When Pedro Sánchez offered him to be Minister of Health, Salvador Illa (La Roca del Vallès, 1966) he was the first surprised: “I did not expect it, but I got excited immediately and I started to get passionate”. Although the president has already warned that the also secretary of organization of the PSC will have a political weight in the Government that will go far beyond his portfolio. Next Wednesday, he will sit at the dialogue table with the Generalitat that will try to channel the political conflict in Catalonia.
“I was worried about‘ fake news ’in politics, but in health matters it’s much worse
The Government delegation at the table includes its different political sensibilities: PSOE, PSC, Podemos and the Comuns. But do they have the same political position already agreed?
Yes, the Government’s position is a firm and sincere commitment to dialogue. The interview of the President of the Government with the President of the Generalitat set the framework for a reunion agenda that, in our opinion, should preside over the climate of the meeting and mark all political action in Catalonia. We want to return to the field of politics what never had to leave the field of politics.
But Unidos Podemos, the Comuns, and the PSC earlier defended the referendum agreed.
If we look back, everyone has defended diverse and different things. But we are where we are, in the year 2020. The first coalition government has been established in Spain and many events have happened in Catalonia from which we have all learned. From the Government we want to launch a firm dialogue. There is a very important mainstream in Catalan and Spanish society in favor of this dialogue. We would all do well to make an effort to look to the future and not to disappoint the enormous expectations that exist in Catalan and Spanish society in favor of dialogue and making politics in capital letters.
Sanchez wants to start by addressing the issues that are easier to agree on, but Torra wants to raise self-determination and amnesty. Will there be agreement, for starters, on what to talk about?
The important thing is that the meeting be held. The sensible thing in any dialogue process, like the one that is going to be opened, is to start at the points where it is more possible to reach agreements. There is a background current in Catalan and Spanish society in favor of dialogue. Those who would pretend, if someone intends to, boycott this dialogue or make it fail, will have to face a contrary current of opinion. Citizens want dialogue and reunion.
With JxCat and ERC in full pre-election struggle are possible substantive agreements or will we have to wait until the elections?
It is up to them to say it. Torra set an electoral horizon without specifying the date. That does not prevent us from discussing and resolving issues. The electoral horizon does not have to prevent us from addressing the issues that are on the table and, above all, that we do not delay responses that citizens demand. I perceive a very powerful background current in Catalan and Spanish society through dialogue, always within the framework of the rules of coexistence that we have set. But very sincere, where everyone can expose their views.
The idea is that the table is open throughout the legislature or even several?
All the time needed. The shorter it is, the better. But we are not going to fool ourselves: this will not be resolved immediately. To unfold the meeting agenda takes time, tenacity and probably many meetings.
To talk about everything?
The important thing is that we all make a sincere commitment and do an exercise in dialogue where everyone can express their ideas. The Constitution protects that every citizen and political formation can defend the political project that he deems most convenient. No one has to give up their political project. We have to agree to respect the coexistence framework and look for a meeting point.
Sánchez assumes that the pact that can be reached is ratified by the Catalan citizenship in a referendum. Do they propose another Statute, a modification of the current one or a new formula of understanding?
As a result of this effort of dialogue and reunion, it is not ruled out that the agreements we want to reach can be submitted to the citizens of Catalonia. It seems very reasonable in a democratic system.
The Government rejects the figure of the mediator.
The mediator will be the whole Spanish citizenship. We are talking about governments that have been democratically elected and have a very clear legitimacy. Therefore, no mediator is needed.
But last year the Government did accept a rapporteur.
If we want to look back and do politics looking at the rearview mirror, we won’t go anywhere.
Can the table facilitate or hinder the state budget? Esquerra linked both issues.
You have to unlink them. Our obligation is to prepare good budgets and submit them to the Chamber for consideration. They will not be taken until they have a guaranteed majority. But these are two debates that we would all do well to separate.
Is talking about politics easier than talking about health?
No the truth is no. I have to say that when President Sánchez offered me to be Minister of Health, I did not expect it. But the truth is that I was excited right away and these four weeks I had to make a very quick immersion in the different subjects of this ministry. And I would almost say that I start to get passionate.
An immersion in the form of an international alert with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Can we breathe now?
We follow very closely, with a few daily follow-up meetings, the Covid-19 health alert. We must keep our guard high, but have confidence in the National Health System, which is very robust and is made up of highly competent professionals in their different subjects. And I think we have given proof of that. But you have to always be attentive.
How politically imagined the repercussions of public health alerts?
The importance of public health and health as one of the most successful public policies we have made in democracy was known to me. But the public health crisis and the repercussions that it has at all levels, the restlessness in the citizenship, the economic repercussions … the truth is that seen from the front line they exceed the initial ideas that I had.
What has surprised you especially?
I worried a lot, and suffered somehow, fake news in election campaigns and politics, but applied to issues such as health, I can say that it is much worse.
Everyone recognizes the high level of the health system, but also that it has serious problems, including financing. Communities say they can’t sustain it.
There are many open fronts and one of them is that of financing. And if the system is transferred, logically the expense falls on the communities.
But many decisions, for example drug financing, are made in the ministry and communities pay. Are you considering a finalist financing?
In early 2000 it was agreed that there would be no finalist financing. Everything we are going to do we will try to do with consensus. I agree that funding needs to be improved, although I don’t think we should necessarily go to finalist models. It is fair that each autonomous community has its margin of action. We have signed a government agreement with Unidos Podemos and have committed ourselves over a four-year horizon to increase financing to 7% of GDP.
The PSOE-UP agreement also includes the end of the pharmaceutical copayment. When?
We will gradually eliminate the copayment because we think it is very important to guarantee fair access. We will be deploying it in the legislature.
And the financing of oral care, how and for whom?
We are going to talk to the communities also to put it into practice and it will start with the minors and people with disabilities. I cannot give more details because we are working on a plan.
They seem to have clearer what to do with tobacco. Will taxes rise and therefore the price?
More than 50,000 people die each year from tobacco-related diseases. It is one of the most serious public health problems we have, but avoidable. We will deploy a set of measures to address this issue, among them, we will regulate new ways of smoking and new smoke-free spaces and we will also address the issue of taxation. In fact we are working with the Ministry of Finance. Raising the price of tobacco is a very effective measure to reduce consumption. We are very concerned that the age of onset to smoke is around 14 years. There is a lot of evidence that price is a relevant element for this group.
You will have pressures …
I would like to transfer to the public that in the face of a public health problem, with 50,000 people losing their lives a year due to tobacco, other considerations have to be left on a secondary level. I know that there are economic sectors, that there are people who understand that their freedom prevails, but given the clear evidence that there are 50,000 deaths a year, we must act. How to pretend that a health minister does not address the main public health problem? Try to stop smoking, but above all you have to prevent people from starting to smoke.
And about the illegal access of minors to alcohol?
The idea is to legislate about it and we will do it. It has its difficulties, I know, but I insist that when it comes to the health of citizens and more so if they are minor, the rest of the considerations go to the background.