Maria Jesús Cañizares, 5 September 2021.
Salvador Illa in an interview with ‘Crónica Global’ / LENA PRIETO
Salvador Illa (La Roca del Vallès, 1966) is convinced that Catalonia is facing a new stage where dialogue is the only way of reconciliation. However, the future leader of the PSC warns, in an interview with Crónica Global, of the risk that Catalans “will only be united by a collective failure”.
–QUESTION: What is your assessment of the 100 days of Pere Aragonès’ government?
–ANSWER: In the three investiture speeches of Aragonès, the first president of the Generalitat since the recovery of the Generalitat to have had to undergo three investiture debates before gaining the confidence of the chamber, he put a lot of emphasis on the fact that a new era was opening up. It seemed to me that he had the will, but I always thought it was very difficult with a government scheme identical to the one we have had for the last five years and very similar to that of the last ten years, with a bipartite supported by the CUP from outside, greatly conditioning the government’s actions. This pointed to a repetition, to more of the same, not to change. And these 100 days confirm this. Aragonès is not Torra, but look, Torra opened a dialogue between the Catalan parties, which Aragonès has not done. He is a professional politician, I mean that in a positive sense, but things that Torra had done, such as opening a dialogue within Catalonia, Aragonès has not done. What has surprised me is the lack of energy of the government, the lack of drive at such a delicate moment.
–What do you attribute this to?
–Governments have the obligation to work hard and to do things, even if mistakes are made. In the pandemic, we have offered a pact, but I’m upset because in recent weeks there has been no flow of information, and I’ve been surprised by some change of criteria. Let’s say there is room for improvement. In economic matters, we do not have the Generalitat’s budget for 2021. Some parties and opinion-makers try to make this normal, as if the budget were an administrative formality, but it is the most important law that the Parliament approves each year. It sets out in black and white the Government’s priorities and makes it possible to increase resources. We have a pre-pandemic budget, what would you say if the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez had not approved a post-pandemic budget?
–Aragonès doesn’t want to agree the budget with the PSC…
–I offered to lend a hand and have budgets and we do not have them, we will see what happens with those of 2022. And on the Next Generation funds, in which we also offered to help, I frankly believe that Catalonia could do better. And the third priority, which for me is key, is that no one is left behind. Our “alternative government” has approved a social shock plan worth 1.5 billion in the areas of social services, health, employment, etc., and we don’t see that the Government has approved anything either. Only a few measures, but there has been no comprehensive approach. During these 100 days I have met with the presidents of the Valencian Community, the Basque Country, the Balearic Islands and Aragon, and I have also been to Extremadura. I expected more activity with the new government. And in dialogue, the most important measure has been the pardons, approved by the Council of Ministers. Dialogue is born lame. Dialogue between the Government of Catalonia and the Spanish Government is important, and I welcome the meeting of the Bilateral Commission, but there must be dialogue in Catalonia. I see with concern and disgust that a sector of the pro-independence supporters aspire only to dialogue with the Government and ignore the fact that in Catalonia there are many of us who think differently from them and that we are just as Catalan as they are. Our opinions are just as valid as theirs. I ask that we sit down and talk, that this dialogue be led by Aragonès. Torra did it, but Aragonès refuses to do it. We must work for unity.
–And how can this be done?
–I propose four rules. Tell the truth, do not generate false expectations such as independence, self-determination or amnesty, which have no place in the sphere in which we are and must continue to be, which is Europe. Work to unite, not to divide. A referendum on self-determination divides and further fragments society. Independence is not a point of consensus, nor is maintaining the status quo. I believe that the middle ground lies in improving self-government. Dialogue with the government, and also within Catalonia. And the red line is respect for the rule of law, ruling out any unilateral approach, which we have seen has disastrous consequences. Therefore, the balance of these one hundred days is very bad, I am disappointed.
–Would there be a referendum on improving self-government?
–I think the consensus will be around here, I think the consensus will be along the lines of self-government. No independence, no status quo. This is the line that needs to be explored more. We agree to vote for an agreement, not to vote for a rupture. The referendum is a mechanism that is not only advisable, but even necessary so that, once through dialogue and negotiation, we reach an agreement, whatever it may be, perhaps the reform of certain laws that define the framework of our coexistence, it is submitted to the citizens for their consideration. I believe that this is obligatory in a democratic regime.
–Catalan citizenship alone, or also Spanish citizenship?
–It depends on the agreement. If it only concerns the framework of coexistence of the Catalans, such as the Statute, then only the Catalans. If it affects the framework of coexistence of Spaniards, then Spaniards should vote.
–It is clear that the Dialogue Table is pitting JxCat and ERC against each other. Does this advocate a new early election? And in that case, would the PSC come out on top again?
–It may seem paradoxical, but what we need now is not elections, but a government that governs. There were alternative formulas to those that have been chosen. In Parliament there was and is a left-wing majority, but the ERC opted for a cordon sanitaire against the PSC, it is worth remembering. What it has to do now is to govern. I believe that the public demands that the government should exercise its power. Hence the disappointment of the last 100 days, because it has not managed to get things off the ground, to get things done. As for the discrepancies, the truth is that I was not surprised. If you look at the investiture speeches of the partners, you will see that there was no consensus. When it comes to dialogue, the wrong thing to do is to set limits, deadlines, two years. And if I don’t get what I want, I get up and leave. This is not dialogue.
–Why has the reform of the crime of sedition been postponed?
–It is a commitment that President Sánchez made for the entire legislature, and he has two years left. Even those who are calling for this reform understand that the first part of the legislature was disrupted by the biggest pandemic we have experienced in a hundred years. The Government has set its legislative priorities, which include economic recovery, and that does not mean that President Sánchez is reneging on his commitment. I insist, what seems to me fundamental in the Catalonia-Spain axis is dialogue within Catalonia. If this is not led by Aragonès, we will have to make decisions. We Catalans must come together again.
–Does taking measures mean, for example, a motion of censure?
–No, I mean constructive measures. I think that, if the person who should lead this dialogue does not do so, we will have to think about how to articulate it. It is very frustrating, and above all wrong, that he wants to meet only with those who think like him. That is not the way it goes. On 25 June I had an informal coffee with a Spanish politician with extensive international experience, who is no longer active. He told me that Americans are united by three things: the flag, Arlington Cemetery, and fear of China. They are not united by the provision of universal health care, abortion, economic and monetary policy, or the regulation of firearms. But they are united by those three things, Republicans and Democrats alike. Parliamentary debates in Catalonia made me evoke this approach and think about what unites us Catalans. The flag, no, it has been the subject of confrontation. The senyera, which a citizen of Santa Coloma de Gramenet and a citizen of Prats de Lluçanès felt as theirs, now does not represent all of us. Neither does the Fossar de les Moreres or the Diada. They are symbols that some have appropriated. The Diada has also been a source of confrontation. This worries me. We run a risk. I shared this reflection with Miquel Iceta. The risk that what will end up uniting us will be a feeling of collective failure. To see how other autonomous communities are passing us by, how we have gone backwards in terms of coexistence. We must find points of agreement, such as extending infrastructures, the Winter Games, economic recovery, improving self-government… I am not asking anyone to renounce their political approaches, but I am concerned that they do not want to sit down and recognise that there is a very important part of Catalonia that does not share their approaches. That is what we are going to try to do.
–Are we still in time? There are those who believe that the ‘procés’ has had irreversible effects.
–I think so. Reality reminds us of the possible limits of political action. I see a change in Catalan society. The pandemic, and everything it has entailed, has brought about fundamental changes throughout the world, including in Catalonia. Who is going to argue today that the vaccination process, which has been key, is being a success in Europe because we have acted together. More than 450 million citizens, with a higher level of wealth than elsewhere, have agreed to develop some vaccines. Despite an initial slow pace, thanks to a universal, public and free health system, together we have managed to reach a vaccination rate that no one in the world can surpass today. And together, in Spain, we have participated in the decision-making bodies, that is co-governance. People have seen that. We cannot maintain this level of well-being if we are left out of it. I have moved around Catalonia quite a lot in the last 100 days and I see that this is the way forward. Catalonia is opening a new political stage and this is being seen in the institutions.