11/29/2020 12:24 AM | Updated 11/29/2020 09:13
ERC has made a decision of enormous importance this week two and a half months before the Catalan elections: to support the state budgets and thus guarantee the legislature of Pedro Sánchez Government. Pere Aragonès makes an effort in this interview to explain how the objective of independence, which he does not renounce, and the pragmatism of governing the day-to-day life of an autonomy can be combined.
“We will not oppose any proposal that alleviates the pain of the victims of this reprisal”
Q. Why now do you support budgets and a year ago you did not leading Spain to elections? There is not much difference between what you have agreed to now and the offer from a year ago.
A. We are at a time when people are suffering. They don’t know if they will be able to open their business or if at Easter they will be able to live under the same roof because they can no longer afford it. We could not refrain from obtaining the maximum resources for this daily life that is at risk. It is our obligation. The social and economic pandemic is as severe or even harder than the health one. We have improved the initial proposal of the Government and we have placed some instruments such as the management of the minimum vital income or improved the investment chapter. 450 million are included to compensate for the lack of financing of the Mossos. And more: the Generalitat was not in the Consortium of the Free Zone and now we will be.
Q. All this sounds a lot like the old politics of CiU, the bird in hand “peix al cove” that you have criticized so much.
A. In the midst of the most important pandemic of the last century, with the largest drop in GDP in our history, saying no to everything is not an option. If anyone is in a position to strike a better deal, let him/her do it. Our concern is for the people who suffer. We build independence based on the hopes we can give with our decisions today and not on frustrations.
Q. Are you telling me that without the pandemic your decision would have been different?
A. It is difficult to know. The negotiation would have been different and I don’t know if we would have supported the budgets. Ciudadanos would not have positioned itself as an alternative to this agreement. If the whole of the Catalan independence movement had gone together to negotiate, the results would have been better. But we believe that deciding that the present does not matter based on a future that we have to achieve is not an option. We looked at each other in Scotland. There they got a referendum, and today it is a benchmark for all progressive governments in Europe.
Q. Does this new policy mean that the Government will return to the Council for Fiscal and Financial Policy?
A. We have never stopped attending. I was Secretary of the Economy when Oriol Junqueras was Counsellor. But the mechanisms of the autonomous state do not work. It is a council in which the majority of votes are always held by the minister on duty. We achieve more with 13 MPs in Congress than attending the 30 or 40 fiscal policy councils in history.
Q. But you weren’t going lately. Now, will you attend?
A. We will see if they are held to make decisions or not. What we will not do is go to act as dumb guests. Now our priority are the European funds. The agreement we have reached states that the Generalitat will give its opinion before the State presents the plan with all the funding proposals to Europe. We want the Generalitat to present to the Government the specific traction projects in Catalonia in December so that they can be incorporated into the proposal that will be presented to the European Commission.
Q. In these elections, whoever wants to vote for ERC, which Esquerra will be voting for? The one that reaches agreements such as the budget or the one that until recently said goodbye in Congress saying that it was leaving Spain?
A. They will vote for the ERC that next year will make 90 years of history. We are the ERC that proclaimed the Republic on April 14 but also defended the 8 working hours during the 1930s. The ERC that was committed to the October 1 and that defends an education for all. We not only maintain the goal of independence, but we believe that it can only be achieved by defending everyday things. It is not incompatible.
Q. You have entered a line of pragmatism. In the recent book by Oriol Junqueras and Marta Rovira it is stated: “We must prioritize governing well over symbolic conflict. We have to offer confidence that the institutions are in good hands”. After the latest events, do you really believe that the Government is in good hands?
A. The Government is in good hands. This legislature has aimed to lift the 155. We have seen a 100-year prison sentence for those who are accused of making the 1-O possible. We have seen a pandemic that has disrupted governments of all kinds. And in the State, we have seen a situation in which they were not able to form a government. Budgets have been approved in Catalonia and in the State, not yet. This is achieved thanks to our desire to achieve great alliances: from Junts to the Commons, with ERC as a kneecap.
Q. You will not deny me that in this legislature there has been a lot of noise, internal division, management problems … how will you convince the citizen that as of February 14 that will no longer happen?
A. We ask for the support of citizens to be able to lead the Government and make the budget agreement replicable in Catalonia to other areas of the country’s governance. We are also the ones who have managed to get the Spanish Government to sit at a negotiating table where, at the very least, they have had to formally listen to the defense of the right to self-determination and amnesty. We need ERC to lead the country to keep moving forward. Now we do it as the second party of the Government. Without ERC, that table would not have existed. The freest flag in the world is of no use if the people are not guaranteed bread and shelter. The two things at the same time are compatible. Explain that to the freelancers who have had so much trouble asking for help. Today the image of the Government is touched. We are assuming the responsibilities that an independent state would have to assume. The case of the self-employed is paradigmatic: the State has suddenly raised their quota and charged them this October. ERC has achieved a moratorium for the next three months. This aid, which was conceived as an emergency, has clearly been seen to be insufficient. Now we will go to a universal aid for the self-employed who meet the requirements. But that help is offered by the Generalitat because the State does not do it. That is why we want independence. We are giving answers because the State does not give them.
Q. In managing the pandemic in nursing homes you have not shown great ability if you had the power to govern a State. It is difficult to understand that the minister El Homrani has not resigned.
A. When there are difficulties, what you have to do is face them. The issue of nursing homes has happened in much of Europe. The reprehensible thing would be not to have corrected when the response to the problems has been insufficient. In this second wave, mortality has been much lower than the previous one and we have not had to confine ourselves at home. In July, everyone said that schools could not be opened and they have opened. And we reached the peak of 80,000 members of the educational community who were confined and now we have 20,000. It is a success for teachers, families and students, but also for the Minister Bargalló and the Government. All of us who have government responsibilities have to look at this pandemic with great humility.
Q. What would you say to those who reproach you for not having charisma?
A. Let them look at the facts. I do not come from show politics. I like the facts better and I think that is how we go ahead. My political commitment, since I was a teenager, is the defense of independence and I do it in ERC, always being very clear that it has to serve to achieve social justice. We have been working in these areas for many years. Whoever doubts that, look at the facts.
Q. It would have been good for your image if ERC had made primary elections.
A. A process was opened for those primaries and I feel honored and excited that more than 2,300 militants have endorsed my candidacy. There have not been more colleagues who took the step forward. If not, there would be primaries.
Q. If we pay attention to the polls, when governing you would need a travel companion, with whom do you feel more comfortable, with Junts or with PDECat?
A. They also have to clarify what their project is, what separates them and what unites them. The next Government must be committed to the independence of this country. Because it has to face a negotiating table to defend self-determination and amnesty it has to be pro-independence, but it must also be able to establish alliances beyond that. Among the Commons there are people who defend the right to decide, and I would also like sectors of the CUP to be involved.
Q. You do not mention the socialists.
A. We have a problem with the PSC. That PSC with which we got along no longer exists. Those who defend that PSC of Pasqual Maragall today are in ERC. This is the case of Ernest Maragall, Elisenda Pérez, Carolina Telechea or hundreds of councilors. We are the antipodes of the PSC of Iceta, there is no possible agreement.
Q. It seems that you are closer to the PSOE than to the PSC.
A. Yes, today we are better because the PSOE is a party from another country. And sometimes that makes it easier to reach a point of agreement. Although we are demanding and that has caused a part of the PSOE to have problems, some barons or Felipe González. I think that the PSC wants to get the votes of Citizens and that makes them abandon consensus of Catalanism where it had been before.
Q. Depending on how the parliamentary arithmetic is, maybe you shouldn’t rule it out completely….
A. We totally discard it because there is no shared project. Theirs is incompatible with what we stand for.
Q. Concerning your proposal for fiscal harmonization to prevent any community, such as Madrid, from lowering their taxes, doesn’t it also mean limiting the capacity for self-government of each community?
A. When in the EU an agreement is called for to put a minimum on corporate tax to avoid the practices of the Irish or Luxembourg government similar to tax havens, do the states lose sovereignty? No. What states do is protect their sovereignty. The best way to protect our fiscal sovereignty is to ensure that there is no one who uses the fact of being the capital of a state to gain an unfair advantage. We ask that the Community of Madrid be done with what the EU has done with Luxembourg. It is probable that there are political forces that believe that Catalonia must be a tax haven. I do not want it. We are not asking that the Madrid working class be punished, but that the rich who are fiscally residing in Madrid pay what they have to.
Q. The Valencian president, Ximo Puig, has lamented that relations with Catalonia have not been as good in recent years as they should be. Do you think that an understanding can be opened with that community?
A. We have already started doing it. I have had the opportunity to speak with Puig several times and we can collaborate in many areas of shared interests. Also with the Balearic president, Francina Armengol. A few years ago Pasqual Maragall wrote in an article Madrid se va, and years later, his brother Ernest made a reply by writing Adiós Madrid-Estado. Well, if Madrid wants to go, let it go, but the wealth produced in Catalonia is not going to go to Madrid in the form of tax evasion of great fortunes. And for that, we must attack the tax haven that is today Madrid.
Q. But apart from criticizing it, something must be built.
A. Yes of course. That is why we want Catalonia to be the technological hub of southern Europe. We need instruments of economic policy from here. I have mentioned the Consortium of the Free Zone. The airport remains, we will arrive. The ICF has to be a modern ICO. We need European funds. It is the great opportunity to rebuild the country. We have suffered for many years Madrid as a megalopolis and a project of the Spanish State that was based only on the success of Madrid. It is the project of the PP. Ours is that Catalonia can have its own viability and from the economic point of view we need to be stronger with alliances with other territories, not only the Valencian Country or the Balearic Islands. For example, also Occitània.
Q. What has been done wrong in Catalonia to avoid this second wave of the pandemic and how are you dealing with the malaise of the restaurant sector?
A. The second wave occurred in Catalonia and the rest of Europe. Today bars and restaurants in Germany are closed and in France they will not open until the middle of January. Our goal was to ensure that the effects on people’s lives were less and the second one was not to completely stop economic activity. The contagion figures in the first wave reached 1,800 people in ICUs and the peak of this has been 600. Now we have less than 500. We have come out better than in the first wave as well as in other European countries.
Q. In Madrid too and without closing restaurants.
A. The graph of Catalonia is an inverted V that rises suddenly and falls suddenly, that of Madrid is an inverted U, going down very little by little. In terms of mortality per population, we are in a better situation. If we had not decided on the closures, we would now be in total lockdown.
Q. Regarding the prisoners, there is talk of pardons, of reform of the Penal Code. What do you think about it and do you think any of these formulas could be produced before the Catalan elections?
A. The proposal we are making is an amnesty law. Because it is not just about those who are imprisoned today but about all the causes that are still open. The solution is amnesty. In any case, we will not oppose in any way any proposal that alleviates the pain of the victims of repression.