Interview with Manuel Cruz by Marcel Vidal Calzada – 28 September 2020
Manuel Cruz Rodríguez is a Spanish philosopher and politician who served as president of the Senate between May and December 2019. Since February 2020, he is president of the General Commission of the Autonomous Communities.
Little could be imagined by the philosopher Manuel Cruz when he was elected as the first president of Federalistes d’Esquerres in 2013 who, six years later, would take office as president of the Senate. After being elected independent deputy for the socialist PSC in 2016 and after his time in the presidency of the upper house in the previous legislature, we spoke with Cruz following the publication of his latest essay: Political Passer-by. A philosopher in the General Courts. In it he takes a political account of the second decade of the 21st century and reflects on the constant questioning that some political forces have made in recent years about the Spanish Transition. Cruz also includes in his last work the dietary of his time in the presidency of the Senate.
What ethical or moral aspects should people who want to engage in the public thing have?
My tendency is to think that the same ones that would be required of any citizen who had to carry out an activity that affected third parties. To assume that the representatives of the citizens must be made of special stuff, even if it is a virtuous stuff, is in my view a mistake. When such approaches are made, it often happens that, at the time of inappropriate behaviour by some politicians, these behaviours are immediately judged under a strictly moral key. I mean, as if those politicians who have done something inconvenient had acted like this because they’re bad people.
What is often apparent from this premise is the proposal, by other politicians who present the other as the alternative to the previous ones, that what needs to be done is to replace those who have behaved inappropriately by those who possess unimpeachable morality.
We have enough experience to know that this substitution is not enough. Very often over time, and especially in recent years, we have seen politicians breaking into the public space with morally regenerating advertisements, appealing to their virtues, end up having attitudes extremely similar to those they had previously criticized. I am concerned about such attitudes because these topics and that failed moral regeneration ultimately contribute to important sections of citizenship ending up repeating topics such as that “all politicians are equal”, “politics is useless”, “politics is a kind of invention for those who want power”, “or for those who want to enrich themselves”.
Of course, it is important that policy makers conform to moral codes but comply with the norms of all kinds to which they are obliged, but the fundamental thing is that there are political, social, cultural structures… that make inappropriate behavior impossible. Because it has been well certified by the facts that a discourse that merely appeals to (or boasts of) moral conscience is not enough.
You use the term “passer-by” to refer to your passage through institutional policy in the sense that you do not aspire to be in public office for a lifetime. Do you think your case is exceptional?
It is not exceptional in the sense of being for a limited time and not very long. Against what is repeated many times, in Congress and the Senate there are many deputies and senators who pass through the chambers and who do not stay to live there. The ones that are talked about the most are those who have been in a seat for four, five or six legislatures. However, and against what people think, they are not the majority. I once contacted the president of an association of former members of the democratic stage and informed me that the vast majority of them were no more than two legislatures.
Another different issue is that of people who, coming from another area, are passing through politics. The latter, for some years now, has become somewhat rarer. In contrast, in the first legislatures of democracy, all political parties carried on the lists people from civil society, whether professional, intellectual… of a certain prestige that they felt identified with the ideas of that formation. That, by the way, was not only given on the left, but also took place in the right centre and the right. I recall, for example, that on the list of the UCD was Salvador Pániker and others of a similar profile.
Should the citizens question more the terms and perspectives that both political groups and the media use to address political issues?
Without any doubt, citizens have the right to control all those involved in the public space. I have a feeling that this question for which you ask me is already given in abundance with regard to political parties.
On the other hand, it seems to me that media control occurs to a lesser proportion. Indeed, we have all seen that on many occasions the smallest criticism of media behaviors provokes an angry response from some of them that “this means criticizing freedom of expression, of the press, and these are fundamental to democracy.” All right, let’s accept the argument, but if we accept it, political parties could also say that for the existence of democracy it is essential that there are political parties that represent differentiated options, which constitute the guarantee that the pluralism that exists in society is represented in the institutions. Therefore, spokesmen in some formations might say that attacking political parties is tantamount to attacking democracy. If someone were to say this, they would have to be told that it can be criticized without that implying questioning democracy entirely. Well, as we would rightly say to a political party, you could also tell a media outlet or a professional who puts the cry in the sky when he is criticized.
How are the contradictions managed in politics?
There are many contradictions. There are the intimate or personal contradictions that sometimes have their impact on politics and that I think need to be dealt with very carefully. In any case, contradictions are not a place to stay to live. If someone establishes his permanent residence in contradictions, even if he tells us and perjures us that he suffers a lot by constantly riding them, it is probably because he did not actually suffer from such a contradiction and that one of the terms of the conflict was never really believed.
There are other kinds of contradictions that are purely political. There you have to set your priorities and define the extent to which, if something creates a contradiction, this is reason enough to say “I’m sorry, but I can’t.” What can be the case that when one is in political training not everything that does such training seems right to him? Of course. But when someone from outside joins lists independently and takes on a program, he also assumes certain procedures, such as the group’s decisions being taken democratically. What doesn’t make sense is that every vote where there is a result with which he disagrees, that person, as an independent declares: “I’m sorry, but since I disagree, I break the deck.” That can’t be. It wouldn’t make any sense.
