Interview with the second vice-president of the Spanish government and leader of Podemos

Pablo Iglesias: "Spain does not enjoy full democratic normality".

6 min
Pablo Iglesias in Barcelona

The second vice-president of the Spanish government and leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias (Madrid, 1978), meets ARA taking advantage of his presence in Catalonia for the campaign.

What is at stake for Podemos on February 14?

A fundamental question is what will happen to public services in Catalonia and how will an enormously difficult economic and social situation caused by the pandemic be tackled. The only viable and sensible answer is a government that pursues left-wing policies. If En Comú Podem is strong in this government, the left-wing policies that Catalonia needs will be implemented.

The polls do not give you very positive results. Does being in government harm you electorally?

On the contrary. If we were not in government or if it were to our disadvantage, the aggressiveness to which we are subjected by some of the State's media powers would not be what it is. It is striking that they attack the minority partner more than the majority partner. This is because our presence is noticeable and is changing things. With the polls everyone has to be cautious. We have the best candidate, who states unequivocally with whom she is willing to govern. The rest of the candidates can't say that.

Are you surprised by this aggressiveness?

We knew that power is very aggressive when certain privileges are questioned, but it is another thing to live it. Being in government is not being in power. I believe that the aggressiveness towards us is unprecedented in a state political force. In Catalonia there has been aggression against some forces and we have always said so. What happens with us is that certain things that seemed impossible happen. We have not gone as far as we would like, but with a lot of effort and a lot of discussion and fighting within the government we have managed to limit evictions, prohibit the cutting off of supplies, a minimum vital income that is not complete and that needs to be improved, a law on sexual consent and the the furlough (ERTE) scheme.

The trans law and the housing law have made your coalition partners uncomfortable. Are you too far apart ideologically?

We are two different political options and we have to normalise it. A crucial aspect that differentiates us is that the PSOE and the PSC are monarchists and we are republicans. But we have very obvious debates with these two laws. With regard to housing, we say that limits must be placed on "vulture" funds (i.e. private equity) and that the price of rent must be lowered and certain real estate bosses must be confronted. The PSOE thinks differently. On the trans law, it is more surprising because it is not fair to refer to trans people as people who have a pathology and who should go to a doctor. To be loyal in a coalition government is to be loyal to the agreed programme that allowed that coalition government to exist.

Are you satisfied with the extent to which the programme has been delivered?

It takes many hours, many discussions, and sometimes it is hard to make it happen.

Do you understand that your government pays the ex king's expenses in Abu Dhabi?

It's something that makes me ashamed. Being in the coalition government means that there are things we do as a government that I don't like. If instead of 35 MPs we had a few more, the situation would be different. No democracy can find it acceptable that citizens' money can be used to extend situations of privilege that hardly anyone understands.

If ERC does not win, are you worried that your commitment to dialogue will falter?

The commitment to dialogue must always be there, it cannot be conditioned by electoral correlations.

With what objectives would you reactivate the negotiating table? What proposal would the Spanish government bring?

Whatever would be an agreement. We will all have to give ground. We have always defended a referendum, this is our political position. But when we sit around a table with different parties, in this case two governments, it is essential to build an agreement that will surely not contain 100% of the political will of all the actors. It has to be an agreement that allows a democratic management of a conflict that is political. I know that I will be attacked a lot for saying this, but for this to take place in acceptable circumstances there cannot be independence supporters in prison and in exile. Dialogue cannot be successful if there are people in prison or in exile.

The Russian minister Serguei Lavrov disavowed the high representative of foreign policy of the EU about Navalny and reproached him that in Spain there were political prisoners. What is your opinion?

