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Interview with President of the Government on programme "Más de uno", on Onda Cero

Madrid, Wednesday 24 January 2018

Carlos Alsina.- Mr Rajoy has headed up the Government of Spain since December 2011; he has now held this post for six years and has been kind enough to come to our programme here this morning. Good day, President of the Government.

President of the Government.- Good day.

C. Alsina.- Goodness me! The expectations you arouse wherever you go! Don't think that people come and see me every day because, furthermore, they would have to get up very early.

President of the Government.- Well…

C. Alsina.- I have been told that you have lost your voice a little.

President of the Government.- Yes, but I am slowly getting it back. I have been like this for two or three days, because I have travelled a lot: I was in Seville on Saturday, in Valencia and Castellón on Monday and yesterday in Leon; but I am fine now. Thank you very much.

C. Alsina.- Let me give you some throat tablets that I have here.

I have 1,000 questions that I what to ask you, as you can imagine. Does it bother you when you are referred to as M. Rajoy?

President of the Government.- No. People refer to me in many different ways. When you are the President of the Government, you have to be well aware that you are in the front line and that, hence, you are subject to criticism, comment and sometimes even praise.

C. Alsina.- This thing about M. Rajoy is a habit that some leaders of Podemos and also some members of the Socialist Party have picked up when referring to you; what they are trying to do is remind people of how you are mentioned or referred to in the Bárcenas papers, those that show the People's Party slush fund.

President of the Government.- They've been doing that for 10 years now. They don't have much imagination. They should be making proposals that benefit the people of Spain instead of just focusing on that one subject; but, at the end of the day, everyone is free to do whatever they deem fit and opportune. I have taken the decisions that I needed to take and I have worked, and continue to do so, to ensure that these things don't ever happen again.

C. Alsina.- Last week in the trial being held in the National High Court, President of the Government, nine business leaders from Valencia gave statements to the court saying that they took on the election expenses of your party in the Region of Valencia in an unlawful manner. Mr Correa, Mr Crespo and Mr Pérez have also given statements at this same trial. We are now going to see what Ricardo Costa has to say, who is the former General Secretary of the PP in Valencia. Does the fact that these statements have now been given to a court change anything for you regarding what you know about the funding of your party in that region?

President of the Government.- I didn't know anything about what you are telling me and I will abide by whatever the courts have to say. What I do want to say is what the party had to do has now been done and none of those people who are now appearing before the courts are members of the People's Party anymore. And, I repeat, we have now done our homework and it falls to the judges to do theirs now, and then for everyone to respect and abide by their decisions.

C. Alsina.- But, after your party has done its work, do you know anything about the illegal funding of the PP in Valencia?

President of the Government.- I don't. We were certainly never told about this.

C. Alsina.- Who? The former leaders of the PP in Valencia?

President of the Government.- Yes. They never told us about that and they have never admitted that this in fact took place.

C. Alsina .- But, didn't your party hold an internal investigation about the funding for the PP in the era of Camps?

President of the Government.- I imagine that our treasury department did what it had to do.

C. Alsina.- So you don't know anything about it then?

President of the Government.- That's not important now. We are waiting to see what the courts decide.

C. Alsina.- In other words, when you are aware that there are a group of business leaders in the Region of Valencia that claim that they have illegally provided party funding, it is not down to you to carry out an internal inquiry to find out what happened there?

President of the Government.- Nobody you mentioned is any longer a member of the People's Party, and hence, the internal inquiry will be performed by the courts. We demand political accountability and the judges other forms of accountability, which they will have to demand.

C. Alsina.- If Mr Mas is the ultimate politician accountable for funding Convergència Democrática, then isn't Mr Rajoy the ultimate politician accountable for funding the PP?

President of the Government.- I don't know who said that Mr Mas is the ultimate politician accountable. I believe that in this life we all have our responsibilities, and sometimes you have collaborators who do what they shouldn't do, but that does not mean that anyone that heads up a large organisation is responsible for everything that all the members of this organisation do, which may amount to hundreds of thousands of people.

C. Alsina.- So even now, and with everything that has come out, President of the Government, do you still maintain the good opinion you publicly expressed of Francisco Camps some time back?

President of the Government.- Mr Camps has been on trail, as you know, and has been acquitted each time. Mr Camps has taken on certain political responsibilities, that were very tough, and I believe it is not right for me to speak about what Mr Camps has done, since he has not been a member of our political force for many years now. But the responsibilities he has had to take on have indeed been very tough and whenever he has been on trial he has been acquitted. I don't know whether it makes much sense to review what someone has done who is not actively involved in politics now and who the courts have not sentenced, and to be constantly looking in to these matters. We could talk for an hour about this issue but I believe I have little more to contribute in addition to everything I have said over the years.

C. Alsina.- Mr Camps is not a leader of the PP but he is a member; he still remains a party member.

President of the Government.- He may be a party member, I don't know. Yes, he probably is.

C. Alsina.- Are you unaware as to whether Mr Camps is a member of the People's Party?

President of the Government.- Well…

C. Alsina.- President of the Government, I know that this is an issue that is not easy or pleasant for you, but do you appreciate, when you have the "Púnica affair", the "Gürtel affair", the "Brugal affair" and the Palma Arena affair" when Mr Matas headed up the Regional Government of the Balearic Islands, that it is plausible for the public to believe that there was a standard system in place for the illegal funding of your party?

