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Interview with President of the Government on programme "Los Desayunos de TVE"

TVE, Madrid, Tuesday 30 January 2018

Sergio Martín.- Mariano Rajoy, President of the Government, good day.

President of the Government.- Good day.

S. Martín.- Welcome to "Los Desayunos".

President of the Government.- Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here.

S. Martín.- On a day that is not just any day.

President of the Government.- That's right. Today is a day in which we hope that events pan out in a reasonable fashion, but let's wait and see…

S. Martín.- I know you don't have a crystal ball, nor will I ask that of you, but what do you think will happen? There are several alternatives, several possible scenarios, which we can go through now, but what do you believe could happen today?

President of the Government.- I would like - because I don't believe it makes much sense to make bets - to see the law upheld, and hence that the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, like any other institution, observes the ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court. I believe that this is the most important issue here. That is what tends to happen in any normal democracy, whereby those governing obey and uphold the decisions of the courts because that is a basic principle of democracy: the rule of law whereby all of us are subject to the law. That is what I would like to see happen this afternoon.

S. Martín.- The plenary session may be delayed; the plenary session may start - we are told - but it may then be adjourned, a new candidate may be proposed or the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, Roger Torrent, and let's stay with the point for a moment, decides to push on, thus disobeying the Constitutional Court. What would the government do in that case?

President of the Government.- I hope that we don't have to do anything because this does not happen, but the Constitutional Court made itself very clear. It stated to the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia that Mr Puigdemont cannot be the candidate if he is not present and that, moreover, he can only be present following the authorisation of a judge. Furthermore, that is pure common sense, because you cannot be a fugitive from justice, reside in Brussels and intend to be elected as the president of a democratic institution.

Hence, in that case, the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia would be held accountable for having disobeyed a ruling from the courts, together with all of those who support his decision, in the event that they go against what the Constitutional Court has stated, which I fervently hope is not the case, because I believe that Catalonia needs to recover institutional, social and economic normality.

S. Martín.- I would like to show you a picture that Carles Puigdemont shared yesterday in the social media, which is of a street close to the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, which leads me to ask you, what will happen after the mass deployment…? We know what the Constitutional Court has said but many people are wondering whether Carles Puigdemont, I don't know, will manage to get into the Regional Parliament of Catalonia in the boot of a car or through a sewer, or in any other manner? What would happen?

President of the Government.- I hope that doesn't happen and I believe that this would be the climax to the spectacle given by Mr Puigdemont over recent months. I hope that everything pans out normally. What would happen? I don't know, but I imagine that we would have to abide by the decision adopted by the judge, in this case of the Supreme Court, which is the court that has opened proceedings against Mr Puigdemont.

S. Martín.- Let's resolve a doubt; why did the government take the decision to appeal against the candidature of Carles Puigdemont to the Constitutional Court and why was that decision taken just a few hours after you yourself said to us in an interview that the government couldn't do anything without a legal action taking place? I understand that the legal action in this case is the electronic investiture or that Carles Puigdemont arrived at the Regional Parliament of Catalonia in the boot of a car, as I mentioned. What made you change your mind in just 24 hours?

President of the Government.- We changed our minds because of a circumstance that is very easy to understand. In the event that the government had not lodged this appeal, Mr Puigdemont could have been invested today, either by delegating his speech to someone else or, quite simply, by electronic means. And hence we would have a person who is not present at the plenary session of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia being elected as President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, thus violating all norms of common sense, logic and reason. By taking this decision we have managed to ensure that the Constitutional Court, acting, I should repeat, by applying common sense, has stated something as obvious as that a fugitive from justice who, moreover, is not living in Spain, cannot appear in a regional parliament.

The legal action was precisely the circumstance that the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia had proposed Carles Puigdemont as the candidate, and then, another action that hasn't been given sufficient importance, but which is important, is that the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia had had to travel to Brussels to speak with Mr Puigdemont. That is absolutely ridiculous and absurd; that does not happen in any democratic country, that is unprecedented and Spain is too serious a country to allow this type of joke to happen.

S. Martín.- And now, another doubt. You decided to go ahead with this anyway, despite the negative report from the Council of State, and you saw that this became particularly newsworthy, and even caught the attention of your political adversaries, although some of them did agree with you on moving in this direction. And now I want to ask you about the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers' Party] and about Ciudadanos. Didn't going ahead anyway mean taking on too many risks following the negative report?

President of the Government.- Yes, but the government has to look at the bigger picture. In other words, I can't be thinking here about the risks I am taking, the votes I might win or the votes I might lose. I am the President of the Government and I have certain obligations, one of which is to avoid foolish situations such as this.

The Council of State, in exercise of its functions, and according to its own criteria, because it is an institution that is independent when issuing its opinions, said that the government's appeal should not prosper. And despite this, we believed that we were right, we lodged an appeal before the Constitutional Court and, in all honesty, we are satisfied because what we wanted was to avoid a plenary session being held without the candidate being in Brussels as a fugitive from justice. And that is what the Constitutional Court quite clearly ruled. Hence, I believe that the result has been positive. Are people saying that the government took risks? I don't know whether it took risks or not; rather I believe that the government upheld its obligation and I can assure you that I have a very clear conscience and would do exactly the same in a similar circumstance.