If as a member of the Spanish government I go to any country and they tell me that of the political leaders of the two governing parties in Catalonia are one in prison and the other in Brussels, they are describing the facts to me. These people have not planted bombs, they have not shot anyone. Well, it is clear that there is an exceptional situation, and I have to acknowledge this as Vice-President of the Spanish Government. There is no situation of full political and democratic normality in Spain when of the leaders of the two governing parties in Catalonia, one is in jail and the other in Brussels. It is a situation with many elements of exceptionality, which are bad for Spanish democracy. But the same goes for the imprisonment of Pablo Hasél. The judges have said that he has to go to prison, but as a democrat I understand that it doesn't benefit Spain's image that someone could end up in prison for singing, whatever he says in his songs.

Has this exceptional situation deteriorated the democratic quality of Spain?

That's obvious. In a situation of democratic normality, political conflicts are resolved democratically. How can there be democratic normality in our country if a political conflict can no longer be managed through political channels and has ended up being managed through police and juridical channels? It is a problematic aspect that no democrat can like.

Has the solution of a political problem been outsourced to the police and the judiciary?

Political problems have to be solved through political channels. Anyone who thinks that what is happening in Catalonia will be resolved by the State security forces or the judges does not understand the history of the State over the last 200 years. What is happening in Catalonia is nothing new. Our state is plurinational, with a plurinational reality in terms of identity, in terms of feeling. And this has always generated political conflicts. For us, being republicans is also a way of understanding a collective project for a country.

Do you see the separation of powers as really solid in Spain?

I have to be cautious because I am the vice-president, but some things are obvious. When we hear Mr Bárcenas, it is made clear that one of the keys to the corrupt power structure in the State had to do with an attempt by the right wing to control the judges. And also when we see the PP blocking the renewal of the CGPJ, trying to hide behind the majority they got when Rajoy was in power. Many people think that the separation of powers does not always work well and that justice is not the same for everyone.

When did you last speak to Carles Puigdemont?

A month and a bit ago.

Do you have a good relationship?

Yes, but with everyone. I have never stopped having conversations with representatives of practically all the political forces, including the PP.

And with Oriol Junqueras?

It's more difficult. I went to visit him in prison once. I have been able to talk with people from ERC almost every fortnight.

Has the Minister of Justice already presented the proposal to reform the crime of sedition?

Yes, in this case I will ask you to allow me to be discreet, because there are some things that, in order for them to happen, you have to work on them discreetly.

Would you accept it if the crime of sedition were not eliminated and the reform reduced penalties instead?

The adaptation of the legal system to more guaranteeing criteria and to European reference systems means that the penal types must be adjusted to reality. We will achieve an adequate majority in order to have a better, more democratic and more guaranteeing Penal Code that will favour a more reasonable management of the conflict in Catalonia.

What will Unidas Podemos vote in Congress on the amnesty law?

The legal framework of amnesty will not allow for an agreement to be reached in Congress. I understand, and I have spoken many times in private with ERC leaders, that they have to defend a discourse before their people. We respect the fact that we may have different positions on the outside, but we work with them on the important things that could lead to an agreement to solve the problems.

Where should the reform of regional financing go?

It has to be aimed at increasing the quality of public social services, which are the responsibility of the autonomous regions. I know that it is probably the most complex political negotiation that can be entered and it is full of contradictions, but if it is done in defence of public services it can reach a good conclusion.

Pablo Iglesias: "Spain does not have democratic normality"

There are businessmen and many parties that fear that if European funds go through the central government, they will not reach the Catalan economic fabric.

One of the problems of the State has been excessive centralisation when it comes to building alliances with economic elites. There are many people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and other peripheries who have been historically excluded from a state leadership in which we need a different entrepreneurial talent from the one that has occupied the boxes in Spain's most important football stadiums. It is key that these business sectors, and in particular the small and medium-sized Catalan companies, assume that they have a very important role to play in the development of the whole of the State with the opportunity that European funds represent.

Does this mean that they will be favoured in a direct way?

It is not for me to say. There will be and there are meetings with many actors. I think I am already saying a lot in terms of what I understand the orientation of the funds should be.