; I can call a referendum because I say so by a majority and I approve a new Constitution, which is the Transience Act, because I say so by a majority". Those are very clear and harsh attacks on democracy and justify and oblige the government to take a decision which, I repeat, is an exceptional decision. And as it was exceptional, I wanted it to go hand-in-hand with a call for regional elections so that citizens could take the decisions that they saw fit and opportune.

P. Piqueras.- Would it be a miracle to see an electoral upset in Catalonia on 21 December?

President of the Government.- The decision that people take is never a miracle, but rather the result of the will of those citizens and I am convinced that things will go well for those of us that believe in the law, for those of us that believe in the rule of rule, for those of us that believe that governors are the first people under an obligation to obey the law, for those of us that believe that we must respect the rights of minorities and for those of us that believe in national sovereignty and in the unity of Spain. I am convinced that things will go well.

P. Piqueras.- Mr Puigdemont has said in Brussels, or those close to Mr Puigdemont have said, that he may return on the 21st. In fact, today he said, "I will be in Spain", well, in Catalonia. Do you believe he will come back on the 21st and that they will try and arrest him? And what will happen if he does come back?

President of the Government.- I have absolutely no idea. Given the things that Mr Puigdemont has said and done, we might expect anything from him because, just look, whoever thought someone would flee his own country and go to another country in the European Union, in this case Belgium, and expect that the latter would support his intentions.

I just don't know. At this time, Mr Puigdemont cannot come back to Spain because the Belgian justice system has forbidden this. In the event that Belgian justice allows him to come back, we don't know what will happen. Some people say that this may indeed have an effect or that this may be beneficial to him. I just don't know and I don't believe that I am the person to speculate on this.

P. Piqueras.- President of the Government, I would like you to listen to something, because Carles Puigdemont, from Brussels, has just said that there are other possibilities aside from independence. Let's listen to him, "Is there any Spanish proposal for Catalonia, because we are willing to listen? We propose a solution, which is independence, because we believe this could work very well, but, is it the only one? Of course not."

Do you believe there are other possibilities, other models of understanding?

President of the Government.- Yes, there is one very important model which is called obeying the law. Yes, you can be pro-independence in Spain. That is allowed. All ideas can be argued for. What you cannot do is run roughshod over the law and say "I am going to call a referendum here because I want to", preventing the rest of the people of Spain from giving their opinion on their own country, on such an important part of their country as Catalonia. The right to decide on Spain belongs to all the people of Spain, not just part of them. You are entitled to give your opinion on Catalonia and I am entitled to give my opinion on Castile-La Mancha and on Madrid, and on the Canary Islands. That is the right to decide of all the people of Spain.

Mr Puigdemont is perfectly entitled to think whatever he wants. The question is that he is under an obligation to obey the law and to obey the Constitution because, if not, we will be back where we were in the past with the law of the jungle. The law is what protects the rights of people.

P. Piqueras.- However, you have said recently that we will need to reform what needs reforming. What parts of the Constitution are you referring to by saying this?

President of the Government.- I don't remember exactly what I said. I say that the Constitution can be…

P. Piqueras.- You even made a commitment to Pedro Sánchez, it would seem, to reform the Constitution.

President of the Government.- No, to talk. There may be a great deal to talk about in relation to the reform of the Constitution, the question is that we should now go a little beyond simply saying that "we are going to reform the Constitution". What must be done is to say what needs to be done. We are going to talk about content.

I am willing to talk. The reform of the Constitution was not initially among my priorities; it did not appear in my election manifesto. I believe that there are other much more important and urgent things to do in Spain; but I will not, of course, refuse to talk, above all if this can help solve problems. Now, one thing must be decided and this should be said clearly: the reform of the Constitution cannot be undertaken, in any circumstance, as a reward for those who sought to wipe out the Constitution.

P. Piqueras.- We are going to listen to Pedro Sánchez, who today made a very clear request to you, "Mr Rajoy, you made a commitment to me to open the gate to the major transformations that our country so badly needs within a period of six months. I ask you to clarify the doubts surrounding this and to keep your word".

He is talking about a commitment to reform.

President of the Government.- Yes, I have spoken with him. When we spoke about Article 155 and many other things, I felt it was key for the Socialist Party to back the government, because we were talking about the unity of Spain, and about national sovereignty. These are the most important issues that affect us as Spaniards.

Mr Sánchez said to me that he would like to set up a committee and I said to him that I agreed. We are going to set up a committee, we are going to talk and we are going to see what conclusions the committee reaches, but work has not started on this for the time being. I hope that they will start. I will be constructive but, I repeat, the results from this committee cannot be a reward for those who want to wipe out the Spanish Constitution, because that would be ridiculous and I believe this would be a bad message to send out to everyone.

P. Piqueras.- President of the Government, who would have said just a year ago that the things we have recently seen in the last month and a half were going to happen? Can you believe all of this?

President of the Government.- I believe it because I have seen it.

P. Piqueras.- Because it is happening.

President of the Government.- This has only one explanation, which is that certain people who have done what should not be done in a democracy and which, for this reason, received the support of no-one in the end, which is to bypass the decisions that must be taken by a majority of the people of Spain. They didn't care about anything. They resolved to do certain things that they were fully aware that I could not authorise and that they couldn't do. In the end, they took things right down to the wire and perhaps thought that the State was unable to defend itself, because it did not have the instruments available or that the President of the Government was going to look the other way. But you will appreciate that the President of the Government of Spain, whether that be me or someone else, cannot and will not permit Spain to be carved up under any circumstance whatsoever.

Perhaps they calculated things badly. They got things wrong, they broke the law and they did not realise that Spain is a great nation. It has a Constitution that has legitimate and legal instruments available to defend itself.

P. Piqueras.- And what happened on the day of the trial? That is, why did Mr Puigdemont go from being on the verge of calling elections, after extremely long negotiations, after many hours of negotiations, to deciding to opt for the independence of Catalonia?

President of the Government.- I don't know. I should also say that the negotiations with Mr Puigdemont would have been with Esquerra or with the ANC. He obviously didn't negotiate anything whatsoever with the government.

Mr Puigdemont knew perfectly well what he had to do because he was only asked one question. Have you declared the independence of Catalonia? And yet, he did not want to answer this question. And then, following that, he declared independence.

Listen, do you believe that there is a single country in the world - just think, a single country in the world - that can allow or that can accept that part of its country unilaterally declares independence? That is just not possible. Just imagine that happening in France, in Germany or in the United Kingdom. That is simply not possible. It has never happened and nor will it happen. And that is what is surprising, that this has not been understood by those people who were…

P. Piqueras.- Didn't you have a document sent by Mr Puigdemont that day, a specific document calling early elections?

President of the Government.- No, I didn't… I wasn't warned that early elections were going to be called. Then I read many things. I know that he spoke with some political forces and with many people who, with good intentions, tried to offer a little bit of reasons and common sense to all this. The impression conveyed to the public as a whole is that Mr Puigdemont had decided to call elections, but that he was then put under pressure from the CUP and from various extremist groups. In reality…

A governor must listen to people, a governor must listen to what people out in the street are saying, but a governor must also have a personality to take a decision and to act in line with the general interest, and he mustn't get scared because there are 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 demonstrators calling him a "traitor". A good governor does not do that.

P. Piqueras.- I wanted you to listen to something, and let me know your personal impression, what you feel. I refer to the words spoken by Marta Rovira, General Secretary of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya [Republic Left of Catalonia], on the threats and of making blood run in the streets of Catalonia. Let's listen to her. "What the Regional Government of Catalonia was not prepared to accept were scenes of extreme violence, with people dying in the streets, because that was how the State wanted to reach us". What was your impression when you heard this or when you were told about this?

President of the Government.- No, I heard it. Let me tell you something: I should not get angry in public and hence, I will keep calm. This is a lie. Furthermore, it is slanderous and shameful that things should have gone this far. I am not talking about politics, but about life itself.

And all of this stems from a process of huge lies: first it was said that Europe was going to support them; then it was said that if they achieved independence that they were not going to leave Europe and then it was said that this was not going to affect the economy. How can they say that this does not affect the economy? 2,700 companies have already left and, unfortunately, we are now seeing figures on consumption and tourism. And this can be fixed; this can be fixed by returning to a situation of normality. But this has been a process in which many people have been harmed, although these people have acted in good faith and this is simply the culmination of all the lies. In other words, she shouldn't have said that.

P. Piqueras.- Will you sue her over this?

President of the Government.- I haven't thought about it yet, but this is clearly slanderous. Believe when I say this is slander.

P. Piqueras.- They are hiding behind the violence on 1 October and saying that there was more violence in the streets, among other things, among other threats.

President of the Government.- Please! That is slanderous, that is a lie, that is untrue and, of course, the government has not threatened absolutely anyone. If someone has been threatened, let them say who threatened them; let them say that. That is very easy. If they can dare to say a lie of that magnitude, why can't they dare to say where they got this information from?

P. Piqueras.- In relation to events of 1 October, in relation to the violence, at the end of all this time, and after seeing what happened, the criticism that also prevailed at that time, as we heard, and the repercussions overseas of the images of violence, do you acknowledge that some mistakes were made that day as regards the actions taken by the law enforcement agencies?

President of the Government.- I must support the State law enforcement agencies, the police and the Guardia Civil because it was an extremely difficult situation and they stood up to it and fulfilled their duty. And then, of course, no human project is perfect; but I should say that, in general, the law enforcement agencies did their duty. Under the order of the judiciary, they tried to avoid - I repeat, under the orders of the judiciary - a referendum being held that the Constitutional Court had said was illegal. And one of the many consequences of acting illegally and ignoring the rulings handed down by the courts is that this may have certain undesired consequences.

At any event, I should say that yes it is true that there was criticism in Europe; but it is also true that there was no-one, no-one at all, not a single country of the 28 that make up the European Union, not a single parliamentary group in the European Parliament, except Mr Farage and certain other extremists, who gave their support to what the Regional Government of Catalonia did.

P. Piqueras.- Do you believe they there was disloyalty by the Mossos d'Esquadra [Regional Police Force of Catalonia] towards the Guardia Civil and the National Police?

President of the Government.- I am not going to judge the actions of one side or the other. We applied Article 155. We now have someone heading up the Mossos d'Esquadra who is entrusted with citizen security, someone that I believe is doing things reasonably well and who is being instructed by the legitimate government that exists at this time in Catalonia.

P. Piqueras.- By the way, some of those people who are in prison are using Article 155 to get out of jail. Do you believe it would be better if they campaigned from the streets?

President of the Government.- Of course, the decisions taken as to who goes to prison or not are down to the judiciary. We must be very aware… Above all, of course, I head up one of the three State powers, the government. I cannot voice my opinion on the decisions adopted by the judges or public prosecutors. There are others who are happy to do this. I will not and I will respect the decisions taken, whatever they may be. I have respected the decisions taken on the regional councillors and the decisions on the Board of the Regional Parliament, which were different, by the way, because this is something that is down to the judiciary.

Hence, I believe that we must all respect their decisions, because the basic principle of democracy is the separation of powers: the government is the executive, the legislative approves the laws and controls the executive, and the judiciary concerns itself with ensuring that the law is upheld.

P. Piqueras.- We have spoken about the criticism regarding how things were handled in recent days, but you had clear support from the former socialist Prime Minister of France, Mr Valls, who said what would happen in France in similar circumstances; let's listen to him, "The justice system would also state this very clearly: you cannot organise a consultation, a referendum; a region cannot proclaim its independence". You just referred to this a moment ago, didn't you, about countries in general. This is what was specifically said about France. What do you think about this?

President of the Government.- I think that is great. I called Mr Valls when I heard this statement and I spoke with him. But this is what everyone in Europe thinks; anything else would be absurd.

Just imagine if now North Rhine-Westphalia decided to unilaterally declare independence from Germany, or if Texas decided, without the North American Administration saying anything on the matter, to become independent, and if they completely ignored the law, and if the minority parties were not allowed to oppose this because they were not allowed to speak in Parliament.

We have witnessed some extremely serious events, some of the most serious that have taken place since Spain recovered democracy in 1977.

P. Piqueras.- However, the impression we have is that the pro-independence side has won the battle of image in many places around Europe, above all in those places where this is being conveyed through the social media, don't you feel?

President of the Government.- They haven't won any battle because, as I said before, out of 28 countries in the European Union - 28 countries - not a single one has supported them. They only have the support of the extremist parties in the European Parliament. The vast majority of the media outlets, the important media in Europe and beyond, are in favour, as is only right, of the law and the rule of law being followed.

P. Piqueras.- I was principally referring to the world of the social media.

President of the Government.- In the world of the social media, there are many people who do and say one thing, but the world of the social media is not democracy. In reality, in what is truly important, the battle of the vast majority of what the European Union is today, there are no doubts whatsoever. Furthermore, they cannot win. Whoever breaks the law and does not respect others, whoever decides to do whatever they deem fit and opportune, cannot win because this means breaking the rules of co-existence and returning to eras that we have happily overcome.

The law is the guarantee of co-existence, of our rights. When you try and wipe this out, it means we are in the survival of the fittest, something which, fortunately, we have now put behind us. There was a time when the strongest won, wasn't there? But not now with the law on our side.

P. Piqueras.- However, what it would seem exists, and this is being said by people at your side, is that there has been a total social breakdown in Catalonia, which has been split into two sides.

President of the Government.- You are right. And now, the main goal in Catalonia is to start a new era and this new era must be one of calm - people want peace and they want their leaders to do their jobs - and a period of co-existence. Many people have argued with their friends and there are even problems within families. An effort must be made to heal the wounds. And then we need to deal with the economy, as I also mentioned to you earlier. Things were going very well and indeed, still are. We have spent the last four years creating half a million jobs a year. This is going to affect us now but, if we are capable of establishing a situation of certain normality as from January, things will continue to go well in Spain.

But one of the things we must do is all make a joint effort to heal the wounds.

P. Piqueras.- What part has so-called indoctrination played in this whole social breakdown? Where has this indoctrination come from? What can be done, what do you intend to do to ensure that something like this does not happen in the same way again?

President of the Government.- I believe that we must teach people a great deal and that is not only… You ask me what I must do. A country is not only its government; a country, fortunately, means the people that live there. That means 46 million people in Spain.

But of course, people have been deceived a great deal. To say that "Spain is robbing us"… That is a lie. Spain has never robbed Catalonia. Spain is supportive as are the Spanish people. When we came to power there was a crisis and there were four or five autonomous regions that were bankrupt, that had no access to financing in the markets. We set in motion the Supplier Payment Plan, the Regional Liquidity Fund and we managed to ensure that three or four regions, including Catalonia, did not go bankrupt. That was something very positive and things are now going better.

I believe that we all need to learn. We need to realise that we have done many things together over the course of many years. Catalonia is a highly mixed society. Many people have gone to Catalonia to look for work and forge their lives there from many other parts of Spain; a great many people from Galicia. I know a great many people from Galicia in Catalonia, who have made a living there. Many have got married there. Together, things have gone much better for us than if we were separated. Rest assured of that.

P. Piqueras.- However, the people of Catalonia, Mr President of the Government, talk about indifference, a certain disdain by Spain towards them, an attitude of not listening to what they call for.

President of the Government.- We have always listened to what they call for. Just look, back in 1978 the Spanish people were capable of drafting a Constitution and there were Spaniards then who had been in Franco's government and others who had been in exile. They were capable of reaching an agreement. Spain was a centralised State whereas the State today has the largest degree of regional self-rule in the world. Spain has never before had such a level of regional self-rule as it does now and, furthermore, greater than anywhere else in the world. We have listened to them.

P. Piqueras.- Our time is running out, President of the Government, but I didn't want to end without mentioning something that has happened today and that is the death of the Chief Public Prosecutor of Catalonia, José María Romero de Tejada, just a few days after the Chief Public Prosecutor of Spain died, both due to illness. I don't know whether you have anything to say at this time, President of the Government.

President of the Government.- Yes, that these two people symbolise many public workers that have defended the State from different positions of responsibility during this whole process. They are people who are loyal to their country and to their Constitution. They are worthy people and people who offer a good example to many others, just as many other public servants have shown their colours, worked hard and not enjoyed what has been a very tough time. They both stand as a symbol for Spain.

P. Piqueras.- Mr President of the Government, thank you for coming here again, to the Tele-5 News programme. A very good night to you.

President of the Government.- Thank you very much. Good night.

 (Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation