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Statements by the President of the Government after meeting with President of the Regional Government of Catalonia

Barcelona, Thursday 6 February 2020

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, President of the Government

Good day, bon día,

I want to begin by making a statement and I will then take questions and comments from the media.

Let me start by saying that I feel today is an important day for Catalonia and for the whole of Spain. It is because it is the start of a process that exceeds in importance those who have started it. Today is the day in which, in the opinion of the Government of Spain, the Dialogue for Rapprochement begins.

And in this context, you will forgive me if I begin by repeating the words I spoke at the investiture debate a few weeks ago, but that are particularly relevant today.

I said back then that what I propose, what the Government of Spain proposes, is to make a new start; we need to make a new start. We need to resume dialogue that was lost when we parted ways and people ceased listening to reason and arguments. Resume dialogue that was lost when confrontation began to heighten. And resume, I carried on by saying, the path of politics, leaving behind the judicialisation of conflicts. Resume, I carried on by saying, the path of dialogue, negotiation and agreement.

We all know that dialogue is necessary. That dialogue should begin with acknowledging the other party. And by paying heed to their reasons. There is no other way to begin resolving this dispute. There is no other way except through dialogue within the bounds of the law. The law by itself is not enough - we have seen this in recent years. Legality is the condition, but dialogue, as I said then, is the path.

I have come here today with a deep feeling of honour, here to the Palace of the Regional Government of Catalonia, to meet with the current regional president - Quim Torra, to speak. And I must say that I am grateful for his tone, and also for the predisposition of Regional President Torra to dialogue. He has spoken honestly, and been open in his dialogue. And this has also been respectful dialogue between the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia and the President of the Government of Spain. Because the meaning of this meeting is precisely to show our sincere interest, which I want to pass on to the whole of Spanish society and to the whole of Catalan society, a sincere intention to enter into dialogue and forge a consensus.

I have come here today, with profound respect and emotion, to the Palace of the Regional Government of Catalonia to express the wish of a large majority of citizens of Catalonia and of Spain as a whole, who are anxious to see dialogue give rapprochement a chance.

It is hard to reach agreement on exactly when things started to sour.

There are those who look back a long time to find that moment in time, and others who look at more recent dates. But, at any event, one thing is certain, which is that the last decade has been fraught with disagreement, with institutional conflict, with political conflict and also with social tension. In short, the balance of the last decade is dismal. No-one has won, everyone has lost. No-one can feel proud or satisfied at this balance; it is dismal. And it has left in its wake despondency and even weariness in our citizens as a whole.

I have not only come here to talk about institutions. I have come here to talk on behalf of millions of people, citizens of Catalonia and also of Spain as a whole, who can no longer tolerate extending this period of mistrust, hostility and confrontation. I have come here to talk about hope and rapprochement.

Now is the time for change; now is the time to move forward. And it is true that this will not happen immediately, we are well aware of that; we are talking about a crisis that has developed over many years, and consequently we are going to need a great deal of patience, determination and generosity. But what is clear is that we must change course immediately.

And in this term of office that has just begun in Spain in national politics, we must begin down a new path of dialogue to find this rapprochement that I just called for.

The way to do politics must radically change. We must seek agreement and not division. That is the aspiration with which the Government of Spain addresses this conflict. And that is my aspiration in my mandate as President of the Government, and it is what I want to pass on to the Catalan public as a whole, which is to deploy a political action aimed at understanding, and consequently at rapprochement.

I am convinced that this is the aim of most people. But above all, this is the noblest aim and that is what I also wish to advocate from politics today - the resolution of conflict through dialogue and agreement.

We are so confused by all the noise and shouting that we often forget that the goal of politics is to resolve conflicts, not to exacerbate them, and much less to make them up in an attempt to take advantage of them.

That is why I have not only come here to talk about institutions, but also to talk about people, about citizens that hope to live together in mutual respect. Because this is a story that is about people, first and foremost. If we look back it is true that there are some grounds for discord and also reasons for mistrust, but, more importantly, we will find ties of affection, and reasons for friendship.

And if we are indebted to the past, then we owe the present and the future an even greater debt.

We owe a debt to the present, that is clear. To the present lives of millions of Catalans, and of Spaniards who have no reason for rancour and wish each other no harm; who wish to once again look at each other without reservations and without mistrust. Members of families, friends, neighbours, colleagues who are all fed up with asking others about their ideals at the start of a conversation. People who are tired of reading headlines about clashes between the Government of Spain and the Regional Government of Catalonia, while their chances for progress slip away from them, as happened, for example, with the European Medicines Agency. People who don't wish to offend anyone; men and women who only seek recognition and respect.

People who are fed up, in short, with the exchange of reproaches, of sharing out blame, in short, fed up of this perpetual stalemate. And we owe, above all, a debt to the future, to the future of our children, of our grandchildren, who deserve to live in concord, and also to prosper in respect. The world we will leave them is facing challenges that exceed in their dimension the borders of Catalonia or even of the whole of our country. A good example is climate change, which attacks us indiscriminately, without recognising borders, as we have seen, for example, on the coastlines of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. This needs us all to respond side by side, whether it be the Mossos d'Esquadra [Regional Police Force of Catalonia] the State law enforcement agencies, the fire brigade, the Guardia Civil or Civil Protection to respond to this challenge.

Another example is the digital revolution, in which the Government of Spain clearly supports forums such as the Mobile World Congress, which Barcelona hosts, and must continue hosting - that is the commitment of the Government of Spain - to find many responses to this challenge of the digital revolution.

Or the conquering of a decent society with men and women who are free and enjoy equal rights, and with the challenge our generation faces to fight and combat criminal male violence. And also to vanquish inequalities and social injustices, which weaken our societies and deprive many people of the essential conditions to enjoy a full life. We can only fight these injustices together. Working side by side. And we can observe this when the sensitivities that spawned in Barcelona regarding the right to decent housing extended and spilled over to every corner of Spain.

So, the question we must ask is whether we tackle climate change together, whether we face the digital revolution together, whether we deal with male violence together, whether we make progress on a united front against social injustice together or whether we waste more time in litigation that can be resolved through politics.

There is no enemy so dark and so strong that can prevent a rapprochement. It is true that there is a certain resistance, we are all aware of that. The whole of Catalan and Spanish society is aware of that. There will be sectors of both Catalonia and of the whole of Spain that will resist dialogue; there are those who think that imposition is the only acceptable way to address this political controversy.

And this resistance exists, but we are convinced that we will overcome this. And we are also convinced that we can overcome this because there are many more of us who seek dialogue and a rapprochement and, moreover, we represent the start of hope. I even believe that those opposed to dialogue, in the awareness that they have nothing to offer, will end up joining the path of consensus rather than standing alone.

To end, I wish to express three thoughts about the spirit and the method with which the Government of Spain will address this new era of dialogue.

Firstly, I have come to this meeting as the President of the Government of Spain. And during the course of all the dialogue we have initiated, we will make an effort to act on behalf of all the Spanish people, from whatever latitude or ideology, because Spain, like Catalonia, is a plural society, profoundly plural. Consequently, we shall endeavour to be guided by the common good and the general interest. We must all be the beneficiaries of dialogue and consensus.

But I have also come here - and this is the second observation I would also like to make in this introduction to the press briefing - as the head of a progressive coalition government; I stress, a progressive coalition government. In the last general elections, this coalition received broad backing in Catalonia comparable with the backing received by the forces that make up the current Regional Government of Catalonia.

We will thus speak on behalf of millions of Spanish citizens, including among their number millions of Catalans that call to be acknowledged and respected.

In our endeavours, we will be taking into account, and this is what I would like to underline, the plural reality of Catalonia. This is a social, cultural and political plurality which must be emphasised over the course of the dialogue commencing here, because a rapprochement only works if it takes account of the whole of Catalan society.

Thirdly, I would like to express - as I conveyed to Regional President Torra just a few minutes ago - that we will act with constancy, with honesty, with clarity, with the overarching goal of rapprochement, of agreement.

And to this end, we have agreed on certain aspects with the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia that I will now announce, but first I should say that the Government of Spain has conveyed to Regional President Torra already the terms of the dialogue for rapprochement, a document that addresses different issues

The first of these addresses the channels for overcoming this political controversy. This matter will precisely be the subject on which the Negotiating Table will work which was agreed on in the investiture speech and process in Spain, together with Esquerra Republicana [Republican Left of Catalonia], which also forms part of the Regional Government of Catalonia.

I can announce to you that Regional President Torra and I have agreed to hold the first meeting of this bilateral committee between the Government of Spain and the Regional Government of Catalonia later this month, that is, later in February.

This dialogue for rapprochement also includes the document that I have passed to Regional President Torra containing all those matters that have been successively expressed by the different presidents of the Regional Government of Catalonia, prior to Mr Torra, over the last 10 years, demands that were made to the Central Government in Madrid. There is a total of 44 points conveyed by the three former Presidents of the Regional Government of Catalonia, which we have undertaken to respond to and design proposals to resolve as soon as possible. I say this because we want the bilateral committee which is framed within the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia to meet in February, headed up by the Minister for Territorial Policy who has accompanied us on this official visit we have made to the Regional Government of Catalonia.

Precisely all of the matters pending from the moment in which - as I said at the start of my speech, and with this I will draw to a close - our ways parted and reason and arguments fell on deaf ears, will find their corresponding response. And in certain cases this response is affirmative; in others, an alternative is proposed. But in all cases the response is constructive.

All these points, as I said before, will be addressed by the bilateral committee made up of representatives of the Central Government and of the Regional Government of Catalonia, which we also hope will be able to meet up over the course of February.

In short, we are designing a clear calendar and an agenda that brings us closer, as I said before, to a rapprochement. And I am aware that the path will not be easy and will not be quick. There are very deep wounds that have been opened and which won't just heal like that. This will take time, it will take effort, but these are just additional reasons to commence this dialogue between institutions as soon as possible.

And perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised to find, in such a fast-moving world as the one we live in, that a rapprochement ends up coming quicker than expected.

The paragraph I quoted before - and with this I will finally close - in the Lower House said "We have spent too many years consuming collective energies on political tensions. We have spent too much time courting controversy. We have spent too much time in litigation, much of it to no avail, taking away time from those matters that could offer greater prosperity and progress".

Hence, we are starting this legislature of territorial dialogue right now. Let's do so with the creation of the Negotiating Table, of course, but also with the daily parliamentary work in the Lower House of Parliament, in the Conference of Regional Presidents, which we will call each year over the course of this legislature, because I believe that although the challenge is great, it is also worthwhile. So, let's get to work now; let's move on, and with this I wish to say thank you, moltes gràcies, and I will now take any questions you may have.

Q: Good day, Marta Lasalas, from 'Elnacional.cat'. Since it seems there will only be three questions, my question has several parts, all of which are important. Firstly, given that you have announced that you wanted the Negotiating Table to meet this month, we wanted to know the composition of the Negotiating Table, the position of the Government of Spain as regards the issue of the mediator and what you think about the demands made by the Regional Government of Catalonia to talk about self-determination and an amnesty for the political prisoners.

President of the Government: Well, thank you very much Marta. Let's see, as regards the composition, I feel that this is something that will need to be negotiated between the two parties, but I declare my interest in heading up this first meeting of the bilateral committee in this month of February. But, I repeat, it is something we will have to talk about, as well as the agenda of the points to be discussed by this committee between the two tiers of government.

As regards the mediator, I believe I said at the start of my speech that this will be frank dialogue, absolutely transparent dialogue and we will attend, at least on the part of the Government of Spain, with absolute clarity. Hence, the mediator will be the 47 million citizens who will bear witness to frank, sincere and transparent dialogue in which you will clearly be able to see all the proposals, opinions and positions of both the Government of Spain and of the Regional Government of Catalonia.

And lastly, as regards the questions that Regional President Torra has raised in the private meeting we held, on self-determination and amnesties, as he mentioned, well as you can see there are several issues.

The first is that a democracy is strong when it is a democracy capable of dialogue, and it is clear that self-determination, to quote that example, but also those other questions being raised by the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, show that we are in a dialogue process that is going to be very long, that will not be easy, that will be very complex, but in short, it is a path that we must take step-by-step, and if these proposals by the Regional Government of Catalonia show anything it is how far apart, how disparate, how distant the positions of the Government of Spain and of the Regional Government of Catalonia are from each other. Of course, I have always believed that those of us with firm convictions, with firm principles, don't fear speaking about anything, and hence the positions I have maintained in public and in private in relation to the self-determination of Catalonia, which is what the independence movement advocates, will always find the political position I have maintained both in public and in private, which is that I am a firm proponent of self-rule in Catalonia, because I believe it is integrating, it brings together more Catalans and best represents the plurality and sentiment of Catalan society.

But, at any event, if this type of proposal shows anything, it is the complexity and the distance between the positons of the Government of Spain and of the Regional Government of Catalonia

Q: Isabel García Pagán, from 'la Vanguardia'. Good day, you also announced that in February you plan to call the bilateral committee, and the agenda you gave Regional President Torra includes the reform of regional financing. We would like to know whether the negotiation of the financing will also be bilateral for Catalonia or whether this will be limited by the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council.

And as regards this Council, which should meet tomorrow, in your document you also speak about a margin of negotiable deficit. We would like to know precisely whether the regions can go above a zero deficit as set out for this year and what you think about your natural counterpart in the negotiations for your investiture, which is Pere Aragonés, not attending this meeting of the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council.