What assessment do you make of your time in the Presidency of the Senate?
On a personal level the assessment is very positive, to the extent that I had the opportunity to know within a fundamental part of the State, one of the chambers of the legislative branch. At the political level, I felt that I could not carry out all the initiatives that I had in mind and that I was very excited to launch. I regretted not being able to follow, but I think it’s part of the logic of politics, as the election result opened up a new scenario. Those of us who are not in politics for positions have little trouble abandoning them. Besides, I did absolutely nothing to be president of the Senate: it was a political gift that I received and that, of course, I thanked very much, but that did not give me any right to stay there.
Do you consider that a distorted view of what the Transition was often conveyed? If so, what do you attribute it to?
Surprisingly, what until recently was regarded as a collective success has suddenly gone from time to time to being regarded by some as a horror. What has changed so that we spent 35 years thinking it was magnificent and that we have now discovered that it is not? I believe that we have not discovered anything, no data has appeared and we have not known any facts that have made us change our minds. The change in valuation by some comes from the fact that new players who have broken into the political landscape have been interested in a review of those assessments.
And the fact that this new assessment has been induced confirms to me by the fact that some of those who broke into the political scene speaking so, so dismissingly, have now stopped doing so. It may be they, who made themselves known by insulting the Transition for a while, who should explain these changes.
What do you think when you hear the term “regime of ’78”?
The term “regime” is a term we had always used to refer to Francoism. Talking about “regime of ’78’ implies, without openly acknowledging it, establishing an air of family between democracy and Francoism, and this seems to me to be totally politically unacceptable. From the point of view of communication it seems to me that it is cheating with words or, being more direct, foul play with them.
Why is there often some confusion between what the Republican values are and what is the Head of State?
We are also facing induced confusion. If the Republican values are the values of democracy and they are the ones that emerge during the French Revolution, there is an incontrovertible fact: today, some monarchies are at the forefront of world democracies. This is accreditation that the fact that the head of state is a king who has no executive power is fully compatible with Republican values. Have we forgotten that there are totally authoritarian republics?
How would you strengthen the constitutional pact? Do you see enough consensus in the General Courts to push for constitutional reform?
In recent years there has been political fragmentation in Congress. While this political fragmentation gives the feeling that it tends to go down, it is still very difficult to establish basic agreements to try to push for constitutional reform. On the other hand, fragmentation seems to be accompanied by a kind of tendency to confrontation and confrontation, which makes it very uphill to be optimistic. For example, the renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary is not something that political parties can decide on their own but is still blocked by political parties (specifically, by right-wing parties). It is a constitutional mandate that these parties are already failing to comply with. If this happens at this time with the existing Constitution, imagine the difficulty of undertaking reforms. If there is no change in attitude in some political formations, it could be the case that, even if fragmentation was reduced in the future and cross-cutting agreements were more feasible, they would not be achieved either. Currently, political forces believe that they can extract profitability by showing themselves for or against reform itself, and no longer deign to enter the discussion.
In recent times some state-level political forces have become “constitutionalists.” How would you define constitutionalism? Do you think the formations that define themselves as contitutionalists are?
It is a mistake to speak of constitutionalist forces and non-constitutionalist forces. Talking about constitutionalist forces leads to the idea that the permanence of the constitutional framework depends on the electoral results of the parties that have defined themselves as favorable to it. But the Constitution is not the agenda of any political party, not even a group of political parties. What the Constitution does is define the rules of a game in which all political parties participate, whatever their sign and think what they think about the constitutional text. What bothers me about parties calling themselves constitutionalists is that they behave as if that self-definition authorized them to be instituted in dispensers of constitutionality cards. It should be remembered that not so many sectors on the right expelled the PSOE from the perimeter of constitutionality, which participated in the drafting of the constitutional text and has defended it throughout democracy. And if that wasn’t much, a portion of these conservative sectors did not support the 1978 Constitution. Currently, these sectors have decided to move the border, make it portable, and have gone on to say that the PSOE is also constitutionalist and that those we have to leave out, outside the walls of the Constitution, are Podemos. This means, not only that the border of constitutionality varies on the fly, but that one political group is credited with the right to expel or include in the Constitution another (or others).
What do you think when a young pro-independence man says the Constitution lacks validity or legitimacy because it was voted on 40 years ago?
Laws are changed because their texts have become obsolete, not because they were not voted on by a certain generation. Laws are not reviewed based on their age. Certain articles of the penal code are not reformed because they have been in force for many years: they are modified because society may have changed in a sense that advises reviewing them. In my view, the question is not legitimacy, as if the fact that a rule has not been voted on by a certain generational strip made it illegitimate. The problem is the validity, and that is an issue that must be raised and discussed in the institutions.
How useful are the referendums in a democracy?
The functioning and relevance of the referendums are very clearly covered by our legal order. Referendums serve the role of ratifying agreements of particular importance adopted by citizens’ representatives. It is a stern mistake to turn referendums into the perfect and finished expression of democracy or, in more presumed leftist language, a kind of manifestation of direct democracy that must replace that completely outdated form of representation that traditional election mechanisms would represent. It should be remembered that referendums should not in itself have so many qualities of direct or perfect democracy from the moment when the most authoritarian dictatorships have been able to carry them out without the slightest problem.
Democracy, fortunately, is a much more complex machine than simply voting. And an absolutely fundamental element in this regard are certain mediation structures and certain deliberative processes. The yes/no approaches skip the bulk of the procedures of democracy, which make it offer us guarantees of good functioning.
You advocate for reconciliation in Catalonia. What do you think rulers in Catalonia should do to achieve it? How do you see the future of independence?
So the independents should start by admitting the failure of this political adventure called “procés” that has ended up harming Catalan society at all levels, and then let its voters know. Independence has achieved great success in these years, but it has not managed it well even from the point of view of its own interests.
I say about success because, indeed, if one attends numbers, in distant regional elections CiU was a majority and ERC minority within the nationalist spectrum. But the sum of that nationalist bloc is very similar to that of the independence bloc today. The independents have managed to get broad sectors that for decades considered themselves exclusively nationalistic to fall on their side. From the point of view of independence, this has been an undoubted triumph. I understand that you do not want to give up this political capital and that, in order not to lose it, try to keep alive the sacred flame of your cause so that it does not decay the spirits among your own.
When a party like ERC talks about “widening the social base,” what it’s saying is that it’s important that yours don’t leave, but that it needs to add up to more voters. It’s no easy task. It is very difficult for yours to remain mobilized after ten years of political failure. Independence keeps promises that it cannot keep, and then generate frustration. Frustration took on a certain form last year: the episodes that occurred in all the cities of Catalonia, especially in Barcelona after the “procés”.
For me is important to note that almost as important as the violence itself was the irresponsible behavior of some badly called responsible political leaders, starting with the president of the Generalitat, stating that he could not condemn episodes that had not happened. There is a time when independence leaders can be demanded responsibility for what they promise and what they denounce. Compliance with the law cannot be denounced as a judicial repression. Democratic culture implies understanding that the law it protects most is to those that have no protection other than it. The universality of the law is a democratic guarantee.
Do you think that Catalonia needs to vote on a new Statute?
At the moment the most important thing is that there is really a will for agreement on the part of all. If there is, you will find ways to draw exit paths. That one of the roads passes through a new Statute is perfectly reasonable. When specific alternatives are presented to independence and would have strong political legitimacy, such as remaking the State, the argument of one of its sectors is that everything was twisted by the judgment of the Constitutional Court that reviewed the Statute endorsed by the people of Catalonia. Why don’t we consider recovering, even improving, that approved Statue? Independence’s responses to this option are often disappointing from the point of view of the argument: “This is a past screen.” If that were the agreement, recovering/developing a new Statute, it should be a pact reached by political forces and then ratified by the Catalan people.
What does Spain lack to be a true federal state?
It is necessary to establish in constitutional rank interterritorial cooperation structures and also to enhance the cooperative dimension in the Senate. Having said that, a number of reforms must be undertaken, starting with naming in the constitutional text what the existing autonomous communities are, or clarifying the division of competence, since this is a matter that cannot continue in uncertainty or be the subject of the political trickery of any sign. One of the things that ensures the proper functioning of federal states is precisely that these powers are clearly defined, without this being a matter that is being questioned or debated permanently, as is the case between us.
Do you think the meetings between regional presidents have come to stay? What would stand out from these meetings?
I would not dare say that they came to stay because when the PP was in government they have not shown the slightest interest in them. If the question is whether the conferences of regional presidents constitute a unanimously accepted structure and that everyone ensures that they will continue whatever the future composition of the Government, that is not so clear. And it is a pity because what is worth noting from the conferences of regional presidents is precisely that they constitute an interterritorial body of co-government and cooperation. It is a legally informal body, since it is not established or developed in any text in that range. That gives you an element of uncertainty that I don’t think is good.
Do you think there has been coordination between the different European countries on issues such as mobility, border opening… during the pandemic?
From what we have been seeing this summer it seems clear that the coordination was manifestly improvable. It is partly not surprising because the inertia of the States that make up the Union remain very relevant. It seems clear that at times, governments have put the interests of the citizens of their country before those of European citizenship as a whole.
Do you think the latest EU decisions are in the direction of a more supportive Europe and sharing economic problems between richer and poorer countries?
There is one thing that can be seen: there has been a marked difference in the European Union’s approach to this crisis when compared to the austere approaches to the 2008 crisis. This is good news because the 2008 approaches not only harmed the citizens of the countries that had to suffer them, but damaged the European project itself as such. The connection between the rise of Euroskepticism and those austere policies seems beyond doubt. The EU has drawn lessons and opted for more supportive approaches and that is something to celebrate from a progressive and Europeanist point of view.