Francesc Gambús, former MEP (Ana Jiménez)
Iñaki Ellakuría, Barcelona
07/08/2019 06:00 Updated 08/07/2019 20:07
Francesc Gambús (Barcelona, 1974) has just closed a five-year term as a MEP, during which he has observed the radical changes that the political and social scenario of the old continent is suffering. Framed in the political catalanism and with a long experience in different positions in the Government of the Generalitat (he was general director of External Relations), he has withdrawn publicly from the unilateral way assumed by the pro-independence parties.
You have just ended your MEP term, five years in which you have seen your party disappear, Unió Democràtica (UDC), the emergence of populism, the independence process … What is your assessment?
Positive. We have done a lot of work in the parliamentary group in one of the central themes of the legislature, such as the fight against climate change and the circular economy, as well as explaining Catalonia to Europe and Europe to Catalonia. About Unió Democràtica, I’m sure that, given what happened after its disappearance, I think it was right about the consultation on the independence process we did with our bases, as well as about the question in the wording in which it was made. Sentimentally, the fact that a party like UDC disappears hurts, and perhaps all of us who were there were victims of the tension of the process and we made decisions that were not the ones we would have taken today with the necessary coldness.
All in all, you were in 2015 a few votes short of entering the Parliament…
We were very close. With three or four seats we could have liberated JxSí from the CUP and surely the Catalan political agenda would have changed.
Unió has disappeared, but after the municipal elections we see that JxCat in particular, and the post-Convergencia space in general, is in clear decline. Another example on the left is Iniciativa per Catalunya …
The independence process has been and is an earthquake for the party system. Probably the same would have happened without its emergence. We see how in the whole of Spain the bipartisanship has been broken, or in France. In the United Kingdom with Brexit the same or worse has happened. Even in Germany the bipartisanship is not so clear. Here has been the process, in other places, other causes.
From Brussels, political and administrative heart of Europe, how have you experienced the explosion of that national populism in so many countries, which you relate to the independence process…
In the case of the British, the parallelism with the Catalan process can be done in many aspects. In Europe it is true that the economic crisis has passed its bill, by the broken expectations of the people and unfulfilled community promises. Many people feel that the future of their children will not be better than the life they have had. Surely we did not know that the future of each generation has to be worked and fought, and we thought that everything was given by itself. This somewhat naive vision, combined with a process of European integration that, when it comes to taking action, is imposed with little elegance, is an ideal breeding ground for the emergence of these nationalisms. It happens in Greece, France, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, each one for its reasons and motivations…
You arrived in Brussels with a separatism putting all its hopes in Europe and go out with Puigdemont charging against the EU and pointing it out as an enemy…
The enemy of the independence movement is always the one who does not accept its reason and Brussels today does not give it to it. The same happened to Catalanism. It had elaborated a story during the Francoism through which Europe would be the Europe of the peoples. This last part, however, has never been part of the European story, which has always been that of the Europe of the States. The States have built it since the Second World War, and they did not do it to dissolve now. That Catalan story we liked a lot, also the Basque and Galician nationalism assumed it, but when observed in more depth it was very far from the European reality. That is why when the independence process begins, the idea that Europe will end up giving the reason to the independence claims, since it defends democracy and freedom, re-emerges with force.
“Europe will not go against what the polls decide”, said the political leaders and propagandists of the independence process…
That part of the story ignored that European democracy is a two-lane road. For one, there is the will of the people expressed in the polls; and on the other is the law and its fulfillment. You can change the law, not the opinion of the people. And here there has been a willingness to ignore that side, causing that by now the pro-independence parties reproach the silence of Brussels. But it is not a silence, what Brussels does is not to accept the reasons of the independence movement.
The latest decisions of the European courts are not very favorable to the independence thesis…
It has been very clear that the European Court of Human Rights is in a line that in Catalonia there are people who do not want to see it, and the line is nothing different from the need to respect the law. And if you do not like it, try to change it through the rules that allow it.
After your five years as a MEP, what would you highlight as the best of the European Parliament?
That legislative work is always bound for agreement. It is a deliberative democracy that when you approach a report in general, agreement is sought, red lines are not drawn and that is usually rewarded. All this despite the fact that it is a very large, plural, difficult parliament, with parties of very different ideological origins and lines.
And the worst?
Only the MEPs learn about the work done by the MEPs. The majority of the work done does not reach the citizens. Probably if the newspapers had a fixed section called the European Union, and every day they were obliged to explain what happens, a sort of star system of the EU would be created and people would put face to many of their leaders, making closer the day by day of European politics.
How do you assess the negotiations and the final power pact in the EU institutions?
With their decision in the European Council, the governments of the member states have done a great favor to the euro skeptical forces that always say that Europe suffers from a democratic deficit.
Among other things, the intention of the presidents of the government to try to deny one of the bases of the functioning of the EU. All agreements reached by the member states must be ratified by the Parliament chosen by all European citizens. They have also done with the direct election of senior officials, a system of candidates that had raised the participation a lot. That said, the European Parliament has a big decision to make. Either rejects the proposal of the European Council, playing the anti-European game, or ratifies it. But the ratification of the Parliament should have a price, which must be a government program of the European Commission that is agreed before the vote.
Do you still define yourself as a Christian democrat?
How do you explain the decline of a line of political thought and action that decided so much in Europe?
More than decline, I would say that it suffers. In Germany, relatively. It is true that in France and in Italy it is a disaster… Surely one of the problems we have had is that we are associated and defined by our surname, as if we had a direct relationship with the churches. When in reality Christian democracy is the expression of values of the history of Europe, in which Christianity was and is essential.
You also define yourself as a Catalanist. Can it again have space in Catalan politics or is it another victim of the independence process?
That it has space is indicated by all the social and public survey studies. There is a sector of center-right Catalanism, but at the moment there is nobody to occupy it. For weeks we have seen movements that want to take over and lead this space but I still perceive in them the perfume of the old CiU. They must look forward because nobody will want to vote for the old CiU. You have to make a new offer and, first, assume that short-term independence cannot be possible and that things have been done very badly.