S. Martín.- You just said that you are satisfied at the ruling handed down by the court, although it is true that the court didn't mention the appeal made by the government, although it implemented precautionary measures. There have been rumours that in recent days, during this complicated time at the weekend, some members of your government called members of the Constitutional Court. Is that true? Were there calls or talks?

President of the Government.- That is not true and, of course the judges of the Constitutional Court would not have accepted any member of the government calling them to say what they must do or any suchlike.

S. Martín.- Do you think that we are close to having a regional government in Catalonia after what we have just seen…? I am just being told now that there is a preliminary agreement between the pro-independence parties to invest [Carles] Puigdemont as President of the Regional Government of Catalonia. Do you think that could lead us into an extremely complicated situation, with fresh elections…? I don't know. What situation could this agreement lead to which, as I say, I have just been told has happened?

President of the Government.- I don't know whether there is an agreement to invest [Carles] Puigdemont as President of the Regional Government of Catalonia but, in the event that there is, then the Board that proposed this plenary session be held and all those who support it will be bypassing the ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court.

In all honesty, we are a democratic country, we are members of Europe and the fundamental values on which Europe have been based are democracy, liberty, human rights, the rule of law - which we are all subject to - and legal certainty. I hope that this situation doesn't take place; this merely means prolonging the situation of instability and, furthermore, Mr Puigdemont is causing a serious problem for everyone, even for the pro-independence parties, because in life there is more than just Mr Puigdemont and there are many more potential candidates than Mr Puigdemont, who is not even here and is a fugitive from justice.

S. Martín.- I could add some more information that I have just discovered about this agreement. It seems that what they have agreed is that it will be another regional MP who will read the speech out on behalf of Carles Puigdemont; in other words, it won't be electronically and [Carles] Puigdemont won't be present, but rather that his speech will be delegated and read out.

President of the Government.- Yes, that was one of the possibilities they were looking at, but that has been expressly banned by the Constitutional Court. Hence, the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia must be well aware of his potential liability if he ignores the ruling of the Constitutional Court, something which, furthermore, he cannot do.

If each political leader starts to do whatever he sees fit and opportune, breaks the law and does not abide by the rulings of the courts, then this could turn into a jungle and, quite honestly, that is not what I want for my country.

S. Martín.- I mentioned this to you earlier and wanted to ask you about the role that the opposition parties have played: the PSOE and Ciudadanos, in recent days. Have you felt their support? Have you continued to felt backed by Pedro Sánchez and by Albert Rivera, by Ciudadanos and by the PSOE?

President of the Government.- Yes. For the most part, which is what is important. We triggered Article 155 of the Constitution - that was a major decision - we dismissed the Regional Government of Catalonia and called elections. These are the most important decisions. They supported us and they have now publicly supported the appeal lodged by the government - the one we are talking about, that the Constitutional Court ruled upon by imposing the precautionary measures you referred to before.

So, I feel supported and I am grateful and, furthermore, I believe that, although the People's Party has an absolute majority in the Upper House of Parliament, it would not have been good for anyone to have taken this decision alone. The fact that three political forces, with major representation from the Spanish people, agreed on this is a very positive fact and, furthermore, it shouldn't have happened any other way because we are not talking about a minor issue; we are talking about the unity of Spain and the right of all the Spanish people to decide on what they want their country to be.

S. Martín.- Later I would like to come back to look at relations between the People's Party - the government's party - and the main opposition parties, but I also wanted to ask you on a day like today about the role that King Felipe has, and still is, playing. Just yesterday afternoon, we saw you post a tweet with a letter congratulating the King on his fiftieth birthday. Today is an important day, not only because of his birthday but also because the King presented his daughter - Princess Leonor - with the Golden Fleece. What role has the King played in all of this; fundamentally through that now famous speech on 3 October?

President of the Government.- The King is concerned, just like any other Spaniard and he felt it was appropriate, which obviously seemed like a good idea to me, to address the nation and defend something which, as Head of State he is also obliged to defend, amounts to the unity of Spain, national sovereignty, the Constitution and the democratic values that have governed our country for more than 40 years now, which are the values on which Europe has been built.

Hence, the King has shown himself to be a balanced, sensible person who is aware of the situation. In truth, the speech he gave back then was very important and this undoubtedly provided support for all those who then tried, and this took place, to re-establish the law in force.

S. Martín.- As regards Catalonia, the truth is that you have been asked many questions, questions that we here would call minor, day-to-day issues, but I wanted to ask you the main question, and that is, how can this be resolved? Let me tell you what certain people criticise Mariano Rajoy for: defending the Constitution is all well and good, but something else is needed, that is what people tend to say; we need policies, dialogue, both parties listening to the other, we need understandings to be reached and to find a solution that is satisfactory to everyone. Let me ask you, does that solution exist? A good one for everyone?

President of the Government.- The first thing I want to say is that no-one is above the law. There are those that play the law off against democracy and others that play the law off against politics. The law is the set of norms that governs our co-existence. The law is the guarantee of your rights and mine and of all of us who are here. The law protects the weak from the abuses of those who are stronger. Where you have no law becomes a jungle, and the law is different there, it becomes the law of the survival of the fittest, where the strongest always win and the weakest always lose. Added to which we are all equal in the eyes of the law.

So, in any country worthy of its name, in any advanced democracy, the primacy of the law comes above any other consideration.

Aside from that, is there a political solution? The first thing is for us all to follow the law; and secondly, what we tried to provide in the Constitution back in 1978 was a political solution, where those people who did not believe in the State of Autonomy and people who believed in much greater de-centralisation than what we have got now held dialogue and reached an agreement. And Spain is now the most de-centralised country in the world. Furthermore, the level of self-rule in Catalonia is greater than it has ever been in the history of the region, and when I say "greater than ever" the expression I use is literal.

Hence, aside from that we can talk, we can hold dialogue, but the only dialogue that has been proposed and that I, for one, cannot accept, means that the Spanish people cannot choose what they want their own country to be. When you talk about the right to decide in Catalonia, I agree on that but clearly we all decide on what we want Spain to be. You, who are from Castile Leon, decide on Catalonia and on Andalusia, and I, who am from Galicia, can decide on Castile Leon and on Andalusia, because that is what national sovereignty means and that is what we have in Spain. Hence, what you cannot do is deprive the Spanish people of the right to voice their opinion on what they want their own country to be.

Aside from that, we can speak about whatever you want; but I am clearly not a president of the government who will break up our national unity or take away your right to decide on what you want your country to be. I am not the President of the Government to do that and as long as I am here that will not happen.

S. Martín.- Would this good solution for everyone be to start by the reform of regional financing? Is that possible?

President of the Government.- Yes, the reform of regional financing. I believe this needs to be reformed but this requires, among other things, an interest in reaching an agreement, and clearly the first time we addressed this was at the Conference of Regional Presidents, which Mr Puigdemont didn't attend. Then, we started to address this issue at the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council, which is attended by the regional economics councillors, and Catalonia showed no interest in that forum either.

S. Martín.- Are you now organising the next Conference of Regional President? I read that somewhere yesterday.

President of the Government.- That possibility is on the table. Now, what we are talking about is a new meeting of the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council to resolve the issue of regional financing, and it would be useful if the representatives of the Regional Government of Catalonia were there. At that time, we, the Government of Spain, will be there, and it would be right if this could be normalised as soon as possible and for there to be an interest in reaching an agreement, because there hasn't been any interest to date. They simply haven't attended.

S. Martín.- Let's move on to some other issues. Let me ask you about some issues that are newsworthy, some current affairs related to corruption. After the revelations about the part of the "Gürtel" affair affecting the Region of Valencia and after listening to Ricardo Costa, last week I think, acknowledge that the People's Party in the Region of Valencia had a slush fund and that the instructions were given by Francisco Camps; and while there are still many parts of the "Gürtel" affair to go to trial, and you then have the "Púnica" affair and perhaps the "Lezo" affair, does the President of the Government and the President of the People's Party still think that corruption is a done deal as regards the elections? The court schedule for 2018 is tremendous.

President of the Government.- No, nothing is a done deal. I still maintain that I have done what, in all fairness, needed to be done. None of those people who are on trial at this time are actively involved in politics and none of them are members of the People's Party now and I respect what the courts will say and how people defend themselves. They are entitled to a defence, as is any other citizen, and the People's Party has presented many motions in Parliament, which have been approved, to be more effective in the fight against corruption, and to avoid this happening again in the future. It has taken many decisions that have affected individuals when they have been involved in these kinds of case, and it is prepared to take any other decision that may prove to be effective.

You have to remember that many of these cases you have mentioned are cases from a long time ago and I just hope that in the future you never have to ask me that question again, not to me or to any other president of the government because that will mean this issue is a history, albeit a sad part of the history of Spain.

S. Martín.- Do you see yourself having to give a statement as a witness in any of these cases? I think that Ricardo Costa will ask for this, if he hasn't already done so.

President of the Government.- No, he hasn't asked for that but, at any event, I will always do what the courts say. I did indeed appear as a witness for two hours and I will always do what the courts say, because I believe that a country without a rulebook, and hence without respect for what the courts say, is a county that does not function well.

S. Martín.- By the way, just to avoid any doubts. Has Ciudadanos - I say this because there have been statements at cross-purposes in this regard -formally called for the People's Party, for the government, as a pre-requisite for approving the Budget, to dismiss the Member of the Upper House Pilar Barreiro? Have they called for this or not?

President of the Government.- Not to me they haven't. At any event, the Budget is a sufficiently important issue as to hold a debate rather than making it conditional upon other decisions that are entirely unrelated with approving the Budget.

I believe that Spain is now in a good economic situation. We have enjoyed three straight years of growth of above 3% and are growing at double the average rate in Europe. We have created more than half a million jobs in the last year and there are now 19 million people in work in Spain. I had set the target of 20 million people in work for this term of office, and that can be achieved. The economic figures are good, the risk premium has dropped significantly, our credit rating was recently raised, there is market confidence and I think that the Budget could provide decisive support for continuing down the path of economic recovery rather than making it conditional on other things.

S. Martín.- But if Ciudadanos establishes it as a pre-requisite?

President of the Government.- We will see about that when the time comes.

S. Martín.- You said that there are various strings attached to approving the Budget. Just here, on "Los Desayunos", Ana Oramas, from the Canary Island Coalition, mentioned an agreement and she told us that an agreement had already been reached with Ciudadanos, with the PNV [Basque Nationalist Party] and with the Canary Island Coalition on the Budget, but then the PNV denied this. Is this agreement…?

President of the Government.- We obviously hope to reach the agreement that we are working on. I will do everything in my hands because I believe that it is good to have a Budget. Last's year's Budget was approved on 31 March; I would like to see this year's one approved by the Council of Ministers before 31 March and, as soon as we have a closed agreement, if we manage to achieve that, with the other political forces, we will notify the public of that. At this time, no definitive agreement has been reached on the Budget.

S. Martín.- If the Budget is approved, which you hope it will be, then this Legislature will remain alive; but if there is no Budget, the Legislature is over.

President of the Government.- No. If no Budget is approved, the Budget will continue to be extended but some things will need to be approved by Royal Decree-Law; for example, the issue of the amounts to be received by the regional governments which, this year, as a result of increased tax revenue and the economic recovery, will rise by 4 billion euros on the figure for 2017. For example, among the larger regions, Andalusia - I haven't got them all in my head - will receive 600 million euros more, and there will be more for the other regions as well. We are talking about 4 billion euros more, but that will require a law which, in this case, if it is not contained in the Budget Act, will have to be approved by Royal Decree-Law.

S. Martín.- The 2017 Budget may be extended to 2018, but no further extension will be possible. The 2019 Budget will have to be approved.

President of the Government.- It will have to be approved but for the time being last year's Budget is in force and we are comfortable with that, except for this adjustment and some others that will have to be made.

S. Martín.- We are in pre-election year. This year, 2018, is the only one in which there are no elections, because in 2019 we have the municipal and regional elections. The other day I heard you say that, for the time being, you feel strong enough and wish to stand again as candidate in the next general elections. I was wondering whether this expression "for the time being" leaves the door open which I will look into further later. What would have to happen for you to think better?

President of the Government.- In reality, "for the time being" is just an expression but, if elections were to be held today I would want to stand. If the elections are in a 100 years' time, I fear that my possibilities would be somewhat less than at present.

S. Martín.- As regards the municipal and regional elections in 2019, if I ask you about the candidates you will tell me that you won't reveal any names at this time, but, at the very least, do you have a date set for naming the candidates for the municipal and regional elections and, above all, how you will do that?

President of the Government.- Yes. We will do that according to our articles of association. We will not do anything contrary to what our articles state which is, furthermore, what reflects the will of the members of the People's Party.

Not long ago we approved a National Board Directive and we have now begun a process to update out proposals to society as a whole. We will hold a major National Congress in Andalusia, I seem to recall the first weekend after Easter, that is, at the start of April and before that, this weekend, I will visit Cordoba. We are going to hold a Congress there where, among other things, we are going to establish our position again on life sentences without parole which the rest of the political forces want to do away with, something I find absolutely incomprehensible.

But, in short, we are updating our message and are hard at work. At this time, I don't dare to give you an exact start for starting to appoint the candidates to stand in the municipal elections, but quite a few candidates will probably have been appointed before this summer.

S. Martín.- You also mentioned last week that there is no crisis in your government but, at any event government crises are never announced publicly…

President of the Government.- Exactly.

S. Martín.- …if, in the end, Luis de Guindos  is appointed as the Vice-President of the European Central Bank, which is quite a realistic possibility, I imagine that as a result of that, possibly by shuffling some of your ministers, we would end up with a cabinet reshuffle.

President of the Government.- The response to that question is very similar to my response to the last question. We will have to look at that when the time comes, if the events you have referred to take place - the appointment to the European Central Bank and by moving some we would end up with a cabinet reshuffle. No decision has been taken on this issue and I am not going to make one up here, as we go along.

S. Martín.- But I understand you are studying all the options?

President of the Government.- No. At this time I am looking at continuing with the present cabinet; that is the only option I am studying.

S. Martín.- What do you feel about what some people are saying about the fact that the People's Party needs a change to face up to the challenge by Ciudadanos, both in the last elections in Catalonia and in certain public polls: a change of image, a change in its model of communication, and a change in its aesthetics has even been spoken about? What do you think about that?

President of the Government.- People have been saying that since before we even came to power. That is fairly normal. I believe that what the People's Party needs and what Spain needs is to be more effective in governing. I can say that with all honesty, we haven't had an easy time of it in government. We got hold of the country when we were going through the worst economic crisis in Spin's recent history, and I am not talking about ancient times, but in just five years 3.8 million jobs and 10% of the Gross Domestic Product were lost in Spain.

I remember when we came to power that everyone was saying that we would be bailed out, that we were going to be like Greece, that we were going to be thrown out of the Eurozone, that the Euro was going to break up into pieces, people were talking about the risk premium, and just remember that debate that was all up in the air… But, just look, a few years on, and the policies we implemented have led to the creation of more than 2 million jobs, we are growing faster than anyone else, the risk premium has fallen, investor confidence has risen and our rating has been raised.

That is what must be demanded of the government and what I want to do now is to reach, at the very least, this figure I mentioned of 20 million people in work; that is important - youth unemployment is falling but it needs to fall a great deal more - and we need to improve the quality of jobs. This year we have raised the minimum wage by 4%; next year we will raise it by 5% and within two years we will raise it by 10%. There are more permanent employment contracts and there have never been so many women in work as there are now; but we still need more.

So, the question is to be more effective and to modernise the country. We are working on training issues, new technologies, dual vocational training and on all the digital issues. That is what is important to me and what, in all honesty, I believe to be my obligation as President of the Government.

S. Martín.- Now that you have mentioned women, and taking advantage of the fact that we also have four analysts - they are all women, as on each Tuesday - one of the main revelations last week, you are aware of this, originated regarding a response you gave on wage equality between men and women. You said, and I will quote this verbatim, "governors have to be very careful in knowing what powers they have and what powers they don't, and none of these means making salaries equal". Do you maintain this despite the criticism made?

President of the Government.- I don't maintain this. Clearly, everyone can interpret this how they want, but the simple fact that there is a doubt is just cause for me not to maintain this.

Firstly, the greatest difference comes from employment itself; that is, the greatest difference between people, between men and women, is that some have jobs and some don't. There is no greater difference and, as I said before, we are now at an historic moment in time in Spain - this is a figure that is not widely mentioned, perhaps because it is good news - with more women in work than ever before.

And then you have the issue of salaries. Public authority salaries are the same; the same number of hours and the same salary. Moreover, wage discrimination is prohibited - the law says this and the Labour Inspectorate works. Clearly, we have made some efforts on the matter of pensions; there are now more than 300,000 women who have seen their pension rise by 15% because they had more children; a rule we approved last year. But any efforts we make in that direction are undoubtedly necessary efforts, essential efforts and clearly under my government they have achieved… Some people talk a lot here but then, when it is time to take decisions and present results, they end up having a problem.

We are heading in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

S. Martín.- On 8 March, the trade unions have called a strike related precisely to discrimination between men and women.

President of the Government.- The trade unions can call a strike and we will continue working so that discrimination is reduced progressively until it disappears.

S. Martín.- One more thing, that I didn't get to before. I said to you that I wanted to ask about your relationship with the opposition parties, beyond the issue of Catalonia, because I understand that this was a yardstick on the issue of Catalonia, which, as you are aware is newsworthy, because at 10 in the morning, in fact, we have the first event because the Board of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia is meeting. 

We have been reading a lot about the State Pacts, State Pacts on almost everything: the State Pact with the Socialist Party on the issue of water, regional financing, education, pensions… But, why? Why this idea now of making pacts between the main opposition party and the main government party? Through a genuine conviction or because, after seeing the polls, you think that "it is better to be defensive, to manoeuvre defensively in response to the rise of Ciudadanos?" You will also have read this stated recently by some analysts.

President of the Government.- But I want Ciudadanos to be a party to these pacts as well, don't I, and anyone else who wants to put their name to it. The thing is that on a matter such as regional financing, taking into account that most of the regional governments are headed up by the PSOE or the People's Party, it is ridiculous to try and reach an agreement while leaving one of these two political forces out. I want an agreement to be reached between parties on regional financing, and also between the different regions. The PSOE governs in many of them and the People's Party governs in others; hence, it is essential for these two political forces to forge agreements. Furthermore, this has always been attempted in the past.

It is absurd to leave out the People's Party or the PSOE, or even Ciudadanos or anyone else, even those nationalist parties that want to sign up, of these great State Pacts: the Education Pact, the Water Pact…

S. Martín.- Or Podemos?

President of the Government.- I don't have any problem speaking with any other political force, provided what we agree on is something reasonable.

The issue of water is a very important issue in Spain. It is structurally, and furthermore it has rained very little in the last year. The water levels, particularly in some regions of Spain, such as Murcia, the south of Alicante, Almeria, etc., are causing many difficulties. This is very serious because the agricultural sector has recently become a very strong industry; we export a lot and there is a knock-on industry, which is production.

Hence, these are issues on which I believe that it is very important to reach an agreement and I think that this is a wonderful Legislature to be reaching agreements because no-one has a majority. We are the party which has the greatest support, with 137 MPs, but a majority means 175. So, the conditions are right to reach major understandings and reach agreements that could last for many years to come.

Pensions? That seems key to me. On the matter of pensions the People's Party and the government, against the backdrop of the worst crisis we have been through, have managed to maintain the pension system; but decisions also need to be made looking to the future, to improve them and preserve them. Almost 10 million people now receive a pension in Spain, and fortunately, life expectancy is continually on the rise; but of course, that then uses up greater resources and we must try and set down some rules that serve for many years to come, and send out a message to people that their pensions are safe. We have managed to maintain them at a tough time and now that things are going a little better certain decisions need to be taken to ensure our future.  

S. Martín.- And do you think this agreement to maintain pensions is viable; is it possible in the short term, because that is what it is - short term?

President of the Government.- Yes. We have set up a committee, as you know, the Toledo Pact Committee, that is operating in the Lower House of Parliament. What I can say to you is that I am 100% committed to reaching an agreement on this matter and that we will do whatever is in our hands to achieve this; but it doesn't only depend on us, as has also been mentioned.

S. Martín.- The chair of the Toledo Pact, Celia Villalobos, was here and really caused quite a stir with the things she said.

President of the Government.- I believe that what needs to be done is for the parties to get to work, forge agreements and try and do something to offer security in the future. Spain has one of the most advanced pension systems in the world, but we have a problem at this time; as I said, there are 10 million pensioners and you then have another 4 million people who also receive benefits. There are 14 million people in Spain receiving benefits and 18 and a bit million people paying in to the Social Security system. That is why I stress that we need to have 20 million people in work, because that is what guarantees pensions and helps improve the essential public services, such as healthcare, education and social services.

S. Martín.- What do you think about the proposal Pedro Sánchez made of taxing financial transactions and taxing banks?

President of the Government.- I respect all the decisions that anyone may take, but for me the best system I can see to maintain and improve pensions is not to tax the banks, which would mean raising Corporate Income Tax. Corporate Income Tax currently stands at 25% and another 10 points would be 35%, or 45%, of 55% or 65%... I believe that the most effective way is to create jobs because when jobs are created more people pay in to the Social Security system, and hence, pensions can be improved. That has been the great operation undertaken in recent years. Of course, at one time there were less than 17 million people paying in to the Social Security system. There are now 2 and a bit million more, and that has helped a great deal.

Earlier I said to you that the regions will receive 4 billion euros more this year, which are for healthcare and education. Why will they receive that? Because there are more jobs. When you have more people in work you have more people contributing and paying Personal Income Tax; when people have money, they can consume, and hence they pay VAT; people pay into the Social Security system...

Hence, my argument is that if we want to have good services and good pensions, then you have to create jobs which, moreover, is good for those people that have them.

S. Martín.- Nativel Preciado, May Mariño, Alejandra Clements and Leonor Mayor want to ask you some questions. I would remind you, dear colleagues, direct questions and not a cluster of questions. I don't know if you know them, President of the Government, but here we are very…

President of the Government.- Yes, and they ask 17 questions. There are some true specialists at that. You expect one question and get seven.

S. Martín.- But that also allows you to get out of six…

President of the Government.- Clearly.

Nativel Preciado.- How I see it, President of the Government, is that the overzealous police actions during the referendum on 1 October, remanding Catalan politicians in custody and the report issued by the Council of State are three actions that have helped foster or spur on the pro-independence movement. So, don't you feel that this has prejudiced the government in its fight against this movement?

President of the Government.- As I said before, I have to look at the bigger picture, don't I, and it is my fundamental obligation, as President of the Government, as I mentioned before, to maintain national unity, ensure the law is upheld, and preserve the right of all the people of Spain to decide on the future of their own country. And that has been achieved.

Believe me when I say that it is no mean feat to trigger Article 155, dismiss a regional government, ensure that every country in the European Union backs you, then call elections and then do battle, with the law on your side, against those who break the law every day, because the difference between those people and the Government of Spain is that the Government of Spain only uses legal instruments, unlike them.

You mentioned three points. First, being remanded in custody. Being remanded in custody is a decision taken by the courts and, as I said earlier, I follow the good custom, and in all honesty I believe that this is very positive for everyone, to respect the decisions of the courts, whatever they may be; whether they affect me, whether I like them or not, and whether they don't affect me.

I respect the report issued by the Council of State, but, against the recommendation of the report by the Council of State, I decided to go to the Constitutional Court, because I felt that was my obligation. Many times in life you have to decide between what is bad and what is worse; and I felt that was my obligation, and fortunately, the Constitutional Court handed down a ruling that I believe is very positive.

As regards overzealous police action, I would say that the work of the State law enforcement agencies - the National Police and the Guardia Civil - in Catalonia was very difficult and strenuous work in a situation of tremendous complexity. Without us having power over security matters, because we didn't, they had to go there from other places and I, who have been Minister for Home Affairs, will always stand on the side of the State law enforcement agencies. I don't believe that upholding the law prejudices or is detrimental to national sovereignty, or to the will of the people.

S. Martín.- Talking about security measures, I read a complaint this morning, in this case from the MP Xavier Domènech, complaining about the excessive security measures at this time around the Regional Parliament of Catalonia; much more stringent measures than normal. I was wondering if you had anything to say about this.

President of the Government.- The government's obligation is to guarantee security and protect citizen rights. As far as I am aware, the police presence does not in any way affect the rights and liberties of Mr Domènech who, by the way, is perfectly entitled to criticise whatever he wants; but the government is under an obligation to guarantee the security and the rights and liberties of Mr Domènech. And Mr Domènech, as a result of this presence, is safer, although he may criticise this police presence.

May Mariño.- One question about the matter of Catalonia. Do you see yourself calling elections, since you have the power to do so under Article 155? Can you see that happening?

And a second brief question. You have somewhat retracted the statements you made the other day about equal pay. Do you consider the government should get involved in this issue? If so, why don't you get involved by taking measures?

President of the Government.- Can I see myself calling elections? For the time being, as far as I am aware from the reports that I have been given and which I share, in the situation we are in, with a candidate who has been proposed, the procedure is as follows: we will see what happens today, although I don't believe that the candidature of Mr Puigdemont will get to a vote in the end unless the ruling of the Constitutional Court is disobeyed. The most sensible thing there would be for the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia to propose a "clean" candidate if we want to see a solution in the future; in other words, someone who, at present, is not subject to judicial proceedings. Should this candidate not receive enough votes after the first round of voting, then a two-month period would pass and if no-one is elected after two months, then elections would be automatic.

Hence, at this time, it is not me who would call elections, but rather we have to follow the dynamics that are established. Once a period of two months has elapsed since the first round of voting, and we don't know when that will be, if no-one is elected then elections will be held.

As regards whether "I have somewhat retracted"; well no, I haven't retracted anything. Neither a little nor a lot.

May Merino.- I wanted to be subtle

President of the Government.- And I am very grateful, but I haven't retracted anything. If you misunderstood me or if I expressed myself badly, then there is no problem in retracting that.

As I said before, what the legislation does not permit at this time is that people can be paid different amounts for the same work during the same number of hours. In fact, the Labour Inspectorate acts in that case. The Labour Inspectorate is very similar to the Tax Inspectorate - it resolves many things although it probably doesn't resolve 100% of matters. Furthermore, you cannot ask the inspectors to solve every issue; you also have to ask people, in this case those who pay the salaries, to comply with the needs of their country a little and try to be fair and equal. As I said before, we will fight hard to ensure that these situations occur with increasingly less frequency.

But I also want to add something else: since the year 2012 this difference has fallen by four points and we are presently in a better situation than France or the United Kingdom, and we are better than the average for the European Union as a whole. We will continue working. We are going to continue working to try and become the first and the best, everything that consists of steps in the right direction is positive in my opinion and we will be committed to that end.

S. Martín.- We started this conversation at 9 am with the President of the Government by saying, "Today is not just any day". Earlier I gave you some news that there was an agreement in principle to ensure that Carles Puigdemont is the candidate in the end and although I have read that, while the Board is due to meet at 10 am, the Speaker of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, Roger Torrent, will make an appearance at 9:45 am. I don't know if that is a clue about things to come. What does your political experience tell you?

President of the Government.- I don't believe the President of the Government should make bets, above all, on how events unfold in Catalonia; that really makes very little sense.

In all honesty, I will tell you what I think is reasonable, without taking into account the ideological beliefs that anyone may have. If someone wants to build, however they may think, the sensible thing now would be to propose a candidate that has the support of the House and is not involved in judicial proceedings because, if not, we will always be in a provisional situation.

What this candidate should do is state that he is going to comply with the rules, with the law and with the norms on co-existence and that what he is going to do is work towards recovering institutional, economic and social normality. If I, clearly, as President of the Government, were in that situation, I would do everything in my hands to ensure this institutional, economic and social recovery took place. Everything else means embroiling the situation, tiring people, wearing them down, harming the economy, breaking the rules of co-existence and prolonging a situation that does not lead anywhere.

Alejandra Clements.- Very briefly, but to go into further detail on the subject of the wage gap, I don't know whether your government proposes measures such as those in Iceland to regulate by law to ensure that this inequality is prevented; or such as in Germany, where you are entitled to know the average salary of your male colleagues. Would you propose that, to know a little more.

Then, to open up the perspective a little and move away from domestic issues, the crisis that began last week in Venezuela, in a country which Spain has historically had very important relations with, and with the ambassador on his way back home here now, expelled from the country and declared 'persona non grata'. What possible solutions are there to this relationship with the government of [Nicolas] Maduro?

President of the Government.- As regards your first question, I will take any measure that serves to do justice on this issue. But we should not forget that the law, at present, prohibits, as I mentioned earlier, two people - one a man and the other a woman, or two men, or two women - from having different salaries for equal work for the same number of hours. The Labour Inspectorate works and does everything it can, but, I insist, I believe that people should also be aware of what their responsibilities are. In this respect, I believe that many people and associations that publicly defend these positions do a good job because they help people become more aware of what path they need to take.

The issue of Venezuela is a problem of democracy. I clearly want the same for Venezuela as I want for Spain - to see democracy, liberty, human rights and economic and social progress. At this time, it is not just a question of the rules of democracy having been broken, which has led the European Union to impose sanctions, and rightly so, but the people are being led into a critical situation. Inflation is above 1,000%, the fall in the GDP is spectacular; it is very hard to find… Many people say this who come to Spain and who I receive, that there are problems finding medicine and obtaining food.

In reality, what is happening there is unacceptable and hence I am not prepared to be silent but I am prepared to fight in defence of our sister nation of Venezuela.

Leonor Mayor.- Both the PSOE and Podemos accuse the government of having acted passively, of having made the issue of Catalonia a judicial issue and accordingly of having contributed to exacerbating the conflict. And the pro-independence forces say that Central Government is a machine to create pro-independence followers. Are you in any way self-critical of how you handled the crisis in Catalonia, as to how things have reached this point?

President of the Government.- As I always tend to  say, what is important is looking at the bigger picture… Some people say "passivity". Criticising someone of passivity when they have triggered Article 155 of the Constitution for the first time in Spain's history shows… I was going to say shows a certain sense of humour, but I won't because a sense of humour is something important and very respectable.

Making it a judicial issue? The decisions adopted by the courts are taken by the courts, although we should not forget that we are all subject to the rule of law, even those who govern. The truly surprising thing in all of this is that there are those who believe that if you form part of a government that you can do whatever you want, which just isn't possible. In other words, you and I are both subject to the law, and it would be bad if that were not the case. These are decisions of the courts and this is democracy, whereby you have a legislative power, an executive power and a judicial power. And the judicial power is what guarantees the law is upheld when someone breaks it.

And the line about "a machine to create pro-independence followers" is an old trick. When someone doesn't do what the pro-independence followers want, it is said that you are a machine for creating them. But, just look, if what they want, which is what they wanted in the past and the only thing that was proposed to me, which was to authorise a referendum in which - you are from Catalonia, aren't you?

Leonor Mayor: Yes.

President of the Government: But all the rest of us here aren't - we cannot decide on what we want our own country to be then I won't go there ever. I cannot accept that.

I am willing to talk above all, but they haven't wanted to talk about anything except that. I gave an example earlier of the model of regional financing, whereby they didn't even want to attend the Conference of Regional President, and no-one knows why; they didn't want to attend the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council; they don't go or come to most of the meetings they are invited to. They only want to talk about holding a referendum which they know I cannot authorise. It's not that I don't want to, which I don't; it's that, moreover, I can't because I do not have the power, which corresponds to all the people of Spain, to decide on what they want the country to be. It is truly surprising that this debate has not been held with the clarity it requires.

Leonor Mayor.- Has the government not made an offer at any time to try and close off this subject once and for all?

President of the Government.- The only offer I made to them is that…

Leonor Mayor.- An offer that does not lead down a path towards a referendum, but rather to improve the situation.

President of the Government.- Yes, but there is clearly one thing that is important - I propose a referendum on independence and if you don't accept that then make me an offer. Listen, you can't adopt that approach in life. I make you an offer - let's sit down and negotiate the model of regional financing. I think that is a good offer. Come to the Conference of Regional Presidents, sit here, come to the Upper House to explain your position, come to the committee we have set up in the Lower House of Parliament on the developments on the regional model and give us your opinions. But they don't want to attend any forum. That means denying the possibility of talking and speaking with others.

All this is… We have heard this said with the same words I am going to use. I have heard this in the Lower House of several occasions - look, we are going to have a referendum and it's not open for discussion. Those are the alternatives that were proposed to the President of the Government. That is unacceptable and the guilty party here is not the PP, or the PSOE, or Ciudadanos, and we may have made some mistakes, as is clear; the guilty party is the one who has not obeyed the Constitution, who has broken the law, who tries to do whatever they want, who has divided society and who distinguishes between good and bad, which is what has happened recently.

S. Martín.- Our time is nearly up but first I can't resist asking this. You are a big sports fan, we all know that, and I know that you will be as concerned, if not more so, as other football fans. Is the Spanish team at risk of not playing in the World Cup in Russia?

President of the Government.- That is ridiculous. That is a debate that has been proposed elsewhere, clearly. The Spanish  team is not in danger of not playing in the World Cup in Russia which, moreover, we are going to win, as we have won… By the way, this channel broadcast; I saw it, at 8:30, and there were viewing figures of 12 or 13%, which is important for handball, apart from football. I want to congratulate the Spanish handball team; I posted a tweet about this, and Spanish Television for buying this product that 13% of Spaniards watched, which isn't a bad viewing figure.

But don't worry, we will be playing in the World Cup in Russia and we will win, as we did in South Africa.

S. Martín.- And the new President of the Spanish Football Federation, will he be elected before or after the World Cup?

President of the Government.- Well look, we are going to wait for the opinion of the Council of State first. What do you think about that?

S. Martín.- That's good. We'll see what the Council of State says. But then you will do whatever you want with the opinion of the Council of State.

President of the Government.- No, I'm not going to say anything.

S. Martín.- Let me give you this marker pen; can you please sign a camera so that all the viewers can see the signature of the President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy Brey, who chose to accompany us here on "El Desayuno" on Tuesday, 30 January.

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

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat of Communication)

Non official translation