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Speech by Acting President of the Government following meeting with leaders of PP, Cs and UP

Moncloa Palace, Madrid, Wednesday 16 October 2019

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, Acting President of the Government.

Good evening, thank you for attending this press briefing.

I would like to use my first words to praise the members of the State law enforcement agencies. To the men and women of the National Police, the Guardia Civil, the Mossos d'Esquadra [Catalan regional police force] who, over recent days and even right now, are working to protect constitutional rights and liberties in Catalonia with tremendous professionalism despite the enormous pressure they are under.

On behalf of all Spanish society, I wish to pass on our recognition and gratitude for your essential work in defending the constitutional and statutory legality in Catalonia. And, together with this recognition and gratitude, we hope all those members of the State law enforcement agencies, and also of the Mossos d'Esquadra that have been injured in the violent altercations we have seen in the last few hours, will soon recover.

The professionalism, together with the great coordination with which the different law enforcement agencies are operating - both State and regional - is the best response to violent extremism. All of them - the National Police, Mossos d'Esquadra and Guardia Civil - must be aware that they are backed by the whole of society because they are the guarantors of what is most precious to us - the defence of public liberties and civil rights. So thank you for your work and for your contention in response to the provocations of the extremists.

Last night and this very morning, we have seen in parallel the exercise of the peaceful right of people to demonstrate who are not discontent with the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court, and also the deployment of violent groups that are perfectly organised, who are resolute in intimidating and disturbing co-existence through violent hooligan actions. We have nothing to object to those who wish to peacefully exercise their constitutional right. What's more, it is the responsibility of the public powers to guarantee their right to the freedom of peaceful expression of their ideas.

But, given these violent actions, the government reiterates that it will not consent, for any reason whatsoever, to violence being imposed on co-existence. The Government of Spain acts and will continue to act with all State mechanisms so as to guarantee the full validity of fundamental rights and the maintenance of order in Catalonia, including the right to peaceful demonstration.

The Government of Spain is tackling and will continue to tackle any form of violence against people and against public goods as we are seeing in the city of Barcelona, and also against private goods, as is being perpetrated by organised violent groups and isolated violent individuals.

Catalan society, and the whole of Spanish society, should be aware that the Government of Spain considers all scenarios and will respond at all times with three rules that it has reiterated over recent days. The first is democratic firmness, the calm firmness of our democracy. Secondly, the unity of political parties, and thirdly, proportionality in the response.

Firmness in the defence of democracy and the consequent guarantee of our co-existence. Proportionality in the response to the challenge and not caving in to provocation. And the unity of action of all those political forces prepared to defend constitutional order, and consequently, the rights and liberties of all Spanish people.

Precisely today I have held a series of meetings with the main leaders of the leading parliamentary forces in our country. I have called for them to maintain unity, and leave to one side any party interests to offer a single response to this challenge.

And I wish to directly convey to the people of Spain what I have just expressed to the different parliamentary forces.

First, that the State will always guarantee the right of those people who exercise their right to peacefully demonstrate. Secondly, that organised violent groups and, in general, those who seek to break democratic laws, will not achieve their goal. Our social and democratic State under the rule of law is strong and is fully backed by the law. Thirdly, the only hope for violent groups is that we make mistakes; their only hope is to see us rattled and divided. They want us to be rattled so that we cave in to their provocations and help fuel this escalation of violence. And they want to see us divided to weaken us and try and impose their will on democracy. But they will find us to be in line with the gravity the moment calls for: firm, calm and united.

The legitimate right to demonstration and association contained in Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution will be upheld. However, there are no reasons, grounds or ideas that justify the use of violence in a democracy such as Spain's, which has conquered liberty after a long and painful struggle.

That is why the first obligation of any democrat is to prevent violence imposing itself on the right of millions of Catalans to live side-by-side in peace, whatever their political opinion may be. And also the right to live side-by-side of those who, whilst in favour of independence, overwhelmingly reject the use of violence. It is precisely for this reason that I wish to make an express call to the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia. Both he and the members of his regional government have a political duty and a moral duty to condemn, with clarity and determination, and without excuses or disclaimers, the use of violence in Catalonia.

Millions of people live in Catalonia who, regardless of their political ideas, are entitled to live in peace and security. And that is incompatible with the conduct of violent groups that endanger the peace of their cities, the properties of their neighbours and the physical integrity of citizens, including their own.

No governor should cover up his own failure behind smoke screens.

I also wish to inform you that, for some weeks now, the Government of Spain has been working on different ways to respond. Since last Thursday, 10 October, a coordination committee to monitor, report and advise the Presidency of the Government on the events that could unfold as a reaction to the ruling by the Supreme Court on the events of 1 October 2017 in Catalonia was activated on a preventative basis.

This committee is made up of representatives of the different departments represented on the Council of Ministers. The Office of the Presidency of the Government, the Vice-Presidency of the Government, the Department of National Security, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence for tasks related to cyber-security, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of the Treasury, the Ministry of Public Works and the National Intelligence Centre, together with the State Secretariat for Communication.

This is the first time it has been activated to ensure coordination is impeccable, and that the evaluation of the situation is as thorough as possible and strictly followed. Since last Monday, this coordination has also translated into cooperation through ongoing communication with the main leaders of the political parties.

The activation of this committee, primarily for preventative purposes, allows us to work on a comprehensive basis and include multi-disciplinary information to take the best decision. Hence, as you can see, the committee both plans and takes action.

And I want to announce to you that since last weekend, this coordination committee has been on "constant alert".

The Ministry of Home Affairs, as the media is aware, acts as spokesperson and over the course of the week has been providing updated information to the media on any incident or news observed.

