March 4, 2024

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Home » Content » Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez: “Expelling migrants is a matter for the central administration”.
Throughout the interview he will tell us that he has all the time, patience and determination in the world to accompany the process of total normalisation of Catalonia after the serious territorial crisis of 2017.


President Sánchez, the director of EL PAÍS, Pepa Bueno, and journalist Carlos Cue, during the interview at La Moncloa SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

The President of the Government stresses that “the pro-independence guys are now arguing about VAT on oil or transport”.

Throughout the interview he will tell us that he has all the time, patience and determination in the world to accompany the process of total normalisation of Catalonia after the serious territorial crisis of 2017. Which translated means understanding that Junts has to finish its journey after the failure of the ‘procés’ and its consequences. And so, President Pedro Sánchez (born in Madrid 51 years ago) responded to EL PAÍS on Friday as the calm man after a week on the edge of the abyss to ensure that Puigdemont’s party did not overturn the package of social measures with which the legislature is starting. Sánchez is back from many political battles on the edge, the opposition has helped to build a character that is now recognised as a leader by different sectors of the left beyond the PSOE, and he navigates with a social democratic pragmatism that is proof against contradictions or changes of opinion, adhering to the principle that “the only truth is reality”.

Question: Is it possible to govern like this, and don’t you think that the government gave an image of extreme weakness on Wednesday, with its agonising negotiations?

Answer. I understand the media interest in the suspense over the outcome of the votes, but I think that what is important for citizens is what is approved. We are talking about reforms to achieve the fourth disbursement of European funds, 10,000 million euros. What was at stake in this vote was the government’s economic policy. It is good news for pensioners, because their pensions are being revalued; for students who take public transport, because the subsidies will continue. These are policies that benefit the social majority.

Q. But your vice-president, whose Podemos party voted down the reform of unemployment benefits, literally said: “You can’t govern like this”. Are you going to change anything?

A. We are living in a time in Europe and in Spain of fragmented parliamentary majorities. In Spain, if the political plurality and territorial diversity of our country is not taken into account, it is impossible to govern. Four out of five countries in Europe have coalition governments and many of them have parliamentary minorities. We have to accept this reality, work on it and, with humility, hard work and a capacity for dialogue, move forward with policies that are beneficial to the social majority.

Q. By improvising negotiation, as was perceived on Wednesday in Congress?

A. Let’s see, the objective is clear, and can be summed up in three pillars: the first, job creation; the second, social rights, and the third, coexistence. We are doing something very important for coexistence: that pro-independence parties that before yesterday refused to invest a president of the Spanish government, or even to participate in the governance of the country, are now doing so. Today they are not discussing the declaration of independence, they are discussing what the VAT on olive oil is going to be, or what the season ticket and public transport subsidy is going to be in the different territories.

“The only truth is reality, we have fragmented parliamentary majorities”.

Q. Are you going to continue making so many decrees? I ask you for the sake of democratic health and for your own survival, because with the decree you are gambling everything on a single vote.

A. Our intention is to legislate with bills. It is also true that the very late investiture that took place at the end of last year meant that we were very close to the expiry of the measures linked to the royal decree on Ukraine and the commitments with the European Commission to be able to receive those 10,000 million euros of European funds.

Q. Do you feel blackmailed, as Alberto Núñez Feijóo says?

A. This is quite curious. When the right governs and makes agreements with peripheral nationalism, it turns out that it is synonymous with a sense of State. When the left does it, what we are doing is little less than blackmailing or selling Spain in pieces. No, what we are doing is being consistent with Title VIII of our Constitution. We are in an autonomous State and we have to share competences over policies that affect us all, such as migration. What we have been doing with regard to Catalonia for the last five years is to move towards overcoming the most serious territorial crisis we have experienced in the last 40 years. And the alternative facing us, that of the Popular Party and Vox, is a permanent state of emergency, a permanent 155, or the outlawing of political parties.That really goes against Spain’s interests.

Q. After what we saw on Wednesday, are there going to be Budgets, are we heading for a long legislature or permanent instability?

A.I have been President of the Government for five years .If you look at the number of times I have been asked about this question, there have been quite a few. Of course we are going to govern for four years and we are going to solve many of the problems that our citizens have. You cannot govern Spain if you do not accept political plurality, and also territorial diversity. There is an axiom that I apply to myself a lot in politics, as well as in life. The truth, the truth of things, is reality. And the reality in Spain, the real reality, is the one expressed by the citizens with their vote and which is represented in a Parliament with these fragmented parliamentary majorities. And from there, the only political organisation capable of articulating all this fragmentation in order to move forward is the PSOE. How does the PP explain to its voters over the age of 65 that they voted against revaluing pensions? By the way, with a leader who earns three salaries.        

Q.After what has happened this week, do you trust Junts?

A.In politics, you don’t ask questions in those terms. The question is: is it worth putting all our efforts into policies that have positive effects on the social majority of this country, yes or no? For me, the answer is yes. Is it worth making our democracy better, more complete, by bringing into the system political parties that until the day before yesterday pushed for a unilateral declaration of independence? The answer is emphatically yes. However, I have always said it, for five years now: we are going to need time, a lot of patience and determination. But patience, determination and time, I have all the time in the world.

“It is impossible to govern Spain if we do not accept political and territorial plurality”.

Q.There was a decree that didn’t come out because Podemos overturned it. With hindsight, was it a mistake to leave Podemos out of the government?

A. No, with all due respect to a left-wing organisation like Podemos, I believe that in politics, personal decisions should not take precedence over political decisions that benefit a group of 700.000 unemployed persons over the age of 52. Therefore, I believe that the maxim of not making decisions based on the gut, but with the head and the heart, is one of the lessons that Podemos should consider in this case. I say this with all due respect.

Q. Do you think that Yolanda Díaz should rebuild these relations or are you yourself going to do something to try to get closer to Podemos?

A. We have maintained the relations that correspond to us as a parliamentary group, which is with five deputies. And with regard to Sumar and Yolanda as Vice-President of the Government, she has my full support, my understanding and, of course, the collaboration of the majority partner in the Government so that sooner or later we can move forward with this important reform of the unemployment benefit.

Q. With the competencies in immigration that you have promised Junts to cede, will Catalonia be able to expel immigrants, regulate the migratory flow, and grant residence permits? That is what Junts is saying.

A. It is a pro-independence party. Of course, we already know what the maximum programme of a pro-independence party is. But I ask you the following question: are immigration policies included in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia or not? Have we or have we not approved an immigration and asylum pact in Europe after many years under Spain’s rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union? Also yes.

Q. Are you saying that Catalonia is going to be able to expel immigrants to regulate the flows?

A. I am not saying that, on the contrary. The European Union’s Pact on Migration and Asylum is quite clear. We are moving towards a Community policy.

Q. What are you giving up?

A. Well, what is recognised in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in terms of migration policy. They will logically ask for the competences they consider. Obviously, we will have to talk to the Generalitat of Catalonia, to the Government. But, in the end, it is a parliamentary process that will require all the political forces to put all our policies into action and reach a point of agreement.

“The right has been frozen in a system that does not exist. There is neither CiU nor ETA”.

Q. You have repeatedly said that your pacts would be transparent, that citizens would know what you agree with any of the partners or allies you need. Today no one knows what you have agreed with Junts on immigration. There is no transparency, President

A. Excuse me, there is. First, because the agreement is transparent, it is known, you are giving your opinion on it. Secondly, there are references to Article 150.2 of the Spanish Constitution. Therefore, Junts is recognising that it must be embedded in the Constitution. Do we really believe that we live in an autonomous state, yes or no? If we do, we cannot conceive that shared competences are a cession and blackmail.

Q. Do you share the approach of Junts, which, as soon as it obtains this commitment from the PSOE, talks about expelling immigrants and links immigration with crime?

A.I certainly cannot agree at all with identifying or equating migration with crime. Absolutely not. Spain is an example for Europe in terms of migration policy. I hear it when I talk to European leaders. We have increased the economic resources linked to everything to do with asylum and resettlement. We have reinforced and expanded the number of reception places for irregular migrants who come to us, particularly from North Africa. We are pursuing a humanist migration policy and that is the intention, the will of the Spanish Government.

Q. But precisely because of this, many people wonder whether Catalonia is going to be able to expel immigrants or manage this asylum policy. It is not the same thing to manage it with one idea or another.

A.Excuse me for saying so, if you read the paragraph of the agreement, I think it is quite clear what we are saying.

Q. The agreement says full delegation of powers and resources for immigration policy.

A. You have to read what the articles of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia say about migration. For a pro-independence party to say that it accepts that certain competences can be delegated in the area of migration within the framework of the Constitution seems to me to be a change of enormous significance.

Q. Is Catalonia going to be able to expel or not? It is not clear.

A. But let’s see where the issues lie. Matters related to the expulsion of migrants are the responsibility of the General State Administration. We have a migration and asylum pact signed with Europe, where what we are moving towards is not precisely a centrifugation, but a greater coordination of migration policies. But, I insist, this is not just me saying it, it is said in the Constitution, it is said in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and it is said in the migration and asylum pact that we just signed two months ago.

“We are an inspiration for many progressive forces in Europe”.

Q. If the PSOE has negotiated this whole package of measures for an abstention on two decrees, what are you going to give them for a Budget, which is coming up in two months?

A. The Government’s efforts are commensurate with the positive effects that these policies have on citizens. And I said so during the election campaign .I have not deceived anyone. I am going to look for votes even under the rocks to revalue pensions in line with the CPI, or to be able to have the 10,000 million euros that will allow us to continue growing, creating jobs and reindustrialising our country in green and digital terms .I will continue to do so. And the question is why the right refuses to vote for the revaluation of pensions. Because everything else is a smokescreen. In the last legislature, “Let Txapote vote for you”, and in this legislature, we already know what the line is: Junts. I think it is extraordinary news that the political formations that rejected any kind of constructive participation in governance are now doing so. And this is not a sign of weakness .On the contrary, it is a sign of strength. This Thursday I was recalling with some of my interlocutors at the Investors Day that when I came to government, among the five main concerns of the citizens, the second was corruption and the fifth was the independence of Catalonia. Today, five years later, 95% of Spanish citizens think that corruption is not a problem. And 98% of citizens, almost 99%, think that Catalan independence is not a problem. Well, we must have done something right. The alternative is a permanent state of emergency on the part of the right and the far right.

Q.In just a few months you have made an argumentative somersault. You and Junts. You went from no to amnesty to yes to amnesty; and Junts, from what they call exile to negotiating a decree with measures for the citizens. Do you think you can settle the explanation, the accountability of such a leap of argument, with a “we make a virtue out of necessity”? Most of the polls – the one published by EL PAÍS and SER as well – show that the majority of Spaniards reject the amnesty law and are uncomfortable with it.

A.The real Spain is the one that Spaniards voted for on 23 July. And afterwards, more than 50 MPs asked the PSOE for an amnesty law. I had to respond to a dilemma, which was whether to continue with a progressive coalition government, with all the difficulties that it obviously entails to push through laws in a fragmented Parliament, as we are seeing, or whether to give Feijóo and Abascal the chance to govern.

Q. The PSOE is now tiptoeing around territorial pedagogy. It sets red lines that the principle of political reality then forces it to cross. This has happened with the amnesty and also with the support for Bildu in Pamplona City Council. If Bildu is a political operator that has full rights in Spain at the moment, why don’t they explain it? Why don’t they say so? They tell us “no, it’s a local decision”.

A.In this case, it is a local decision.

Q. Yes, but with enormous political significance.

A. Enormous political significance, indeed, for the citizens of Pamplona. It is of enormous importance for those citizens who have had a City Council without a budget for five years.

Q. What does Bildu have to do or say to be a political operator with which you can govern, for example?

A. Well, we still have a long way to go.

Q. What is left?

A. There is, of course, a total and absolute recognition and rejection of what has happened over the last 40 years in relation to ETA’s violence in the Basque Country. And, secondly, I believe that their participation with votes and politics is a success for Spanish democracy. What I find quite interesting from the point of view of political analysis is to see a right wing that has remained frozen in a political system that no longer exists. It speaks of Convergencia when today we have another operator called Junts. It talks about ETA, when ETA ceased to exist 13 years ago, thanks to the triumph of Spanish democracy. We in the Basque Country have a strategic relationship with the Basque Nationalist Party and, as I have said on many occasions, there is an abyss that separates us from Bildu in everything that has to do with coexistence. But, from the point of view of the policies implemented by this Government, I am going to ask for the vote of all the parliamentary groups that are possible to make progress in social rights.

“Podemos should consider not making personal decisions, based on their guts”.

Q. There remains another taboo, which is to meet with Puigdemont. Will you do it before the amnesty law is passed?

A. My intention is to do it afterwards. And also with Junqueras. It is logical. If we are normalising the situation in Catalonia, if we have previously pardoned these pro-independence leaders and others, together with many other people, if we are going to proceed with an important event such as the amnesty, then it is clear that we will have to meet and talk.

Q. Are you going to rebuild relations with the business world and will you take advantage of Davos to meet with the large companies in the Ibex?

A.I don’t think we need to rebuild anything. I think that if you look, for example, at the performance of the Ibex share price of these large companies in 2023, it is extraordinary. I have just had a meeting with a large company, in this case a non-Spanish company, which recognises the wisdom of this government’s economic policy. Above all because of the Iberian solution, which has benefited us in terms of gains in competitiveness.

Q. You have just agree to raise the minimum wage only with the agreement of the trade unions. It has not been possible to do so with the CEOE.

A. Well, it’s not the first time. In any case, I think it is extraordinary news, because we are talking about millions of workers who are going to benefit from this 5% increase. Especially young people and women.

“How does the PP explain to its voters that they have rejected the revaluation of pensions?”

Q.There are less good economic times ahead. Europe is about to enter recession, fiscal rules are coming back. You have a very ambitious social programme. Will we finally have an expansive budget?

A. Yes, they will be expansionary. I don’t think it’s bad news that fiscal rules are coming back. But redefined, they are not the same as before the pandemic .In Spain we have reduced public debt by five points a year and the forecast is that we will close this year with a public debt/GDP ratio of 106% and that we will reach a public deficit of 3% of GDP. We have record levels of investment, job creation and exports.

Q.A president who has made the social shield a banner, is he prepared to make adjustments if they have to be made within the European framework?

A. I don’t think that we are in Europe right now along those lines. I think it has been shown that it is possible to grow with expansionary policies, to reduce the public deficit and public debt, as we are doing. The great lesson we have to learn from the financial crisis is that if you depress the economy, you don’t reduce the public deficit and public debt, you increase it, which is what Rajoy did.

Q.A major social concern is housing. Catalonia is going to start limiting rents. Do you think this is the way to solve the big problem?

A. We, with the state housing law, are working on this reference index for large cities and stressed areas. But the most important thing is that we have a derisory public housing stock in our country of less than 3%, when the European average is 9% and there are Nordic countries that are above 15%. What we have seen in recent years, particularly in those administrations governed by the PP, is a disentailment of public housing.

Q. Early this morning, the US and the UK launched a military operation against against Houthi positions in Yemen. Is the dreaded escalation in the Middle East already here?

A. There are signs of the dreaded escalation, not only in the Red Sea, but also in northern Israel, on its border with Lebanon. We are leading the multilateral UN mission in Lebanon. We have been absolutely consistent from the outset. We have defended the same as in Ukraine, even though they are two completely different conflicts. In Israel we are talking about a terrorist attack, which we condemn. We have also demanded the release of all the hostages held by the terrorist group Hamas. But with the same determination we say that international law must be respected. In Ukraine, linked to territorial integrity, and in Israel and Palestine, respect for international humanitarian law.

“Since I arrived, corruption and independence have ceased to be a matter of concern”.

Q. Does the return of the ambassador mean that the diplomatic crisis is over?

A. We have never had a diplomatic crisis with Israel.

Q. Will Spain join the European mission that is going to be proposed to the member states to patrol there?

A. It is not our intention.

Q. Why not?

A. We have more than 3,000 soldiers deployed in different missions. We are leading the Atalanta operation in the Indian Ocean to fight piracy. Of course, we are not going to oppose the Council of the European Union launching this new mission. But our intention is not to participate because we believe that we already have a presence in other international missions and that it should be other countries that lead this mission.

Q. President Biden even called you. I understand that you talked about this and he asked you to join…

A. Well, he congratulated me on my re-election and I wished him well in his re-election. We talked about the situation in the Red Sea and we also talked about the situation in Israel and Palestine. I explained to him what the position of the Spanish government was, and I also believe that it is President Biden’s position on this issue, especially with regard to humanitarian aid, and also the need for the West to recognise the State of Palestine.

“Spain will not join the European mission to patrol the Red Sea. It should be other countries”.

Q. Since 2018, the Spanish political conversation has been very focused on the progressive government that you preside over and has been left out of what is the real European democratic concern at the moment, the emergence of the extreme right, just this week there has been a fascist act in Italy. It seems that here this emergence is only a concern of the left.

A.I believe that this progressive coalition government is an inspiration for many progressive forces in Europe, as I know. There are some important political changes that can take place on the European continent, for example in the UK, in the elections that are coming up soon. . And we also have a European election on the doorstep where it will be decided whether to have a progressive majority in the European Parliament or a majority parasitized in one way or another by the far right. Here the European People’s Party still has to pluck the daisy: whether it wants to be Tusk or Feijóo.

Q. Given your confrontation with Manfred Weber, is this the axis on which the European elections will be decided? Are you going to get involved?

A. Yes, I am going to get involved because we are a reference point for European social democracy. When we began to negotiate European funds, the Spanish PP went to Brussels to ask that these European funds be granted in exchange for counter-reforms. The European elections will also elucidate what economic policy will be pursued; whether we want to return to a policy of cuts, which is what the right and the far right advocate, or a policy of income redistribution that generates a virtuous circle in relation to policies of growth, job creation, cohesion and fiscal consolidation.

“My intention is to meet with Puigdemont after the amnesty.And with Junqueras”.

Q. Argentina, Holland, perhaps the USA. There is a very strong ultra wave all over the world. Is it the new revolution that is dragging young people along? What can the left do?

A.I wouldn’t be so pessimistic in that analysis. The new… the postulates defended by this right-wing or ultra-right wing are absolutely 20th century, to be politically correct. But in Spain we have seen in the elections that a large majority of young people have voted for progressive options. There are young conservatives, young progressives, but if you look at the evolution of the youth vote in our country, they are mostly progressive. Young people know that the challenges are the ecological transition, the climate emergency, employment, access to housing, real equality between men and women, public education. The great paradox is that, from the point of view of ideas, the left has the solutions to the present and future challenges facing our societies; and the right only has the economic power to finance its media terminals and to ensure that debates are conditioned and that more is said about the smokescreens they put on the table than about the content of the policies that are approved.

Q. Do you consider it dangerous that not only some classic European conservative parties, but also some social democrats, as in Denmark, are allowing themselves to be infected in their discourse and policies by the postulates of the extreme right?

A. Yes, even with parties of my political family we had serious disagreements and debates about European funds and the need to mutualise debt at EU level in order to finance a positive way out of the pandemic crisis. These debates also take place within ideological families. But beyond this, I believe that the response we have given to the pandemic, and also to the economic effects of the war in Ukraine, are clearly social democratic. I think what is relevant is that Europe, which at the beginning said no to reforming the electricity market, has accepted that the market must be intervened when it does not work. And this is a social democratic victory, as it is also, from the point of view of migration and asylum, to put economic resources into the external dimension or to make those countries that refuse to show solidarity pay economic resources.

Q.The opposition, but also some former PSOE leaders, have criticised your idea of building a wall against the right and the far right. Do you consider yourself a divisive president?

A. I am making policies for the social majority of this country. When a pensioner is asked in any of the polls whether or not he or she agrees or disagrees with the revaluation of pensions, we are probably talking about 80 or 90%. We are making policies for the social majority, whichever way they vote. There is an asymmetrical polarisation here. I do not insult, I am insulted. My party does not besiege the headquarters of other political formations. My party does suffer the siege of other political formations to the headquarters and the houses of the people of the PSOE. I recognise the legitimacy of the governments, even if I don’t like them, of the PP with Vox, of reactionary coalitions. But I don’t see this correspondence on the part of the PP. If the right and the ultra-right have decided that way, fine, I have decided for the last five years to respect the adversary, not to insult and to work for the benefit of the majority.

“From now on we will legislate through bills”.

Q.At last there has been an agreement with the PP to reform article 49 of the Constitution. Is there also a possibility of reaching an agreement on the renewal of the CGPJ?

A. I have reached three agreements with the PP, all three of which were broken unilaterally by the PP.I have a somewhat crude diagnosis of Mr Feijóo’s leadership. I don’t think he is an autonomous leader. I think that he is a leader who is more concerned with the front page of the right-wing media that tells him which way to go. See what Vox thinks and what Mrs Ayuso’s opinion is. What we know, and that is the reality, is that since I have been President of the Government, the pro-independence parties have not broken the Constitution, and only the PP has done so.

Q. I understand that you believe there will be no agreement. Would you accept the reform for judges to elect judges directly?

A. We are talking about a method of election that has been in place since the beginning of 2000.This debate has not been raised when the PP was in government, only when the left is in government. There is no greater intervention in the judiciary than what the PP is doing. But hopefully we can reach an agreement, even with the mediation of the European Commission.

“We still have a long way to go before we can govern with Bildu. Our alliance is with the PNV”.

Q. You always talk about defending the institutions. Do you think that appointments such as that of a Secretary of State at the head of the Efe agency or keeping Tezanos at the head of the CIS benefit the image of the institutions?Apart from the professional qualifications of the individuals, do you think that these partisan appointments improve the image of the institutions?

A. I deny the main assertion. If not, it will give the impression that nobody will be able to do politics. This debate, for example, did not take place when it became known that the President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes, had previously been Director General of Justice under Gallardón. What should be reproached, for example, is that the president of the Constitutional Court, as happened with Mariano Rajoy at the head of the government, was a person with a Partido Popular card. But for a person to have been Secretary of State, then return to his job, spend two years working in his job as a journalist, who I believe has all the credit in the world, and then return to the civil service?

I do not accept the link between immigration and crime. Our policy is humanist”

.Q. You give the impression that, in this legislature, you are prepared to use some of the cards that the opposition uses against you. You have chosen more forceful spokespersons. You have your government very mobilised in the political battle. Although it is a defensive move, aren’t we running the risk that confrontation will get out of hand in Spain, that political life will end up being very rogue?

A.I think that the right wing plays at polarisation. I remember a video they made during the election campaign and it was a radio with a man’s voice-over while there were a few people sitting on the beach and he said: “You vote on 23 July and the next day forget about politics”. This has always been the strategy of the right: to try to demobilise the progressive electorate, which it knows is the majority in Spain, by generating disaffection. We start from an asymmetry. The media dominance in Spain is overwhelmingly conservative. But progressive forces do not insult, they reason with conviction, but without insults.


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