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Interview with the Acting President of the Government on Desayunos de TVE

Thursday 11 July 2019

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, Acting President of the Government

Xabier Fortes: Good morning, Mr President of the Government, thank you for being here on public television.

President of the Government: It's a pleasure.

Fortes: Has Pedro Iglesias asked you to be your Vice-President of the Government?

President of the Government: I don't like to reveal private conversations. What is clear is that the method of negotiation we have had with Unidas Podemos over these weeks has not been the right one. It's been a mixture of many things. We've talked about government posts, about content. And I think that it is important to go back to the start, to change the method of negotiation; to talk, first of all, about what is undoubtedly important for citizens, which is not so much who will be in charge of Health, but for example, to extend dental health and recognise it within the National Health System, which is what the Socialists are proposing.

Without a doubt, it is also important to know who will be the minister for Employment, but the most important thing for people is to know whether job creation will continue and what quality these jobs will be; and what wages workers will have.

And so I can tell you right now that I am going to call Mr Iglesias today to start up two teams so that can begin to talk about what is important to people; and we can put aside our differences, which involve whether it is a coalition government or a government based on cooperation. We have to talk about what is important to people. And having said that, let's propose a solution which I believe is positive for Spanish people as a whole.

Spain needs a government and this government, the government that we are proposing, is a progressive government; and that is why we have established Unidas Podemos, but partners who do not depend on separatist parties. And that is also why we are looking at Ciudadanos and the People's Party (Partido Popular); not so that they vote in favour, but rather abstain so as to make it possible to form a government on 22 July.

Fortes: You've just told us about this call that you are going to make within a few hours to Pablo Iglesias. Does that mean that the negotiation is not being approached well on both sides; that 48 hours ago, on Tuesday, there was unease among people, and also among progressive voters?

President of the Government: There's no doubt the method has not worked, because we are at an impasse. We're talking about a number of different things at once. And so I believe that what is important is to return to the starting point, to how we can begin to free up a situation that is really at an impasse, it's paralyzed.

I am in favour of a government of cooperation, and I believe we have some very solid arguments. But in any case, I believe that what is important is not to talk about who will be minister for Health or minister for Employment or minister for Social Security, but about the pensions of our elderly, the jobs of Spanish people. And without a doubt, also, about the National Health System of the Spanish people.

Fortes: Irene Montero has just said that they are again prepared for negotiations, and that the PSOE should abandon its "red lines". Do you also want Podemos to abandon its red lines? I'll have to ask you again. You don't have to disclose what you talked about, but simply, would having Pablo Iglesias in this government represent a red line?

President of the Government: But look, that's not the problem. We have done a great many things together with Unidas Podemos in the last 12 months. We've raised the minimum wage, we've recovered the universality of the public health system; for example, we've recovered the unemployment welfare subsidy for people aged over 52 who are on the dole. We've done things together. In other words, it's clear that there are points on which we agree with Unidas Podemos.

What's the problem? A government has to be a government with internal cohesion; and obviously, internal cohesion does not only imply policies as important as social policies, but also other state policies, where, obviously we have very serious discrepancies with Unidas Podemos. For example, on the Catalan question Unidas Podemos not only supports the right to self-determination, but when Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution was, unfortunately, applied to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, because we had to do it in the face of the separatist challenge in 2016 and 2017; well, they appealed the application of Article 155 before the Judiciary. They talked about political prisoners. If you talk about political prisoners it is because you consider there is a way of understanding the state in our country that is different from that supported by the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party does not admit there are political prisoners. There are politicians who are in jail, who have committed a number of illegal actions that are now being scrutinised by the Supreme Court.

What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is that obviously there are differences and discrepancies that would make a government of the characteristics being proposed by Unidas Podemos to be a government that will be paralysed by its own internal contradictions.

Fortes: It's also true that Pablo Iglesias said with respect to the Catalan question that he would be very disciplined with any line marked by the Government itself, and you in particular.

President of the Government: Yes, look, Mr Fortes, I... how can I put it? Yes, unfortunately, in this term of office, as we await the judgement to be made by the Supreme Court in a few months, the Catalan separatists are again saying, they say they have not abandoned the unilateral way, that they would do it again. They are doing again something they did two years ago. Will Unidas Podemos support the Government of Spain in the hypothetical application, which I do not wish, I repeat, I do not wish, because I am a President of the Government who wishes to resolve the Catalan question, who has not given up on dialogue within the limits set, which are very broad: the Constitution. Would Unidas Podemos be in a government that supports Article 155 of the Constitution, that has to apply it? Would it be in a Government that believes that they are not political prisoners, but simply politicians who are in jail right now defending themselves before justice as a result of alleged illegal acts that were committed during this time?

What I would like to say by that is that I don't want to highlight differences; I am in favour of a government based on cooperation, because I believe that it has been good for the country, because there are social policies that are being implemented thanks to cooperation and understanding between Unidas Podemos and the Socialist Party. But my responsibility as President of the Government is not only to guarantee the investiture, but a government that makes possible the progress needed in our country: in social justice, in ecological transition, in a recovery of the labour rights that were subverted as a result of the People Party's labour reform in 2012, of a reconstruction and recovery of the Welfare State.

We can do a lot about all these issues with Unidas Podemos, but we also have to be aware, and it has to be said clearly to the people, that a government includes social policies, which are very important for a left-wing President of the Government, as I am, but without a doubt, also matters of state. And on matters of state, I repeat, there are basic discrepancies. And these basic discrepancies are discrepancies with respect to the conception and diagnosis of problems, such as for example, the crisis of coexistence that is being experienced in Catalonia.

Fortes: Dates: investiture, in two days, Tuesday and Thursday, within a week and a half; it's being talked about a lot. If you are not successful, will you have a third attempt at the investiture in September or will there be elections?

President of the Government: I'd like to explain to the viewers that analyses often avoid explaining the procedure that is regulated under the Constitution rather than highlighting it. In other words, I am the candidate for President of the Government, because the King has appointed me as candidate. That means, if I don't win this investiture on 22, 23 and 24 July, it's clear that my candidature as President of the Government lapses. So it will then be the Head of State who'll be responsible again for organising a round of consultations and to discover whether, let's say, there is something to work with, to be able to present a second investiture. But that no longer depends on me; nor does it depend on the parliamentary parties.

That's why I believe it is important to tell the rest of the parliamentary parties that the main responsibility for forming a government lies with the main political party in this country, which is the Socialist Party. I accept that. I would like to negotiate with all the political parties. But having a government in Spain not only depends on the Socialist Party, is not only the responsibility of the voters of the Socialist Party: it is the responsibility of all the Spanish people, and as a result, of all the political parties.

That is why I am making a call, knowing that there is no alternative government to the Socialist Party, due to the difference in seats won in the elections of 28 April; I call on all the political parties, the four main political parties, to put their shoulders to the wheel and ensure that there is a government in Spain on 22, 23 July. And then they can engage in any opposition they like. Ciudadanos and the People's Party can fight over who leads the opposition, but let there be a government against which they can engage in opposition.

Fortes: This leads me to the following reflection: There is a letter that was doing the rounds yesterday, and that has been published in some newspapers, from a significant number of members and former members of parliament, who say and ask the People's Party to do as they did, even though they don't agree, to abstain. Are you aware of this letter?

President of the Government: I didn't know this letter, and I am grateful in fact that former Socialist Colleagues have made it public.

But look, I am going President of the Government, I think I also have the responsibility of trying to find a guarantee and a way out for the country on this matter. Let's see, there are two problems here: One is circumstantial and the other structural. The structural problem is that we have an Article 99 of the Spanish Constitution that does not work?

Fortes: Should it be reformed?

President of the Government: It should be reformed. This is the first cross-party agreement that I am going to offer to all the parliamentary parties. In other words, what makes no sense is that on 15 June, we all knew that when a plenary session was called of the City Councils of Barcelona, Madrid, Santander, Bilbao and Cadiz, a government would be formed that day. Why? Because if there was no majority, the list winning most votes in the election becomes the government.

I don't mean that this is the formula to ensure the governability of Spain, but it's clear that we have to find a mechanism that allows an investiture; and that prevents negative coalitions, which tend to lead to a systematic repetition of elections.

