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Home » Content » President of Catalonia, Pere Aragonés: “The amnesty law must be very solid because there is a risk of boycott”
"I have energy and I would like to be the candidate".

INTERVIEW WITH PERE ARAGONÉS

Jordi Juan, Barcelona, 14 January 2024

The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, and the director of La Vanguardia, Jordi Juan, in a moment of the interview // Àlex Garcia / Own

The President talks about his future: “I have all the energy, all the strength, and I would like to be the candidate”.

Pere Aragonès (Pineda de Mar, 1982) receives La Vanguardia at the beginning of his last year as president excited about being a candidate again and satisfied that the path of dialogue that his party opened in Catalonia has been consolidated.

With a year to go until the elections, in your investiture speech you set yourself three challenges. Let’s get to it. The first was to tackle with total determination the social urgencies and inequalities that we suffer. Has progress been made in this area?

Catalonia has made progress, but there is still a long way to go. If we only look, for example, at the unemployment rate. Today we have an unemployment rate of 8.5%, the lowest in the last 15 years. We have a welfare state with many challenges, but with more instruments than ever, and with more workers at the service of education, health, security and social services.

Junts-ERC

“The government should reflect on which of the two strategies it favours and which it does not”.

The second was to promote economic reconstruction based on industry.

My government has promoted the National Pact for Industry, which had unanimous support from the political point of view, with a great agreement also with the social partners and all the sectors involved.

And the third point you talked about was to make amnesty and self-determination inevitable.

We have achieved a good part of the way. I would like to remind you that when I was sworn in as president, we had nine people in prison. There was no established framework for political dialogue and Catalonia was just emerging from a pandemic that had left very deep scars. Today, almost three years later, we have political prisoners released and an amnesty agreed and soon to be approved.

Model of a country

“Mixing immigration and crime is a mistake and is far from that of Catalan nationalism”.

Are you satisfied with your relationship with the central government?

The relationship I would like to have with the government would be state to state. I am pro-independence. Therefore, I can never be satisfied with a relationship that is between an autonomous Catalonia and a Spain on which I depend. But I believe that there has been a change that has not been easy, which has been based on a commitment to dialogue and negotiation. When we made this commitment, there were sectors that scorned it, in Catalonia and in Spain, but today we have a broad majority in Parliament that is clearly committed to this path. And those who had criticised it, who had considered it useless, are now practising it.

Those who say they have signed up now, i.e. Junts, seem to have arrived later, but they have been brought forward because in this week’s recent session in Congress it seems that they have negotiated better …

Beyond the sensations and the headlines, it remains to be seen how these things will materialise, because for the moment what we know is very generic and there are no details. The relevant agreements that have taken place this week are others. Firstly, a royal decree law has been ratified that provides tools to protect Catalans from poverty, as well as the guaranteed citizenship income, which will be managed jointly by the Generalitat.

Budgets

“We have not signed any blank cheque to approve the State’s accounts”.

In view of the way this first session has gone, do you think that ERC should change its strategy and do a bit like Junts and tighten the rope more to try to achieve more things?

I think the state government will have to reflect on which dynamics it favours and which it does not. We have a very clear strategic approach that is based neither on tactics nor on last-minute rushes. We are clearly committed to negotiation, to resolving the political conflict, in order to be able to culminate it with the exercise of a referendum. We have also set three objectives for 2024: a singular financing for Catalonia, the completion of the transfer of the Rodalies and a clear commitment, from Catalonia, but also that there must be a commitment from the State to promote and defend the Catalan language.

One of the fruits obtained by Junts has been the delegation of immigration powers. Do you agree with this? I ask because ERC voted against this transfer in a vote in Parliament.

I would like to point out that what they voted against in Parliament was a specific text, which Junts had proposed in this case, and which we did not support because there were many elements in common with those who use immigration to decohere society. Therefore, you will not find us with populist discourses that use immigration for electoral purposes. I am pro-independence and, therefore, I want all competences in immigration and in all areas. And another issue is security issues. I believe that mixing them together does the country a disservice and moves away from the long tradition of Catalan nationalism, which Junts and previously Convergència had also defended as an integrating Catalanism.

Independentism

“We have opened the way, and today everyone is on the path of negotiation.

negotiation”.

In the plenary session the obstacles to initiating the amnesty law were also overcome. Will ERC present amendments to the bill?

If there are amendments that are presented, they will be made in agreement, especially with the State Government, because they are amendments of a technical nature to improve the text. The question is that it should be as solid a law as possible because we see that they have enemies. There are enemies of the resolution in the connection of the political conflict. There are enemies for the fact that this country is moving from a situation of conflict to being an institution of debate, dialogue, negotiation and being able to find agreements. And these enemies are very powerful at the Spanish level and will try to boycott the application of the law in its spirit and in its form.

In this climate of consensus that you are offering the government, is this the same climate that you must expect for the Socialists to approve their budgets?

I appeal not only to the PSC but also to the Commons, Junts and the CUP, the parties with which we have reached agreements throughout this legislature, to assume their responsibility for the budget. We have done the work as a government and we have prepared a project that foresees an increase in spending of 2,400 million euros, that foresees providing our country’s healthcare with an extraordinary fund of 800 million, or that the area of education will increase by more than 9%.

Sánchez’s government needs your votes to approve theirs. It seems logical that you should support each other.

Budgets will have to be negotiated, here and there.

The next elections

“I have energy and I would like to be the candidate”.

You don’t take your support for the central government’s budgets for granted?

Esquerra has not signed any blank cheque. Nor will we ask anyone to sign a blank cheque for our government. Our will is that there will be good budgets in Catalonia and good budgets in the State…

You mentioned that your government has done its job, but there are many doubts in public opinion about your government’s management. Let’s move on to more specific questions: drought. What has gone wrong for the Barcelona region to be on the verge of entering this emergency situation?

What has happened is that we are suffering the longest and most intense drought ever recorded. If it hadn’t been for the fact that we activated the special drought plan two years ago, we would have been in an emergency situation a year ago. We have resisted extraordinarily well and, obviously, we must continue to expand infrastructures, especially because we will continue to have more droughts in the future.

But you will admit that there has been a lack of investment in recent years, won’t you?

I think we need to look at the whole picture. And finally, look, the Catalan Water Agency, in this country, has been managed by the PSC, Convergència Unió and Junts, Iniciativa and Comuns, and now it has been managed by Esquerra for the last two years.

Transfer

“The interconnection with the Ebro basins makes no sense and goes against the EU”.

Are you worried about whether the restrictions will affect industry?

I am concerned about any impact. The primary sector, the farmers, and stockbreeders of our country, are already making an important effort, and now it will be necessary for this effort to be assumed by other sectors with a different intensity.

Do you reject the interconnection of the waters of the Ebre with the ATLL?

Yes, clearly. And I do so for two reasons. The first is because it makes no sense, and even less so because it goes against EU criteria. Catalonia’s internal basins, in the future and with the infrastructures we are building, must be able to develop fully without having to resort to water from the Ebro. And the second is that no matter how fast we go to make the interconnection, it will not be enough for the current drought.

Legislature

“The elections will be on February 25th. Full legislature and with budgets”.

Renewable energy deficit: How do you intend to meet the objective of these energies reaching 50% of the electricity mix by 2030, when we are currently only at 15%?

This does not happen overnight. There is a question of regulation, planning, incentives, and procedures that must be fulfilled. When we started this legislature, there were nine megawatts authorised in the pipeline to build renewable energy plants. Now we are already exceeding 1,600 megawatts.

Education after the PISA report: How can you explain the paradox that there has never been so much budget invested in education as there is now, and yet there have been such low educational performance results?

The answer is very simple: results in education do not happen overnight. A pupil is in the education system in our country from the age of 3 to at least 16. So, we are talking about 13 years. These are years in which we invest physically to train a person and then we continue with vocational training or at university level. Therefore, it is a policy whose results can be seen in the medium and long term. The PISA results probably explain a situation that is a consequence of decisions taken several years ago.

In fact, now that you mention the issue of screens, why is the government so hesitant to take the decision to ban mobile phones from schools?

This will happen soon. And the decisions will go through a restriction of the use of mobile phones by primary schools, and through a very restrictive action and regulation in secondary schools. In other words, if there is any teaching activity that requires the use of mobile phones, then go ahead, but otherwise they should not be present in classrooms or in playgrounds to encourage interaction between them.

Phone use in schools

“The use of mobile phones will be banned in primary schools and restricted in secondary schools”.

Faced with the chaotic situation in primary care, what do we say to Catalans who are used to queues or who sign up for private security?

We have made a clear commitment to public health care in this country. And that means, first and foremost, a commitment to professionals. The agreement we have reached within the ICS is a good agreement that will favour the retention of talent, so that doctors trained in Catalonia have more opportunities here and do not have to go abroad. The same goes for nurses who can fully develop their specialities. These days we are in a situation of a flu epidemic and, therefore, there will be more people in need of immediate attention, and this can generate tension in some centres.

We have been dragging on for years about the airport expansion and the Rodalies problems. The solution to both seems to be the creation of two commissions… This goes on forever…

The transfer of Rodalies will soon be a reality. What was needed here was political will and it must be accompanied by resources, but this is a detailed agreement. It will begin to be seen in the general state budgets as agreed.

And the airport?

With regard to the future of El Prat airport, I would like to remind you that the objective is not expansion for expansion’s sake. The objective is to have more intercontinental connections, especially with the Pacific. And for that we will have to look for solutions that are not easy if we want to comply with environmental standards… And together with all this, I believe that the best way to ensure the future of El Prat airport is for it to be managed from here.

You have one year left as president; how would you like to be remembered?

We are the ones who led the way when no one believed that negotiation was the way to resolve the political conflict and when everyone said that amnesty was impossible and that we should not even consider a transfer of Rodalies, that we would not have it. Today everyone is signing up to the negotiation strategy, each in their own way, but in the end, we are all in the same negotiation dynamic and that is a good thing.

When will elections be called, and will the legislature run out?

I have always said that the elections will be in February 25. We are a government that has been approving budgets year after year, despite the situation of not having a stable parliamentary majority. It has been many years since Catalonia has approved budgets year after year, continuously, and we do not have a full legislature.

And you want to be the ERC candidate for the elections?

ERC’s candidates are decided by the party and, therefore, we decide between all of us according to the established procedures. I am not going to skip these procedures. Obviously, when you are governing the country, you see that projects are not completed in one legislature. Therefore, I have all the energy, all the strength to continue.

https://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20240114/9496507/ley-amnistia-debe-solida-hay-riesgo-boicot.html

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