President of the Government.- I don't think that all of the cases you have mentioned were cases of illegal funding of my party; rather, I think that these were actions by specific individuals. You have mentioned some cases which, clearly, are now before the courts. In all of these cases, none of the people who were involved are members of the People's Party anymore, which is what falls to the People's Party to ensure. And, although there may be seven, eight, ten or fifteen people who have been involved in these cases, the People's Party has almost 700,000 members and 698,000 of these have only been decent and honourable people their whole lives. And I believe that they truly represent what the People's Party is.

C. Alsina.- Undoubtedly.

President of the Government.- It is important that you also assign that the value it deserves.

C. Alsina.- Do you believe that these members, and also the People's Party voters that trust in your political formation, are satisfied with the manner in which the management of the People's Party has handled the issue of the cases of alleged corruption?

President of the Government.- The People's Party has won the last three general elections held in Spain and it is clear the People's Party's voters are well aware of what has happened in the People's Party; they are fully aware of what has happened in the Socialist Party and they are fully aware of the actions taken by all of the political forces as a whole, that are represented in the Lower House of Parliament. And as a result of this knowledge, above all, they make a value judgment and take a decision.

The People's Party has not been perfect, that is clear, but nor have others; and in the end, people decide whatever they think is best for them. Perhaps there are some people who are perfect, that are members of organisations that have never made a mistake, where no-one has ever done anything wrong; but people have a certain intuition and know how to perceive how things really are, and know that there are some organisations which do indeed make mistakes, but these same people also positively value the things that are not talked about quite so often. Hence, for the time being, the people have placed their trust in our party, I thank them for that and will work hard to ensure they continue doing so in the future.

As I said before, we have approved many laws to make it more difficult for these cases of corruption to take place. There are many people who are no longer members of the People's Party. We have demanded political responsibility. The judges and prosecutors have acted with total and absolute independence, and whoever has wanted to give their opinion has done so. Hence, we have done whatever is in our hands, but for some people that is simply not enough, and nothing will ever be enough for them; but there are other people who also acknowledge the efforts made and work done by the People's Party.

C. Alsina.- The party Ciudadanos, which has been the main parliamentary ally of the government and which backed your investiture, has imposed the dismissal of Pilar Barreiro as a member of the Upper House of Parliament as a condition to sit down and negotiate the Budget for 2018 with you, because she is involved in the "Púnica affair". Will you accept this condition or not?

President of the Government.- I am not going to get involved in a controversy with the party Ciudadanos, among other things, because no-one from that party has said to me what you have just mentioned. I have had talks about the Budget, and it is my intention to continue doing that in the future.

C. Alsina.- Ciudadanos hasn't said to you that this is the condition they have imposed?

President of the Government.- No.

C. Alsina.- And if they do?

President of the Government.- We will see when they do that, if they do, in fact, do that, but no-one has said that to me to date.

C. Alsina.- At today's date, are you still confident about pushing through the new Budget for this year, for 2018?

President of the Government.- Yes, yes.

C. Alsina.- We have already said that in today's papers there is talk about you developing Plan B given the possibility that Ciudadanos may not support the Budget and that, hence, the new accounts cannot be approved and it will be necessary to extend last year's.

President of the Government.- No, we are not developing Plan B. What we are doing is engaging in talks to try and approve the Budget.

C. Alsina.- And are the talks going well, with Ciudadanos I mean?

President of the Government.- I will tell you about that when the talks are finalised. I believe that when negotiations are under way, the best method to ensure that they go wrong is to talk to the radio or, if you prefer, as this is a radio programme, by broadcasting it on television, don't you think? That is, you have to give it some time. These things, as you are aware, are not easy. Just look, they held elections in Germany in September and have spent the last four months negotiating a government programme.

This takes time. Last year we approved them on 31 March and things went very well from an economic point of view, and the Spanish economy… Just look, the risk premium went below 80 points yesterday. Of course, you have to remember I was here when the risk premium stood at above 600 points. Three days ago the rating agencies raised our rating. The only thing I saw when I came to power was a continuous decline; we were even placed on the verge of "junk bonds".

Hence, these aspects mean that the Spanish economy has recovered, it is generating confidence, we can receive financing more cheaply and can continue to create economic growth and jobs, and that is what should concern the President of the Government. So, don't worry, there will be a Budget.  

C. Alsina.- But will this be a new Budget?

President of the Government.- Yes, don't worry. We have one at the moment, don't we? That is, we are with a Budget extension.

C. Alsina.- Yes, of course, because it is only 24 January.

President of the Government.- Yes, of course. Because it has been extended. What I want to say is that the Budget is still in force. We have met last year's deficit target, which was very positive. The deficit rose as high as 9.3% whereas it now stands at 3.1%.

All of these things are positive, and deserve to be mentioned. People are also interested in things that are going well, not just those that are going badly.

C. Alsina.- There will be a new Budget… You have said that you don't want any controversy with Ciudadanos.

President of the Government.- I don't get embroiled in controversy with anyone.

C. Alsina.- Last Saturday, when you were at a People's Party event in Seville, you said that "we are not an amateur party, we are a party with a track record, with experience", which many of us interpreted as meaning that Ciudadanos is an amateur party, because it has never run anything, which thus allows them to come out and say anything.

President of the Government.- Well, quite frankly, they interpreted it wrongly, which doesn't mean that it is true or false; simply that it was badly interpreted. I was just referring to this party…

In Seville, I was primarily referring to the Socialist Party, because there were two or three issues that we cannot put into motion without the agreement of the Socialist Party. For example, with only 137 MPs, it is impossible to approve regional financing, and furthermore, it would be good for the PSOE to take part because they govern in six or seven autonomous regions. Hence, this is another issue on which I believe we should all make an effort, and principally the Socialist Party, because they govern in six or seven autonomous regions and have the votes to do this. So, I was mainly referring to the Socialist Party.

I only made one very specific reference to Ciudadanos on one matter, which was life without parole, because they want to get rid of life without parole, the same as the left does, but we don't. So, I was referring there to all the political parties. That was the only reference I made. Aside from that, everyone can interpret my remarks as they see fit and opportune, and that is wonderful but, of course, when I am asked about this, I have to tell the truth and I am telling you that they misinterpreted my remarks.

C. Alsina.- President of the Government, have you now received the letter from Mr Torrent, the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, who announced that he was going to send a letter proposing a meeting to talk about the situation in the regional parliament and about politics in Catalonia? Have you received this letter? Can we be privy to its contents?

President of the Government.- Yes, but I haven't seen it yet. I know that it has arrived, but I have been away for the last two days, as I said earlier. I have never before held a meeting with any speaker of a regional parliament to see how to organise an investiture session; but there is something I want to say regardless of the fact that I am not going to publicly state what I will say in my letter... When you receive a letter, firstly I believe it is logical for Mr Torrent to receive the letter and then, afterwards, for the general public to find out about the contents; in other words, a procedure that is different to the one employed by him. He told the public, first of all, for everyone to hear about and then he sends it to the addressee who has to read it to see if it has been well translated.

And what I do want to say is that, if the intention is for the government to take a decision that is cannot take because it does not have the power to do so, such as everything related to judicial affairs, then I won't get involved in that. Here you have to respect the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the decisions that the judges take fall to the courts and not to the government. I would like to make that very clear. Fortunately, this is a democracy with a separation of powers.

C. Alsina.- Do you want Mr Puigdemont to return to our country and hence, that he can be present in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, and, at the same time that he can be held accountable before the Supreme Court, or would you prefer Mr Puigdemont to remain in Brussels and forget all about the investiture?

President of the Government.- My preferences are not very important in a situation like this, because the decision has to be taken by Mr Puigdemont and he will do whatever he sees fit and opportune. I have taken the decisions which the government had to take, and which were not easy, by the way, and the decisions were, firstly, to trigger Article 155, which was the first time that this was triggered in our country, and the only time to date. I was able to achieve a consensus with two political forces - the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos - which didn't want to trigger Article 155; I dismissed the Regional Government of Catalonia; I ensured that legality was recovered in Catalonia and I called elections.

Those were my responsibilities. Aside from that, people took the decisions they want in the elections, the judges took the decisions that they believed they had to take pursuant to the law and it is good for everyone here to assume the responsibilities incumbent upon them. Mr Puigdemont can do whatever he deems fit and opportune, but he knows what the rules are and the first rule is that Spain is a democracy, the law is respected in Spain and, when the law is not respected, this has consequences.

C. Alsina.- If the Regional Parliament of Catalonia tries to push through a fraudulent investiture, bending the Regulation of the House on voting from Brussels, it will fall to the Government of Spain to appeal against the decisions of that plenary session. Hence, do you have the legal instruments necessary to prevent the new regional president being fraudulently invested?

President of the Government.- Yes, we do. If that happens, I will go to the Constitutional Court. The most important aspect of the application of Article 155 is that it has sent out a message, which is that Article 155 exists and that democracy in Spain has instruments to defend itself when under attack. That is what article 155 has made clear.

C. Alsina.- Will this appeal have to be lodged once this plenary investiture session has taken place?

President of the Government.- No, this appeal will have to be lodged after the administrative action that causes this. We cannot lodge an appeal because someone has made statements to the media. If someone says "Mr Puigdemont is going to appear here on television", we cannot lodge an appeal against this; but we can lodge an appeal against the decision taken by the parliamentary Board which states that "Mr Puigdemont can act in this manner". So, that is when we will do it. You always have to respect rules and procedures, because that is the way that we can respect ourselves.

C. Alsina.- To put it another way, the Government of Spain has not resigned itself to the impossibility of avoiding Mr Puigdemont being invested.

President of the Government.- No, not at all. The Government of Spain will do everything possible to ensure that the law is upheld in Spain and that is our obligation. And I will uphold that obligation, as I did when Article 155 was triggered.

C. Alsina.- Did you feel that the speech by the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, Mr Torrent, was conciliatory?

President of the Government.- It is not a question of being conciliatory or not. The Speaker of such an important institution as the Regional Parliament of Catalonia has many obligations. It is obviously good to be conciliatory, but the first obligation he is under is to obey the law, which is what did not happen in the last term of office. So, in a country where those governing start to break the law in such a flagrant manner and in such an unquestionable fashion, that means things are not going well. That is why what I want to happen now in Catalonia is, firstly, that there are institutions that respect the law, whatever they may think; and then, recover, once and for all, institutional, economic and social normality, which is what I believe the vast majority of people want.

C. Alsina.- But just look, they are now saying that in the event that Mr Puigdemont cannot finally be invested, because this is annulled or suspended by the Constitutional Court, then Plan B will be to propose Mr Junqueras as regional president, who has been remanded in custody, although it is true that he has the full use of his political rights. In other words, he could be invested as regional president. To what extent would you be bothered by the fact that the new President of the Regional Government of Catalonia is remanded in custody?

President of the Government.- That wouldn't bother me at all. That is a decision that is down to the courts. It is for the judges to decide, in the event that what you said happens, and I am not sure whether it will indeed happen; I am not clear about that, for sure. It would fall to the courts to take the decision as to whether he could stand or not. Hence, what I have to do is uphold and respect the decisions of the courts.

Let's see if we can separate out the responsibilities that fall to each party, because that is the only way to be organised and operate. Now, politicians have a very important responsibility and, according to the decision taken we will see if they want to continue in an era of instability that doesn't help anybody or if, in contrast, they are going to try and build something, albeit from a very difficult position. I would like to see everyone obey the law and try to re-build, and we will see if normality is recovered because, of course, it is not reasonable that more than 3,000 companies have left Catalonia whilst these people seem not to be concerned by this in the slightest.

I would like this saga to be closed off as soon as possible. I will do everything that is in my hands, but, of course, what I am not going to do, and I believe that this is clear at this point, is to break the law, in the same way as I didn't do so before, and I warned both Mr Mas and Mr Puigdemont of that.

C. Alsina.- I am sure there are many citizens, President of the Government, and you know this as well, who ask, "how is what is happening with Mr Puigdemont possible, someone who has been charged by the Supreme Court with very serious offences, that are punishable with many years in prison, someone who has fled the country and does not want to be held accountable to the justice system; and yet he is living a perfectly normal life in the European Union, travelling wherever he wants and giving a statement to the press each day to trash the Spanish State without any repercussions whatsoever? I am sure there are people who are wondering, can't the Government of Spain do anything to ensure that this situation does not continue happening, since we get on so well with the Governments of Belgium and of Denmark? Haven't you raised this anomalous situation in the talks you have between governments?

President of the Government.- The Government of Spain can do many things, and indeed has done so. The Government of Spain dismissed a regional government that was running roughshod over the law. And, of course, it might seem easy to dismiss a regional government that is running roughshod over the law, but it is the first time that this has happened in Europe, at the very least, since the Second World War. There is no precedent of any other government being dismissed by another government. That was a tough, difficult and complex decision. Them the public prosecutor's office acted; the justice system acted and all of the countries in Europe supported the Government of Spain, all of them, without exception. They didn't receive the slightest bit of relevant support; of course you always have two or three extremist MPs, four Flemish radicals and the suchlike.

At this time, Mr Puigdemont is subject to an arrest warrant issued by the courts, which is the appropriate institution, in Spain. If Mr Puigdemont comes here, he will be arrested under this warrant. But it was the courts that decided not to ask for this arrest warrant for the rest of Europe, and hence, we should respect the decisions taken by the courts, something that I obviously do.

C. Alsina.- Mr Zoido has pledged to all of us that Mr Puigdemont will not arrive clandestinely in Spain, that he will not come in hidden in the boot of a car, as he said yesterday in the programme presented by Susanna Griso, on Antena 3.

President of the Government.- The order received by senior police officers in Spain is exactly that and I am absolutely convinced that they will do everything in their hands to carry that out.

C. Alsina.- I appreciate that it is difficult to offer guarantees, because you also guaranteed that there would be no ballot boxes on 1 October and yet, in the end, the ballot boxes appeared and this disappointed and frustrated many people who believed that there wouldn't be any.

President of the Government.- What we guaranteed was that a referendum would not be held and indeed no referendum was finally held, because there was no electoral commission - as you know, all the members resigned because they were threatened with a 10,000-euro fine per day, and hence without an electoral commission you cannot have an election, as you are well aware - and there was no IT system. Hence, it was not possible to count the votes and in fact, no recount was made; you know that the votes were all just bundled away.

In other words, none of that process had anything to do with a referendum, or with elections worthy of a democratic country. Now, of course, if we want to give any value to those people who went in with the ballot boxes with the voting slips already inside, then we can view that however we deem fit and opportune; but come on, we need to look at the bigger picture, don't we, rather than the little picture, unless we want…

C. Alsina.- The little picture is what gave rise to the police intervening at some polling stations, because we are all aware that the referendum was not valid.

President of the Government.- And that is what is important, looking at the bigger picture.

C. Alsina.- But, what sense does it make for the police to intervene unless it is to take the ballot boxes away, while everyone knew that the referendum was not valid, in order to meet the government's commitment not to have any ballot boxes that day?

President of the Government.- Police operations are not planned by the President of the Government, they are planned by senior police officers who, by the way, I believe have made a tremendous effort over the course of this whole time in Catalonia, against an extremely difficult backdrop. Logically, as happens in so many other walks of life, when you have to take decisions, sometimes it is good to take one, and sometimes another; it is sometimes better to wait and sometimes better to find the right moment... I will not get into an argument about decisions on judicial operations, because that makes no sense, and far less to give my opinion about them. Let's let each party do its job and each one knows what it knows. Quite frankly, I don't know anything about police operations.

C. Alsina.- You must know something; after all, you were the Minister for Home Affairs.

President of the Government.- Yes, I was the Minister for Home Affairs, and that allows me to perhaps have a little more knowledge than others who have this by way of what is known as innate knowledge, as you know. But, in short…

C. Alsina.- Me, for example.

President of the Government.- No, I wasn't referring to you. Don't get the wrong idea.

C. Alsina.- Which I do, President of the Government, because I don't have the knowledge you have from your time in charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

President of the Government.- You don't need to have one, in other words, don't concern yourself with that. That's just how things are.

C. Alsina.- On the evening of 21 December, the evening of the regional elections in Catalonia, when you first became aware of the results, what did you think, first of all, that the pro-independence movement was going to return an absolute majority - it is true that its percentage of votes did not rise, it is right there on 47%, but return an absolute majority of seats - and, above all, when you saw your party end up with only four regional MPs and suffering? What went through your head on that election night, apart from disappointment, I suppose?

President of the Government.- Logically, as the President of the Government that I am, although I am also from the People's Party, my goal was to ensure that the pro-independence parties did not win an absolute majority. That was my goal and I imagine that of many other people and of the rest of the non-independence parties that are in Parliament. Hence, that wasn't good news for me, although there was one relevant fact - they received fewer votes and now hold fewer seats than previously. Of course, they have more than I would have liked but at least we can start to see things heading in the right direction.

I am not pleased with my party's results. These were very bad results, but results change from one election to the next, because, just look, in 2015 Ciudadanos was the second largest party in Catalonia, in 2016 it was the sixth largest party and we beat them in all four provinces, and we even beat PDeCAT in the largest constituency, which is Barcelona, and we now have this new situation.

So, election results change, because people change their vote, and they are entitled to do so, and in one election they consider they should give their support to one person; yet in another election they give their support to someone else. What has happened in Catalonia is that there has been strong use of the tactical vote and people felt that Ciudadanos could be where the voting was most concentrated and that they could end up with a majority. In the end, unfortunately, they did not win a majority, but Ciudadanos was the leading force and, although this may be symbolic, there is a certain value in the fact that, for the first time, a non-nationalist party has won the regional elections in Catalonia.

C. Alsina.- In your speech the other day to the National Executive Committee of your party, you said, in allusion to the results of the PP in Catalonia, that "as a party, we have undoubtedly made mistakes, and we admit that, and we will have to learn from these mistakes". What mistakes have you made?

President of the Government.- We are looking into that. We still have to see what the post-election results are. Clearly, we will have to strengthen our party structure and we will have to ensure a greater presence, but I am improvising now because we need to sit down and study these things properly. But the decisive factor, and, furthermore, this is not the first time that this has happened in democratic Spain, was the tactical vote. So, people thought that the best thing on this occasion was to vote for Ciudadanos, in the same way as they thought in 2016 that the best thing was to vote for the People's Party and they will do something similar in the next general elections called in Spain.

I believe that analysing the way people vote… I have spent many years in political life and I greatly respect the decisions our citizens take which, if we judge this as a whole and unemotionally, then since 1977 the people of Spain have never made the wrong decision on the major issues.

C. Alsina.- Have you examined your conscience, to put it that way, of the six years that you have headed up the government in relation to the issue of Catalonia, when you find yourself with this result that shows that a man like Mr Puigdemont, which is a fugitive from justice and charged with rebellion, wins almost 1 million votes while Mr García Albiol, who is your party's candidate in Catalonia, barely received 125,000? Have you ever thought, "that I, heading up the Government of Spain, have stopped doing something or am doing something wrong that justifies or may explain this result?

President of the Government.- In the last elections of the Republic in Catalonia, the results between the pro-independence, nationalist and other parties was exactly the same as in the latest elections that have just been held; exactly the same.

I have spent six years in government, but Mr Pujol held absolute majorities, with more than 68 seats, which is a majority, and he even managed to win 72 seats on several occasions. And with me in power, as the President of the Government, in 2016, the People's Party was the third leading political force in the city of Barcelona and Podemos, which is not a separatist party, was the leading political force in Catalonia. So, let's not over-analyse things; normally, and this is what history shows, the nationalist parties tend to win in the general elections but not in the general elections. For many years the Socialist Party won in the general elections but, as far as I can remember, it was never the leading force in the regional elections.

What is important is that we all do our duty and, at this time, those who have least done their duty are Mr Puigdemont and the people who were with him in government, those who broke the law. That is looking at the big picture because, sometimes, we start to analyse whether it is no less than that one party had one, two or three votes… The most important thing is that the responsibility for what has happened in Catalonia, at least 98% of the responsibility, falls to those who have broken the law and those who have launched an absolutely insane project that doesn't lead anywhere and that prejudices everyone.

C. Alsina.- Does that mean, President of the Government, that you do not intend to change any aspect of the Government of Spain's policy on Catalonia, once the situation as to who is the new President of the Regional Government is clarified, once the investiture has been carried out…, and starting from the undeniable fact that the pro-independence forces have an absolute majority in the regional parliament?  Don't you plan to undertake any initiative, or meet with whoever you deem opportune, or propose something in the Lower House of Parliament? Do you have any ideas in mind in this respect?

President of the Government.- I am constantly changing and adapting to the changes that take place in the world. In fact, it is not easy to find a government that has undertaken so many reforms as the government that I head up. Quite frankly, it is not easy because it has reformed such key laws as on budget stability, the energy sector - on which we must continue working - and a reform of the financial system such as has not been seen in our country in over 40 years.

On the issue of Catalonia, I am prepared to talk, and furthermore, that is my obligation, with the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, and I am prepared to talk with the political groups, with those that want to, etc., but there is one thing that I am not prepared to do, and that is break the law. I am not going to do that, because that is my primary and fundamental obligation. A country that has no rules, or has rules that are broken, is a country that will have very serious problems in the future, because the very essence of the law means guaranteeing rights, my rights and the rights of the very weakest to protect them from the strongest. Where the law does not prevail, you have, and allow me to put it this way, the law of the jungle, don't you, which is a bit like the wild west: he who is quickest on the draw or is the strongest.

Hence, that is the only thing that I am not prepared to do; as regards everything else, of course, I am prepared to talk about everything, as I have always been, but we should not forget what has happened in Spain recently. In Spain, what has happened has not been an attempt at dialogue by the Regional Government of Catalonia; but rather, it has been an attempt to force the President of the Government to authorise an illegal referendum and the President of the Government, with staunch support, refused to submit to blackmail or the subsequent threats. We should not forget that.

C. Alsina.- Whenever we analyse the results of the elections in Catalonia, and you also did this in the analysis by the Executive Committee of your party, we all underlined that the pro-independence movement did not win 50%; there is no social majority in Catalonia, which stood below 50%. If, at some point in time, the pro-independence movement exceeded 50% of the votes, would this change the way you read the situation in Catalonia?

President of the Government.- No, because you are perfectly entitled, as a Spaniard, to give your opinion of Catalonia and I, although I was born in Santiago de Compostela, am also perfectly entitled to do so, in the same way as Mr Puigdemont is perfectly entitled to give his opinion on Santiago de Compostela in the event, which I hope never happens, that someone there intends to become another country, even though it does not exist. That is what national sovereignty is, that is Spain and that is what it would seem some people have not yet fully comprehended because, of course, we all live here with slogans that say, "listen, right to decide". Yes, but when you are talking about the right to decide of those people who live in Catalonia, you are taking away the right to decide about their country from the rest of the people of Spain who do not live there when all Spanish are entitled to voice their opinion about our country, which is called Spain. Hence, that would not change anything at all.

There are formulas in the Constitution to do away with national sovereignty, which is what they intend to do through this process, but those who have to decide on national sovereignty are all the people of Spain, at least that will be the case while I am President of the Government.

C. Alsina.- Have you heard of Tabarnia, President of the Government? Have you heard of this place?

President of the Government.- Yes, yes, I have heard about it, and furthermore that appoints as president… But let's see if we are… I can appreciate that there are people who get angry by this sort of thing when these types of initiatives appear, but I am the President of the Government and I have to try and resolve things in accordance with these laws that I have spoken so much about during the morning.

C. Alsina.- But if you think the Tabarnia initiative is engaging, there is nothing wrong with saying so.

President of the Government.- Yes, I suppose that when people get angry then logically these things tend to occur and the truth is that… Of course, this thing about the right to decide starts with the Spanish people, who hold this power, but, if we start to chip away at this power, then we leave it in the hands of just one person who lives in that place called Tabarnia or who lives in Seu d'Urgell.

C. Alsina.- Are you interested in delaying the Debate on the State of the Nation as late as possible or not?

President of the Government.- No, I am not interested in that. Of course, I would like to do this in the spring, once we have a clearer idea about the Budget. I believe that it would be best not to mix the two things. Hence, there will be a Debate on the State of the Nation and I believe that a good time for that would be the spring.

C. Alsina.- You have appointed José Luis Ayllón as your new Chief of Staff to replace Mr Moragas. Have you thus begun to renew your government team or are you just covering the vacancy left by Mr Moragas?

President of the Government.- As you know, whenever a cabinet reshuffle takes place, this is announced the following day because, of course you are not going to announce this beforehand. And the response I am going to give is the one that you know I am going to give: that I am not going to reshuffle my cabinet.

C. Alsina.- Until such time as you do so.

President of the Government.- Like so many other things in life.

Indeed yesterday I appointed José Luis Ayllón. That is not a cabinet reshuffle. This responds to the fact that Jorge Moragas had held that position for a long time and had a good new opportunity, he is a diplomat, it is his profession, he wanted to go back and so logically, what am I going to say to him? Thank him for his efforts and hard work during very hard times.

I believe that Ayllón is the right person, I really do. He has experience in parliamentary affairs, he was State Secretary for Parliamentary Relations, he knows my party well, he knows Moncloa very well - he was in the Chief of Staff's Office when Aznar was President of the Government some years ago - and I am convinced that he understands the Catalan issue well, which is a very important issue at this time, and I am convinced that he will be a wonderful State secretary. In fact, I think that public opinion has received him well, so I will have to ask him what one needs to do to manage that, won't I?

C. Alsina.- Do you not feel well appreciated by the public?

President of the Government.- No, no. I feel highly appreciated. Well, it depends on the sector, in all honesty, but I believe that the last three times we have stood in the elections, although it was me who headed up the list, we managed to be the leading political force. Hence, if I didn't feel appreciated, just imagine the others: ask Mr Rivera, Mr Sánchez or Mr Iglesias. They must be indignant and, and since I don't want them to be, then I believe we all stand at a reasonable level.

C. Alsina.- You know, President of the Government, that in all the interviews all us journalists ask you whether you are going to stand again as the candidate for the Presidency of the Government and you always answer that, "I feel good", which is your stock response. I wanted to ask you, what does this decision depend upon? What criteria will sway this? Apart from the fact that you feel good and are in a good state of health, what values will sway your decision to continue to be the right person to head up the Government of Spain or has maybe the time come to hand over to someone else who also has the right abilities? What criteria will you use to take that decision?

President of the Government.- Of course there are people with the right abilities, above all in my party, which doesn't mean I am saying anything about the others; let's not draw conclusions that do not respond to statements that I have not made.

There is work to be done. Obviously, in these last elections I stood once again because the main challenge we had when we came to government was to help the economy recover. We went through the worst economic crisis in Spain's history. In Spain's history there were only individual years of negative economic growth and then Spain grew again, but here we went through five straight years of negative economic growth and 3.5 million jobs were shed.

The first couple of years I was in government were dreadful - in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, we grew for the first time, by just a little, by just over 1 percent, and then in 2015 we grew by 3% and I said: we must make this continue. Fortunately, 2016 and 2017 have been good years.

What I would like to see is that the target we set for this term of office is achieved - of 20 million Spaniards in work. Then, I would like, and we are heading in the right direction, to see permanent employment contracts, and there are increasingly more, and to see wages increase. We have started by raising the minimum wage - this year by 4%, next year by 5%, the following year by 10%. And tax revenue is on the rise.

I believe that it is important to maintain the policies we have been implementing, because this has been good for Spain, and I believe in these policies, and hence I will defend them and I would like to see them continue.

The issue of Catalonia as well. On the issue of Catalonia, we have reached a consensus with the Socialist Party and with Ciudadanos. I believe this must be maintained. Consensus on an issue like this should not just be overnight. I believe that this must be maintained and we should all help on this issue of Catalonia.

We now have the debate on the parliamentary group, don't we? In reality, leaving the People's Party in Catalonia without a voice not only means leaving the People's Party in Catalonia without a voice; it means leaving the pro-Constitution parties without a voice. I don't believe that is positive. I would have given a parliamentary group to Ciudadanos in a similar situation; I would have given it to them, in all honesty.

I believe that these are the two most important issues. I am concerned by the issue of Europe, because it is a key issue, even though that is not greatly in the public spotlight.

So, according to how I see events unfold, I will decide to stand as a candidate again; but my idea, at today's date, is to try to stand as a candidate again. Of course, my party must also want that so let's see how events unfold, but, of course, I will try to stand again because I believe we are heading in the right direction.

C. Alsina.- I have a question handed to me by José Ramón de la Morena for you, which says, "Has President of the Government Rajoy been disappointed by Ángel María Villar? Have you felt blackmailed by FIFA? It was about this that Villar said we have to see whether FIFA was going to leave us out of the World Cup in Russia in protest at the interference by the Government of Spain in the Spanish Football Federation.

President of the Government.- Frankly, I am not going to judge individuals. I have known Villar for a long time now and have never had a bad relationship with him, but the government and, in this case, the State Secretary for Sport, have to take the decisions that they believe are good for the general interest.

As regards FIFA; of course, to try and say that Spain will be left out of the World Cup in Russia, allow me to say that this is a joke. In fact, no-one has spoken about this issue again. The only thing I said back then was that Spain was obviously going to play in the World Cup in Russia and that the Government of Spain wasn't going to let itself be threatened - which FIFA did not do - by any institution to defend the legitimate interests of anyone, which may be true. Hence, I am quite calm about this issue.

C. Alsina.- You said something else; you said that we were going to win the World Cup, remember. Have you changed your mind?

President of the Government.- No, I haven't changed my mind. Moreover, the last few teams will include Germany, that is always there, Brazil, Argentina and few others. The key is to find someone to score. That is a difficult problem to resolve.

C. Alsina.- Would it be good for Spanish football if Ángel María Villar gave way to someone else and retired now?

President of the Government.- I am not going to get involved in those things. Everything that is done according to the rules and procedures is good, and that responds to the will of people involved in football. That is what would be good.

C. Alsina.- What do you think about this campaign that has started in the United States - I imagine you will have heard of it - called "Me Too", about women encouraging others to report cases of sexual harassment publicly, and name and shame those harassing them.

President of the Government.- I believe that it is positive and I think that they deserve the respect and support of everyone, because there is nothing worse than trying to take advantage of people by using your strength.

C. Alsina.- Would you look in a favourable light at those companies that pay women lower wages for the same job being punished, and at establishing a legal initiative to this end?

President of the Government.- No. I believe that those who govern must be very careful at looking at what powers we have and what powers we don't, and there is no power that says wages must be equal.

What I must say is that in Spain we are pointing companies and business owners in the right direction. The wage gap fell by four points between 2012 and 2015, which is the latest figure available, and we are now above the European average.

At any event, whenever steps are taken and whenever you move in the right direction, this is positive. This should probably be done at a faster pace, but I trust that this will come with time. Now, for the government to start to set wages in companies… In all honesty, I don't see me saying what you should get paid, for example.

C. Alsina.- Not even saying that if a man and a woman do the same job they should get paid the same?

President of the Government.- Let's not get into that, let's take steps in the right direction because that is normally how to best solve problems. And I can tell you that Spain is among the countries in Europe - business owners, I am not saying that this is something the government does - that are doing things best.

C. Alsina.- The last question is from Fernando Ónega, who left it written down for me here. Fernando, who you know well.

President of the Government.- Yes sir, he's from Galicia.

C. Alsina.- Everyone from Galicia knows everyone else, don't they?

President of the Government.- Almost everyone, yes.

C. Alsina.- He asked me, if we had time, to ask you about Nicolás Maduro. The President of Venezuela made a statement early this morning… I don't know what you have done to the President of Venezuela, but I don't think you like him very much. Just look what the President of the Republic of Venezuela said this morning about you, "It is the elite, the racist oligarchy, the colonialists that govern Spain. The most corrupt government ever seen in the history of Spain is headed up by Mariano Rajoy. He is obsessed because the only thing the people of Venezuela have done is skin him. Mariano Rajoy, get down on your knees so that my people can skin you".

President of the Government.- Indeed, it is not the first time that this has happened. The European Union has now approved some much deserved sanctions, which are still mild sanctions considering the brutal decisions and the way that Mr Maduro understands democracy.

I believe that Spain is under an obligation to many people, to many Venezuelans and many Ibero-Americans, for historical reasons, for reasons of the present and the future: more than 200,000 Spaniards live there. Venezuela has now become the foreign country with the most nationals applying for asylum in Spain. And the only thing I want for Venezuela is democracy, liberty, human rights, respect for individuals and for political prisoners to be released. I want exactly the same for the people of Venezuela as I do for the people of Spain.

Hence, if I think it is sensible and reasonable for the European Union to take on this issue and for Spain to head it up because it is its obligation since someone must help people who are being treated as they are in Venezuela. The other comments? I don't care about them.

C. Alsina.- Let me clarify for our listeners that "to skin him" is the way there to say "to spank". We investigated this earlier today.

Before saying goodbye, I have a piece of news from the daily newspaper "El País", which says, "The government will prevent Puigdemont from entering the headquarters of the Regional Government of Catalonia in Brussels to meet with Torrent, the Speaker of the regional parliament". The government, in application of Article 155, continues to take decisions on the headquarters of the Regional Government of Catalonia - the buildings that belong to the regional government. I understand that what the government is not going to permit is for Mr Puigdemont to use the headquarters of the Regional Government of Catalonia in Brussels for its meeting with the Speaker of the regional parliament.

President of the Government.- I thought it was the Parliament, because I believe that they can go into the European Parliament. I think, I am not in a position…

C. Alsina.- It is the Office of the Regional Government of Catalonia in Brussels.

President of the Government.- Ah! The Office of the Regional Government of Catalonia. That one, yes; that one we haven't closed, they have them in many places. I am unaware of that decision, which would have been taken by the competent political leader and that doesn't seem bad to me. That is like what we spoke about at the beginning - the President of the Government is involved in many issues but it is impossible to be aware of all of them, in the same way as party presidents are aware of many issues, but there are others that they are not aware of. That is a fact of life and, just look, here we have a good example of it.

C. Alsina.- President of the Government Rajoy, thank you very much for spending so much time with us. This year I won't ask you about the Goya films in order not to…

President of the Government.- Ah, I came here with that prepared, just imagine, and the Oscars as well. I have them here, if you ask…

C. Alsina.- Have you seen any of them?

President of the Government.- No, I haven't had time. They still haven't come out in Spain.

C. Alsina.- Yes, they have come out, President of the Government.

President of the Government.- All three of them?

C. Alsina.- The one about the "Billboards" has; I think the one about "Water" hasn't.

President of the Government.- The one about "Water" hasn't, "Dunkirk" has come out.

C. Alsina.- "Dunkirk" is a very interesting film about… Dunkirk.

President of the Government.- Just imagine, if I had asked you if you had seen them and you say yes to me and if I had then asked you where had you seen "The Shape of Water".

C. Alsina.- President of the Government, thank you for accompanying us.

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

(Transcript edited by the State Secretary for Communication)

Non official translation