Second, that is, let's say, the structural approach that is important to offer the House, and I will do so in my investiture speech and, above all to the main political parties.

Third, there is the circumstantial problem. With respect to the circumstantial problem what I am doing is offering a cross-party agreement to all those political parties, to the People's Party, and to Ciudadanos, and also in particular to Unidas Podemos. And this cross-party agreement is as follows: let's guarantee governability; let's put on the table, as a first means of constitutional reform of Article 99, so that this is the last time that it happens in the entire future investiture process.

Fortes: Will there be more constitutional reforms, once we've opened up this can of worms?

President of the Government: Yes. I have already offered - and we did so in the previous government, in the 12 months we led the government - the reform of Article 49, to define in what I believe is a much more appropriate manner, correct manner, people different capacities, who right now are not recognised with respect to how they are defined in the Spanish Constitution. And also, of course, the removal of special rights for politicians during the exercise of their public office.

Fortes: And the prevalence of men over women in...

President of the Government: No doubt about it.

Fortes: Let's talk about the People's Party. I was asking about the letter, because many people have highlighted the fact... well, that was not what Pedro Sánchez did when it was up to him.

President of the Government: And they're right. But look, you have to look at everything in its political context.

In 2016, what happened? The exhaustion of a political project, that of Mr Rajoy, and of the People's Party, very probably... no, certainly, due to the crisis that he brought about, or his administration, due to the economic crisis, but without any doubt due to corruption. In the event, it's clear that there was a no-confidence motion that removed the People's Party government with the famous judgement of the Audiencia National court on the "Gürtel case".

And second, you have to remember that Mr Rajoy lost: he lost from 180-odd seats to 123 seats. In other words, there was a very significant decline in the People's Party, even, yes, taking into account that it continued to be the main political party in this country.

In the case of 2019 the situation is completely different; a new political cycle is opening up. The Spanish people have said they want the Socialist Party. They said it on 28 April; and they said it with even greater clarity on 26 May. So the only thing I ask for is that if in the end it is impossible to reach an agreement with each of them, because, well, there are some interests get in the way, interests that in my opinion are mistaken... but everyone has the right to defend their own interests, at least to allow the list with most votes to govern. I believe that this would provide a solution, a way out from this investiture crisis, so that we can address this reform and ensure that this is the last time that a candidate to the Presidency of the Government suffers an impasse of these characteristics.

Fortes: This is the barometer, the division of seats: Socialist party, 123; 42 for its preferential partner. You have to continue to add, we'll do the sums later, but it will be, let's say, the basis for an investiture, and also for a legislature.

Some time ago, a few months ago, in an interview with Jordi Évole you said that you had suffered great economic pressure from the "establishment", if I can put it like that, to give up this possible agreement. Have you suffered pressure like that in recent days?

President of the Government: No, not at all. I am the Acting President of the Government.

Fortes: But they could have done it anyway.

President of the Government: Look, quite the reverse. We have, as I say, very many questions in common with Unidas Podemos on which we can agree: in the social area, on ecological transition, on the recovery of employment rights. But, I insist, a government... a government has to be internally coherent. And this internal coherence is not only with respect to sectorial issues, which are very important for a left-wing government, such as social issues. There is also the Catalan issue.

And what's more, the Catalan issue is not something that I have provoked, nor has Unidas Podemos. It's our legacy as a result of many years of inactivity by the government of the People's Party, of an absolute lack of institutional and democratic responsibility by the separatist parties who right now are in government in Catalonia, and a timetable that has been given us by a judgement which will probably be issued in autumn this year.

What do I mean by that? That a government has to deal with questions which are very important for this country; they have to do with coexistence, with demands and the strength of our social and democratic state based on the rule of law. And on this matter we have some basic disagreements.

So we have offered cooperation in which we are not talking about the presence of Unidas Podemos ministers in the Council of Ministers, but a representation of Unidas Podemos at different levels of the public administration; we have said they are a preferred parliamentary partner, and that we are going to implement a programme with social content and progress over the next four years.

We also have a monitoring committee to assess the level of compliance with these agreements. So it seems in all honesty, Mr Fortes, a most sensible proposal, the most realistic and most generous that we can make right now in the context and with politics as they are now.

Fortes: Three questions and then I'll let my colleagues have their turn. You say that there are basic differences that do not allow a coalition government, but you also said that this cannot take place because the sums don't add up; and even if they did, the substantial differences would continue to exist. Will there be a coalition government?

President of the Government: Look, yes, you're right. We would have 176 seats. Often people say that there are coalition governments in Europe. Let's look at the case of Germany, which is something like a paradigm for all coalitions. It's true that there are other coalitions in Europe; there are countries such as, for example, Denmark or Portugal, where there is a minority government of the Socialist Party with left-wing forces supporting it from outside. But let's look at the case of Germany. In Germany there is no territorial crisis such as we are experiencing now in Spain. Point number one. Point number two: if there were such a territorial crisis, I'm convinced that the SPD and CDU would have a similar approach with respect to a crisis of the kind that is taking place in Catalonia, and similar solutions. That is the problem that we have with Unidas Podemos.

Fortes: That would be the same, but then I don't understand the argument that you won't consider a coalition because you don't have the seats: because if you did, the territorial problem would continue to exist.

President of the Government: But look, this question was raised above all when Unidas Podemos said that we have not managed or have not proposed the execution of the agreements in these twelve months as we agreed with them. I deny their basic assumption. In general, we have done it. but in any case, on those matters, for example, such as the decree on housing where we could not reach a 100% agreement, the agreement we did reach with them in our last government was as a result of not having an absolute majority, and so we had to combine other political parties of the nationalist centre-right such as the Basque Nationalist Party, for example, where obviously they also proposed their own approach on how to resolve the home rental crisis. So what I would like to say here is that there are a number of objective reasons for being aware that we cannot mimic or copy what the coalition government in, for example, the City Council of Barcelona means - it was signed yesterday - or a coalition government in Valencia, as arrived at over a month ago, and extend it the governability of our country.

Fortes: In the conversation with Pablo Iglesias you will have this afternoon, will you talk, apart from your programmes, about the profiles of those who could be ministers, whether Podemos supporters or actual members of Podemos?

President of the Government: I left the door open so that Unidas Podemos actually could propose some prestigious independents who can join the government; but it seems that this solution will not make them happy either. I repeat that the approach is political. It's not a question of distributing seats, of sharing power. It is an approach in which as a President of the Government, I have to guarantee a number of things: first, the investiture; second, a government that works; third, stability; and fourth, sufficient internal cohesion so that the challenges we have ahead of us as a country can be addressed in the right way, which is what I have to plan there. Look, we don't have any problems with sharing power. What we need is a serious, generous and undoubtedly also realistic approach with respect to our country's political situation.

Fortes: One last question, very briefly, and then we'll move on to Anabel: Have you already spoken to Albert Ribera, who has been hospitalised?

President of the Government: I sent him a message yesterday. I didn't want to call him because obviously I don't believe that in these circumstances... I wish him the best and hope he recovers as soon as possible.

Fortes: What do you think about him not seeing you? Your message didn't include a "let's meet"?

President of the Government: No, they are two different things. And I'd like to take this opportunity now to wish him a speedy recovery, regardless of any disagreements with respect to politics that obviously have. I don't have a bad personal relationship with Mr Rivera. I do think that he is making a mistake. I deplore the fact that he hasn't even made the effort to meet with someone who has been chosen by the King, and without a doubt as a result of the votes of the Spanish people, as the main political party to try to form a government.

Among other things because I believe that the formation of a government, given the parliamentary characteristics of the Lower house of Parliament, does not depend solely on the Socialist Party. That is why I say that all the political parties have to pull their weight to try to resolve this investiture crisis. So having said that, I repeat that my door is open to meet with Mr Rivera as often as he considers appropriate.

Fortes: I mentioned the situation because he was hospitalised, in case any of our viewers do not know, as a result of gastroenteritis. Let's start the round of questions, Anabel

Q: Anabel Díaz. Yes, Mr President of the Government. I suppose there are many reasons for mistrust on the part of Unidas Podemos. One of them, at least that is what they say in public, is that you would be prepared to reach an agreement, they say, with the right-wing, if you could; but the fact is that Mr Ribera shies away from you, but that your natural proclivity would be to reach an agreement with Ciudadanos. And if you could, as many people also say, would you come to an agreement with Ciudadanos and not with Unidas Podemos?

President of the Government: I want to reach an understanding with Unidas Podemos; the preferred partner of the Socialist Party Government is undoubtedly Unidas Podemos, because we have many points in common. But I repeat, we also have some points of discrepancy with them which will define our term in office, and, as I say, it is not a timetable that we have imposed, it's not a timetable that we have provoked, it is a timetable that is imposed by a political reality that we have inherited as a result, mainly, in my opinion, due to the irresponsibility of the separatist leaders, and also certain inactivity by the previous People's Party government. And as a result we have to handle this reality and this reality requires a government with total internal cohesion. Does that mean that we shouldn't look for points on which Unidas Podemos can share executive responsibilities with the Socialist Party? I believe that they can be found, but to do so we all have to exercise our responsibility and generosity. That is why I said that what is important is to go back to the beginning, rewind and return to the starting point. We have to propose a negotiation, not mixing everything together, but talking first about content, seeing how far we can go with agreements; so that finally, we can unravel, reveal how to make this government a reality and implement all the content we have managed to achieve. I repeat: is it important who will be minister for Health? Obviously, but it is much more important for the general public to know what the approach to public health is in our country.

Q: Iolanda Mármol. Mr President of the Government, you have opened the door to prestigious independents with links to Podemos. Within this category of independents, as Acting President of the Government would you include people, for example, such as members of parliament, not of Unidas Podemos, but of their affiliates, such as Equo, the Mareas: would they enter within this category of prestigious independents, for example, if they had the right track record?

President of the Government: I don't have any a priori prejudice against either militants or colleagues of Unidas Podemos, or of its affiliates. I repeat, I can say that I have formed, I formed a government 12 years ago, where more than a third were prestigious individuals, independents, who had nothing to do with political links to the Socialist Party. I believe that was in fact rewarded by the general public because I formed a government that was open to society and not a government closed to party logic, which in some way is what one can expect from a coalition government. So if Unidas Podemos has a similar approach, I would be prepared to open up the possibility. Why? Because it seems to me that we can do many things together, but I repeat, there are core political elements, not policies but policy of state, that require an internal cohesion. And this is a cohesion that right now, as a result of the discrepancies we have had with Unidas Podemos, we cannot guarantee. And that is something that I have said many times to Mr Iglesias, and that I'd also like to pass on to public opinion: That a government obviously demands social policies, and that is my main priority; social progress, recovery of rights, above all in the working environment, consolidation of economic growth, making reality our country's ecological transition, addressing the digitalisation of our country. But of course it must also tackle systemic crises that affect national sovereignty and territorial integrity, that will require a level of generosity from all. And generosity from all requires, implies that Unidas Podemos should be aware that there are such discrepancies; and that the best thing to guarantee a progressive government is a government of cooperation such as the one we are proposing.

Q: Ignacio Camacho. Mr President of the Government, good morning. When you reach an agreement with Unidas Podemos, you will still be a handful of votes short; there's the PNV and some minority regional parties, but you will still need at least some abstentions, which can only come from the separatist parties or Bildu; unless you decide to play the game proposed by the Union of the People of Navarre by swapping the Government of Navarre for their support. What do you prefer?

President of the Government: Let's see, I believe I've been clear from the start. The investiture crisis can only be resolved between the four main parties in the country. I'm excluding Vox. Between the PP and Ciudadanos, Unidas Podemos and the Socialist Party. I've proposed a progressive government that does not depend on separatist parties. A progressive government requires understanding - we'll see how that plays out - with Unidas Podemos; one that does not depend on the separatists and requires the commitment of the People's Party and Ciudadanos. What do I ask of them? I ask them to vote for me. The only thing I ask of them is that while there is no alternative, because the parliamentary majority does not allow a government other than one that can be led by the Socialist Party, for them at least to facilitate the formation of a government. I repeat, I am even open to negotiating an abstention with them. That is what I said to Mr Casado and Mr Rivera. Unfortunately, what I have received so far is a "no". But I hope they take stock of their responsibility and reflect.

Q: Ignacio Camacho. If they haven't done so, does it require the abstention of a separatist party?

President of the Government: Well, look, Mr Camacho, I understand your approach, but these sums that are calculated add... or rather lack an overall view. The support of a political party, such as Navarra Suma, may draw away the support of other political parties. So there are sums that subtract. And that is something that may people who aren't up-to-date with what is happening in politics don't know, but you who analyse politics every day, know perfectly well of what I'm talking about. Probably the support of a political party such as Navarra Suma would mean that there would be no support from the Basque Nationalist Party at this investiture; so we would be talking about one step forward, two steps back. I repeat, these are the sums for arriving at the figure of 176. I think that it is much more responsible for the main parties such as PP and Ciudadanos, who say they have a sense of statesmanship, should allow a government to be formed; and that the first national agreement that we put on the table should be constitutional reform, so that the next candidate for President of the Government, when there are elections within four years, does not suffer what Mr Rajoy suffered four years ago, or what I am suffering now in this investiture.

Fortes: We've only got a minute left, as well as some more questions for the current President of the Government. One important clarification with respect to what we've talked about, you have allowed yourself some severe self-criticism with respect to the negotiations and that you talked more of government posts.

Q: Jordi Juan. We understand that the teams that will meet are going to talk exclusively about a programme; they are going to look for a programmatic agreement and are not going to talk about posts; and only if an agreement on a programme is reached will there be a second phase on posts. And the specific question within the clarification: there have been voices raised from Esquerra Republicana saying that they are in favour of abstention in exchange for avoiding new elections, which would be very bad; while the stance of the PP and Ciudadanos is different on this matter. Whether you like it or not, it's quite a contradiction that PP and Ciudadanos are so similar to Esquerra Republicana.

President of the Government: I wouldn't say that, but yes I note the sarcasm in your question. I believe it is a contradiction that has to be cleared up by both the People's Party and Ciudadanos. They keep talking about constitutionalism, they keep talking about a sense of statesmanship, but they are clearly preventing the formation of a government. And with respect to your first question, what we want is... the negotiation method we have used has unfortunately has not worked, because we have a problem relating to how to form this government that can implement the agreements included. So let's return again to the starting point, negotiate the content and we leave to one side what type of government it will be. I am prepared to do that, if Unidas Podemos are also prepared to do so. I will support the idea of a government of cooperation because I believe it is the most sensible, the most reasonable idea that can guarantee the stability of the country for these next four years. And obviously, let's leave to the end how we can, let's say, agree on the main stumbling block in my opinion for Unidas Podemos, which is more than who is minister of Health, for example, what kind of public health we have in this country.

Fortes: Two very brief questions unrelated to all this. Today we read in the daily newspaper El País, not only about the exhumation of Franco, but referring to the Pazo de Meirás. Are you going to act, as you have all the legal arguments this time?

President of the Government: No doubt about it.

Fortes: Why?

President of the Government: Because they acted against the law.

Fortes: As simply as that?

President of the Government: As simply as that.

Fortes: You've got it in hand.

And one last question. Nadia Calviño has just said that she is raising the growth forecasts for the economy, although there is talk of some dark clouds on the horizon; but the Commission has raised its economic growth forecasts for our country.

President of the Government: We continue to lead the growth figures. I believe that given the growth of the economy it's also important that we should have a government as soon as possible so that we can approve a budget as soon as possible. That was the main reason why a general election was called on 28 April: because there was no budget. So I believe that Spain cannot be brought to a standstill. Talk of second investitures or third investitures... Spain needs a government in July; it does not need a government either in September and October, or in November; and I can tell you something now, I'm not considering and I'm not working with a scenario of another election.

Fortes: Would your voters and those of Podemos, and this is the last one, understand if you didn't reach an agreement?

President of the Government: Look, I believe that the voters are very aware of the problems of the country and I believe that the important thing, I repeat, is not only to push through the investiture, but to have a government that can guarantee stability over the next four years.

Fortes: Mr President of the Government, thank you very much for being here on Spanish public television.

President of the Government: It's been a pleasure.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)