I wish to conclude by calling on Catalan society as a whole and on Spanish society as a whole, for calm and moderation. The Government of Spain guarantees and will guarantee the rights and liberties of everyone in Catalonia. And it will do so calmly and firmly as is due in a social and democratic State under the rule of law, with unity and proportionally in response to the violence.

Moderation in providing a response is another form of strength.

I am convinced that we are going to overcome these episodes of violence and that Catalan and Spanish society as a whole will have no doubts that sooner rather than later calm and co-existence will be re-established in Catalonia.

Thank you very much.

Q: Yes, good afternoon. We know that the government is investigating who is behind the self-proclaimed movement 'Tsunami Democrátic'. I wanted to know whether the government has information at this time that leads it to tie in Regional President Torra to violent groups that are acting in Catalonia. I would also like the government's opinion on the regional president taking part in blocking a highway. And enquire as to what the government intends to do if Regional President Torra continues not to clearly condemn violence in Catalonia.

Thank you.

Acting President of the Government: As regards your first question, I cannot give you any information. Right now, as I said before, this Coordination Committee that has been working for the last few weeks, together with the Department of National Security, with the National Intelligence Centre and with the Ministry of Home Affairs, and is investigating, as the Acting Minister for Home Affairs also mentioned as the spokesperson for this committee, this platform, and we have some information. We are starting to see exactly who is behind this platform but if you will allow me I won't say any more on this matter until such time as we have all the information available and are able, in some way, to take action against this platform.

And secondly, as regards the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, I feel I have been fairly clear in my communication, in my institutional statement. I feel that not only the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia but also all the members of the Regional Government of Catalonia should make an outright condemnation of any act of violence. Any act of violence. And of course, and just look, I - who have some experience of this because I had to live through this in much more dramatic circumstances back in 2017 than at this time - have it very clear that we must remain firm. Because, furthermore, the social and democratic State under the rule of law grants us these instruments to be firm and effective in our response; but we must also guarantee the unity of all political parties. And, above all, we must provide a proportional response.

The message I would like to convey to Catalan society as a whole and to Spanish society is that we are indeed going to adjust our response according to the attitude and the decisions taken by the politicians that are institutionally responsible for the Regional Government of Catalonia. But as regards co-existence, the rights and liberties of the Catalan people, whatever they may think and when they exercise them peacefully will obviously be preserved by the Government of Spain. Let that not be in doubt.

And I will also say to you, and I am convinced of this, despite the dramatic images we have seen over recent days, over recent hours, that co-existence and calm will be restored in Catalonia. And I feel that one of the main guarantees of this happening is the extraordinary cooperation between the Mossos d'Esquadra, the National Police and the Guardia Civil.

Q: Good evening, Acting President of the Government. Coming back to the question my colleague Beatriz asked you, I would ask what needs to specifically happen in Catalonia? What must happen for the government to adopt exceptional measures? And I wanted to ask you, above all, for a reflection as Acting President of the Government. You are well aware that this ruling, that these sentences, have stirred up public opinion in Catalonia, both of the pro-independence movement and of others. What message would you send out to them and how will the dialogue be possible that you call for from political parties whose leaders are in prison and who will be there for 13 years?

Thank you.

Acting President of the Government: Well, I feel that the day the ruling was announced, I was quite clear with Catalan public opinion and also with the Catalan political leaders. And I said that, firstly, what needed to be done was to uphold the ruling. And secondly, that the Catalan political leaders needed to undertake an exercise in self-criticism, because if the Supreme Court ruling shows anything, it is that the so-called Catalan pro-independence process has derailed; it has failed.

I then called, and I also call today, on the whole of Catalan society and Spanish society, to open up a new period. But this new period must have certain parameters, certain premises, which remain valid today, as they did yesterday and in the future. And that is that any dialogue must fall within the parameters of the law, and of the democratic legality that we have all conferred in a vote some decades ago, including by Catalan society, in favour of the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, which are legal frameworks within which we can talk.

And I will add something further, which is that the pro-independence movement in Catalonia, whilst it has a large following, does not have a majority following, as some pro-independence Catalan forces would claim. And hence Catalonia must rediscover Catalonia; the Catalan pro-independence movement must address those Catalans not in favour of independence. And what Catalan institutions must do is govern for everyone and not just for a part, which is precisely what we are seeing in the figure of Regional President Torra. Just look, I feel he is not governing for the minority of the self-proclaimed majority in favour of independence in Catalonia, but increasingly in favour of a radical part of the percentage of those who are in favour of independence in Catalonia at this time.

I feel that we must open up this new era, that we must ensure that all political parties, firstly in Catalonia, make an effort to open up channels of dialogue, and ensure that this is done, of course, within the law as provided for by the Constitution and regional statutes. And under these terms I am assured that the Socialist Party of Catalonia will always be willing to enter into dialogue. And of course, from the point of view of the Government of Spain, we will always be willing to facilitate this dialogue.

And in relation to your first question, Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution was applied in 2017. Different political leaders talk about the application of the National Security Act. The Constitutional Court has already established certain legal doctrine in regard to the premises, the conditions, so as to apply Article 155. I feel that we have the law to offer guarantees; we have the premises, the contexts that can justify the application of some laws or others, whether an article of the Constitution, whether the application of the National Security Act. But, as I said before, what I feel is very important is for those who commit violence, those who protect them or urge them on, albeit only verbally, to be aware that they will come up against moderation as a form of strength. We will not overreact.

I have said this on many occasions, we will act calmly but firmly; we will provide a proportional response. And hence, under these premises I am convinced that Catalonia will re-establish calm, co-existence and that these phenomena we are witnessing of violence will be what they are - examples of the radical marginality that part of the pro-independence movements represents at this time, but that do not represent, in any way whatsoever, the majority of Catalan society regardless of whether or not they vote for pro-independence forces.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript revised by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation