Salvador Illa: "We have less influence in Europe than we had ten years ago"
Not even a week ago Salvador Illa (La Roca del Vallès, 1966) ceased to be Minister of Health to be the candidate of the PSC on the 14-F elections. Therefore, it is still inevitable to ask him about the management of the pandemic.
Are you satisfied with your work in the ministry? Spain has had very high levels of contagion.
It is a global pandemic that has caught all countries unaware, but I think we have reacted in the way we had to. Naturally, t there are things that we would have done differently today. But I leave with the awareness of having done what I could, and what I had to do at any given moment.
You said that in summer 70% of the population in Spain would be vaccinated. Do you maintain this calendar?
I maintain it and the European Commission maintains it. I think it is plausible, if there are no unforeseen events and the vaccines that have been purchased are approved, and the promised doses are delivered.
Is it logical that Europeans do not know about these contracts with large pharmaceutical companies?
That is a decision for the European Commission to make. I have always thought that the more transparency, the better. However, what mattered was to have a common approach in Europe on vaccination, to ensure that we had vaccines that worked and to distribute them fairly. That is being achieved.
If instead of being minister in the Spanish government, you had been the Catalan Minister of Health, would have you recommended postponing the elections?
Elections can be held. Going to vote is a fundamental right, it is not a minor thing, and if the indications of the health authorities are followed I believe that voting is safe on 14-F.
And is it also safe to work in polling stations?
Yes, if you follow the recommendations.
What do you think about the policy that has been carried out regarding the coronavirus in Catalonia and Madrid?
It is known that I had a difference of criteria with how Madrid was applying this same model approved by everyone. I said so at the time, and we applied the measures we believed we had to apply. I have not entered into confrontation with anyone, I have endorsed, as minister, all the decisions taken by the health authorities of Catalonia and other autonomous communities, except in the case I have mentioned. The pandemic requires great prudence and humility, and I will not enter into any political confrontations.
You are standing as a candidate for president, but it is unlikely that the PSC will have an absolute majority. Who do you think you could govern with?
I am addressing this broad majority of Catalans who want to turn the page on ten years that are to be forgotten. We have not gained more powers, we have not improved people's lives in any concrete way. On the contrary, we have generated confrontation with divisive policies. Economically we have lost our leadership in terms of GDP in Spain. We have lost leadership and the capacity to influence.
And what do you offer citizens?
A change, which does not mean reproaches or revenge, but simply the opening of a new time of mutual recognition. I offer my candidacy as a catalyst for this change. And then I want to create a progressive government, and the formula I propose is with the comuns, which will probably not have 68 MPs, but it will have a significant amount. And then it can be the same as in Parliament, where PSOE and UP [Unidas Podemos] do not have a majority, but we have managed to create a parliamentary majority sufficient to be able to reach specific agreements with other forces.
If ERC won, would you be willing to support it?
ERC will not win the elections because I aspire to win them. I cannot form governments with parties that continue to defend Catalan independence. To reach agreements of another kind, yes; but not to promote governments whose objective is independence.
And to reach agreements outside of government?
I think we all agree that one priority is to combat the pandemic. Here I am willing to reach agreements, in social matters we can reach agreements, not only with ERC but also with other parties. Politics is also about reaching consensus.
You always talk about dialogue within the law. Is the pardon within the law?
A pardon is provided for in the rule of law. A pardon has been requested for people who are serving prison sentences and they have every right to ask for it. And there is every obligation on the part of the Spanish government to process it.
Would you be in favour of it being granted?
I am in favour of respecting the rule of law, that they have neither prejudices nor privileges. When the process is over and we see the result, it will be up to the Spanish government to decide, and I, no longer from the council of ministers but as a candidate of the PSC, will pronounce myself on the matter.
Miquel Iceta spoke about the pardon first and it cost him dearly. Is that why you reserve your opinion?
No, I will wait until the processing of the pardon has finished to see what the result is. I am in favour of justice. I have also said many times that I am against revenge and, therefore, we will see what the process will be.
Does the public prosecutor's office have to appeal against the prisoners' open prison regime?
Whatever is convenient. I will adapt to what the courts decide.
You speak of a reunion. I suppose you are referring to, among other things, a dialogue table. With what objective?
This reunion means recognising each other, first of all. Or am I not a Catalan person? Or is a person who lives in l'Hospitalet or Santa Coloma de Gramenet and is not a pro-independence, Catalan? Re-encountering each other means recognising each other, and having the conviction that we will not solve our problems with one half imposing itself on the other half. I do not want to renounce any half of Catalonia. To reconnect means to sit down and dialogue within the framework of coexistence that we have, and that cannot be changed unilaterally.
To talk about what?
Whatever there is to talk about.
Everything, no red lines?
When I sit down with someone at the table, the condition I set is: let's respect the framework of coexistence.
What specific proposal do you make to resolve the conflict in Catalonia?
A reunion is specific enough. There are two concrete spaces to do so: the dialogue table, which we agreed on the occasion of the investiture of President Pedro Sánchez, and the dialogue table that the Parliament created with the parliamentary groups, which, by the way, some parties have not wanted to attend. And the specific priorities on which I think we have to focus our energies: to ensure that health protection works well, that we vaccinate well, and to reactivate the economy looking at the recovery funds so that no one is left behind.
Does Catalonia need a better financing system?
Of course. I will work to improve Catalonia's financing. Since 2014 it had to be reviewed and the first thing Catalonia has to do is to go where it is discussed. Send experts to the discussion tables, which they have not done, go to the meeting and defend what is ours.
Are you in favour of a tax system similar to that of the Basque Country?
No, I want better financing for Catalonia and I think that the current framework, if things are properly defended, can provide us with these resources. And now 140 billion euros will arive in six years...
We are talking about two different things.
Yes, but one has to be focused. How? Well, by making good projects, having agreed to them with the industrial fabric of the country, with the administrations, having antennae in Europe. How many years has it been since we have had working meetings with representatives of the European Commission? What influence do we have? Do we have more influence now than we did ten years ago? I don't think so, I think we have much less.
Do you have any guarantees that these funds will reach the Catalan business fabric of small and medium-sized companies?
I have guarantees that they will be distributed fairly. They have some axes that have been set by the European Commission, which aim to transform the economic model with two very clear axes: the environment and digitization. Now, when people say SMEs, I completely agree, but why not Seat? Seat feeds a lot of people.
A large part of Catalonia. But the business fabric is made up of small and medium-sized companies.
And what we need to do is to have good projects and present them.
Do they have to be decided from the Moncloa [the Spanish government]?
It is Europe who sets the priorities, who has reserved the right, if the funds are not applied correctly, to stop them. We will guarantee that there is an equitable distribution throughout the territory that will bring us closer together as a country. And the funds will be decided jointly with Europe and must be presented to those to whom they correspond, which are the states. What Catalonia must do is present good projects. This is what we must focus on, and it would be good to have weight and influence in Europe and to know the criteria and the fine print of what is being done.
Therefore, it guarantees an equitable distribution of funds, even if they pass through the Moncloa.
Yes, Europe works the way it works. There are people who want to get to Europe without going through the State. That is not the way it is. Europe is still today a union of states.
What are Catalonia's spending priorities now?
The three main priorities I have set for myself are: protecting health, reactivating the economy and ensuring that no one is left behind.
You speak of reunion, but aren't you defending bloc politics when you say that you will not agree with pro-independence supporters?
Bloc politics is the opposite of dialogue. I have sat down to dialogue, I have been at the dialogue table. I have negotiated the investiture of Pedro Sánchez with ERC. What I ask is that we respect the rule of law, and when it has been broken I have said that this is not the way. I think that time has proved us right because we warned of the consequences that this would have, bad for everyone, for those who played a leading role in this rupture and for the whole country. I want to change the dynamics of Catalan politics over the last 10 years.
Did the PSC make any mistakes in 2017?
What do you mean?
Was 155 a mistake?
No, I believe that 155 is the response to a mistake, a previous mistake, which is 6 and 7 September, which is to break the rule of law. The 155 is, like it or not, a response to the rule of law. Now, if you say to me: listen, has the PSC made mistakes in recent years? I agree.
Tell me one.
I think we have all committed them. Well, we did not take seriously enough that the demand for independence was not a utopian or tactical movement, but a movement of substance, and we did not fight it politically with much more energy from the beginning. In this we were wrong.
Would you personally demonstrate again with Vox?
No, I didn't demonstrate with Vox, I demonstrated in a call to which many people from Catalonia went to say: listen, we don't want independence. What Vox has said is that they want to put me in jail. Do you know what I mean?
Mr. Illa, the Madrid-Orihuela AVE has just been inaugurated. This means that it connects Alicante, Elche and Valencia with Madrid, but not with Barcelona, Tarragona or Murcia. Do you agree with this radial policy of the AVE?
No, I defend a much more networked infrastructure policy. I think that this is what Minister Ábalos is also promoting.
Today the unemployment figures for Catalonia were released. Do you know the youth unemployment figures for Catalonia?
It is very high. Unemployment in Catalonia stands at 13%, a little below the unemployment rate in Spain, but these figures are still very high, and youth unemployment is a burden, a pending issue. But we must know how to seize this moment to transform our economy. And I believe that the direction of this process must be unequivocally public. When Catalonia focuses its energies on this, when Catalonia reaches consensus, when it thinks about everything we think and focuses its energies on this, it is unstoppable.
Tell me the first measure you would take as president.
The first action I would take would be in relation to vaccination and the health sector. To review it, to make sure that the vaccination plan is working well, and allocate all the resources that are needed.