President of the Government: Thank you Isabel. I would like the Regional Government of Catalonia to be represented on the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council and I asked Regional President Torra to reconsider his position. I feel that it is important for Catalonia to have a voice and be represented at the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council because we are going to commence an important debate on the path of stability.

Of course, the Government of Spain has, and furthermore we demonstrated this in 2019 with the path of stability that we presented then, every sympathy with the autonomous regions in particular. We proposed a much more flexible horizon of stability than had initially been proposed by previous administrations with a different ideological bias, which is the direction and approach we will put before to the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council tomorrow.

But, at any event, this is a debate that the Minister for the Treasury will have to substantiate, and hence I will leave the matter there, but I would like the Fiscal and Financial Policy Council to include the voice and the representation of the Regional Government of Catalonia, because, among other questions, we are talking about the budgetary framework we want to use to fund healthcare, long-term care, active employment policies, housing policies, in short, all those matters that also affect and benefit the people of Catalonia.

Q: Paula de las Heras, from 'Colpisa'. Yes, President of the Government. I know that this is an exclusive power of the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, but taking into account the importance that the date of the elections may have in Catalonia, both on the dialogue that is commencing at this time, and on the future of this legislature, I wanted to ask you if you have spoken to Regional President Torra about this matter, and, on furthermore, if you maintain your plan to present the draft National Budget in March so that it can be approved before the summer begins. Thank you.

President of the Government: Thank you Paula. As regards the first question, the answer is very simple. I am very respectful of the powers of all the regional presidents, and hence Regional President Torra is empowered to decide when to call elections, so we haven't touched on that matter, as you would expect.

As regards the second question, I believe that the Regional Parliament of Catalonia is on the verge of approving the first budget after three years of extended budgets; and clearly the perfect complement would be to have a good Budget for all of Spain's citizens, as well as those of Catalonia, at a general level. We did this when we presented the draft Budget in 2019, complying with some judicial questions and resolutions in terms of financing for the Mossos d'Esquadra, in terms of the third Additional Provision of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and the levels of public investment by the State in Catalonia, and also all those social policies that define a progressive coalition such as ours in the fields of healthcare, education and long-term care.

In short, I believe in this case it was Esquerra Republicana, but I appreciate that this applied to the whole of the Regional Government of Catalonia, that said they must govern for all of the people of Catalonia, and consequently the approval of the budget for Catalonia is justified, and much more so the approval of the National Budget for the whole of Spain, since it is clear that we are using a Budget that is not our own, with an ideological bias that has nothing to do with what the Spanish people said they wanted on 10 November through the ballot box, and consequently we also hope that the new dynamic of Spanish politics will soon mean a National Budget at a State level.

When will we present the draft Budget? Firstly, we are negotiating the path of budget stability with the regional governments, with the local authorities, and then we must do this with Brussels. That is the Budget Stability Act, which must be presented and clarify this path, but I can say to you that it is the intention of the Government of Spain to approve the National Budget as soon as possible, and I can add that this idea of as soon as possible has nothing to do with the election calendar, it is related to how pressing and important the issues are that affect the daily lives of the citizens of this country.

Q: President of the Government, good afternoon. Claudio Soto, from the daily 'Mercurio de Chile', asking on behalf of the international media. To get this straight, did you or did you not speak by phone with Delcy Rodríguez so as not to receive [Juan] Guaidó and has there been a change in Spanish foreign policy regarding that country? Thank you.

President of the Government: Thank you very much and, moreover, I am grateful because I sometimes have the feeling when you get close to some media outlets that lying has become confused with journalism. I call for good journalism, and that is a lie and a downright falsehood; it is false. And what surprises me most is that before publishing this news it has not been verified with the Government of Spain.

So, it is absolutely false that I spoke by phone with the Vice-President of Venezuela. Absolutely false. I stress that I am ashamed that journalism is confused with lies because I believe it is very important to guarantee the credibility of information reported because citizens are entitled to be informed, but truthfully, and not fed lies, which is what we have unfortunately seen from some media. And I regret this; I truly do.

As regards your second question, I wish to say that the Government of Spain has always maintained the same line, that of holding free and democratic elections in Venezuela as soon as possible. It must be the people of Venezuela who decide on their future and hence we have headed up, within the European Union, the international contact group to try and unblock the deadlock in Venezuela.

And secondly as well, I should say that we have also headed up at an international level the recognition of the opposition, the sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, on some occasions at a European level as well, and hence we stand where we always have, with freedom and democracy for the Venezuelan people. Now, I would also add that we are not in favour, nor ever have been, of taking part in solutions raised by some international players of any form of military interference or intervention in Venezuela. As a country and as a government, that is something that we can never accept or support.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation