Juan Carlos Merino, Madrid, 1 August 2021
“In Catalonia we must rebuild the bridges that others dynamited” assures the new Spanish Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. “I will be the guarantor of an exemplary expansion of the El Prat airport”
After seven years as mayor of her hometown, the Catalan Raquel Sánchez (Gavà, 1975) assures that her municipal perspective and proximity to the citizen “will be very evident from the first moment” in her new responsibility as Minister of Transport. “When we make decisions, we know that there are always people behind,” she says of her experience in the front line of local politics, a maxim that she will not renounce in the Government of Spain. Between trips from her busy schedule, she grants La Vanguardia her first interview since she took office just three weeks ago.
The Court of Accounts
“We do not have the will to make the dialogue process more complicated”
What commission did you receive from Pedro Sánchez when you proposed to assume this ministry?
The president entrusted me to confront and accelerate the economic recovery, but not in any way or to return to the starting point, but to take advantage of it to make a society even fairer, that no one is left behind. The recipes that were applied in the past, in other crises and recovery processes, proved erratic and caused a lot of collateral damage, especially to the most vulnerable.
The PSC once again has two ministers. Is it the best way to make the potential of Catalonia visible in Spain?
Catalonia’s potential is not measured by the number of ministers. Catalonia needs Spain, and Spain needs Catalonia. This ministry, due to its ability to mobilize investments, can allow this Government to demonstrate the sensitivity we have towards Catalonia and correct the deficits assumed by previous governments. Catalonia is essential for the whole of Spain, we cannot renounce its potential.
How did you experience, as mayor of Gavà, the acceleration of the independence process and all its consequences, and what can you contribute now, from the Government, to the new scenario of open dialogue in Catalonia?
Like many mayors and citizens, we live it with pain, sadness and much bewilderment. I experienced first-person distancing between friends, families where politics was not discussed at Christmas dinners, how it affected coexistence in everyday life. That is very sad, in a country where we have managed to be a model of plurality and diversity. But it also helped us to learn from mistakes and continue to bet on dialogue. Politics can never throw in the towel. The path of dialogue and agreement is what can help to redirect the situation and reconcile us.
Were pardons for the procés convicted pro-independence leaders essential despite the wear and tear of the Government?
Even assuming that they could lead to wear and tear, it was the most useful decision to adopt if we are truly convinced that we must recover that space for dialogue and coexistence. We must rebuild the bridges that others dynamited. It is a legal, legitimate measure that could have a political cost, but you have to be brave and make the best decision for the whole of Spaniards and Catalans. It is also true that when the law is broken, justice operates. You can disagree ideologically, but we have to recover politics to carry out this reconciliation process.
Her predecessor in office, José Luis Ábalos, has already warned that the case of the Court of Accounts against some thirty former high-ranking officials of the Generalitat was a stone in the way of this dialogue process. After the green light of the Council of Statutory Guarantees to the endorsement of the Generalitat, is it possible to foresee that the State Lawyers will pronounce in the same direction?
It will be necessary to see the report of the Legal Profession. If it supports it and does not raise doubts of legality, nothing to object. We do not have the will to complicate the process of reconciliation and dialogue.
This Monday the Generalitat-State bilateral commission is reactivated after three years. A step in the right direction?
Of course. It is one more space for dialogue and we must take advantage of it. The dialogue cannot be understood either as a cession to the independence movement or as a surrender of the State. Those who benefit are the citizens. But we also ask for institutional loyalty. You cannot ask for what is clear that cannot be given, or propose self-determination or amnesty, which escape the legal and constitutional framework.
Minister Jaume Giró has already attended the Council for Fiscal and Financial Policy. President Pere Aragonès, on the other hand, did not attend the conference of presidents in Salamanca. Does the Government intend to make the Generalitat understand that bilateral and multilateral forums can be compatible?
I think that Aragonès decision is a wrong decision, I would like to think that it can be corrected. It is sad that this Government has to be the one to convince the President of the Generalitat that it is interesting for him to participate in forums in which beneficial issues for Catalans are debated. The president is due to all Catalans, he makes a mistake by not being present. I hope that we continue to move forward and that he can rethink it, we are making important gestures. At least with regard to this ministry, we are going to do everything possible so that the weight of Catalonia in Spain is kept in mind. Since the last years that we govern, we have corrected a historical deficit with Catalonia. One of the first decisions that I have adopted as minister, now that we are already preparing the budgets for 2022, is to unblock the transfer of 200 million that was pending with the Generalitat.
You are now at the head of the great investment department of the Executive, fundamental for the territorial structuring of Spain, but also a key piece to overcome the political conflict in Catalonia.
Precisely because of the capacity that this ministry has for the structuring and territorial cohesion of the whole of Spain, Catalonia will play a leading role, because the Government is aware that there has been a deficit motivated by the passivity and inaction of governments of the Popular Party. Of course, Catalonia is one of my priorities.
Will the new budgets comply with the third additional provision of the Statute?
Yes, those 200 million are precisely intended to comply with that third provision and that we get back up to date with that deficit caused by previous governments. It is clear that we cannot do it in a single budget year, but the Catalans have to be clear about this government’s commitment.
Given the difficulties in reaching an agreement, is there a plan B for the expansion of the El Prat airport designed by AENA or is there no alternative?
I’m not throwing in the towel, we may be able to reach an agreement. There is a joint clamor from civil society, many institutions and a very important part of the territory that recognizes that we are facing an investment of more than 1,700 million euros that we cannot renounce, and that it is also an engine of socio-economic development . We have to be brave to accelerate the recovery and we cannot give up on this project. That said, and because I am very aware of the necessary coexistence that the airport must have with the environment, the municipalities and the neighbors, we have to do this expansion in an exemplary way. We cannot make mistakes of the past, environmental issues have to be treated with exquisite care, as well as the effects on the surrounding municipalities. I promise to be a guarantor that the expansion of this airport has to be done well. I am confident that there is still a possibility of reaching an agreement, but it must be done by offering guarantees.
The infrastructure stock in Catalonia represents 15.7% of the whole of Spain, although its weight in GDP is 19%. What is going to be done to correct it?
This deficit in Catalonia is evident, and the citizens of this land must be clear that this Government is working to correct it. It is clear that it takes time to amend what previous governments did not do, but since we have governed this ministry we have executed in Catalonia more than 2,148 million euros of investment and tendered more than 2,000 million, which is almost double than in 2017 But that is not all, thanks to the approval of the budgets this year in the next few days we are going to transfer 200 million for that historical deficit of investment in infrastructures. For this reason, it is very important that we add the necessary support to approve the 2022 budgets, which we are already preparing, because it will allow us to consolidate this growth path of state investment in Catalonia.
Is the management of Rodalies going to be handed over to Catalonia, as Ábalos has already proposed?
This issue has to be addressed in the State-Generalitat Joint Commission for Economic and Fiscal Affairs, it is the framework in which the definitive procedure with which to transfer resources to the Generalitat must be agreed. Like my predecessor, I am convinced that this transfer will be completed this year, because it is what we have approved in the 2021 budget.
It also inherits from its predecessor the negotiation of the future Housing Law with Unidas Podemos, which is still entrenched on the regulation of rents. Will there be a solution?
It is not a law that is entrenched, it is a negotiation that remains open. It is the first housing law in 40 years and in the context of a coalition government, which involves a certain complexity because all the issues are debated very well. In the negotiation we have come a long way, but there is a different approach. We have put on the table proposals so that through tax incentives it is possible to lower prices and even mobilize more housing for social rent. We will be able to put forward a good law and protect, above all, the most vulnerable.