Oriol Junqueras: "It is paradoxical that Junts does not want to sit at the dialogue table"

Esther Vera
6 min

ERC president Oriol Junqueras visits the ARA four months after his pardon and release from prison.

Does life get back to normal quickly?

— Adapting to the good things is very easy, and after a few minutes of being out of prison it feels like you've never been in it. Day to day life is very comforting because you feel very useful and above all you feel very loved.

You told the students at the UAB that the history of humanity is a struggle between fear and hope. What are you afraid of?

— I'm afraid that people will lose hope. Fear paralyses aspirations, the yearning for improvement, for freedom and justice of the majority of people and, therefore, while the powerful very often sow fear, we are obliged to cultivate hope because it has a great power of transformation.

On 27 October, 2017, did people not mobilise out of fear of violent consequences or out of manifest impossibility?

— At that time there were many open threats from the state apparatus. Surely we had not been able to build enough complicities to face such a harsh reaction. We have to be more prepared, be stronger and weave more complicities so that the next time we have a democratic attack against the State, many more people will help us.

You entered prison pro-independence and came out pro-independence. You entered in favour of the unilateral referendum and the declaration of independence. How did you get out?

— Exactly the same. The solution to a complex political conflict is never unilateral, although there are many issues that are unilateral because they depend on us. There is a part that is multilateral, because there is no effective independence without international recognition. This is our challenge, to act with the maximum awareness of what depends on us, and at the same time to build complicity with the outside world.

Were you surprised by Pope Francis' words?

— The Pope's words on the need for the Spanish state to reconcile itself with its own history and on the recognition of the will of the people are very positive. You only have to see how some Spanish media and politicians reacted. What we have to do is to work to ensure that this type of position is also taken by many other people.

Do you have anything to do with the Pope's words?

— Poor me, I have little to do with almost anything, and even less in things as important as this.

You told me some time ago that it would be difficult for some PSC members to look at you.

— That's still true. I'm convinced that many people in the PSC can't bear to look at us because they know that they applauded the repression. At the same time it is true that we work for the welfare of Catalan society and therefore we will tend to approve everything that is good for Catalan society and that brings us closer to our objectives.

Do you see the budgets close?

— In 2020 we approved them and in 2019 we overturned them. In two years we have done two different things depending on the quality of the budgets. It is the Spanish government who has to decide whether it wants to do things well or badly, and depending on this we will decide our vote.

Does the fact that the alternative to PSOE and Podemos are PP and Vox limit your freedom?

— What the Spanish government would have to do is to become aware that it has to act very differently from how PP and Vox would act. If it understands this, it is more likely that we will be able to approve budgets. They are the ones who have to decide if they want to pass a law that goes against Catalan in the audiovisual sector, and it is clear that if they do so they will never have our support.

Do you think Iceta would be able to pass a law against Catalan?

— Unfortunately, as a country, we have seen the PSC approving on many occasions things that openly went against the interests of the majority in Catalonia.

Do you rule out that the Catalan Government will come to an understanding with the PSC over the budget?

— We have a parliamentary majority based on a legislative agreement with the CUP and JxCat and we are committed to maintaining it. It is possible that there are some sectors of these parties that prefer a non-agreement, but it is clear that ERC as a bloc prefers a pact with JxCat and the CUP, and I hope that the majority within these formations work in the same direction.

Reguant [CUP] has said that they are far from being able to approve the budget.

— It is very likely that if it were up to me to act as spokesperson for the CUP at the moment I would say exactly the same thing. It is part of any negotiation process. We all have the duty to work so that they do not feel far away.

Why don't ERC and Junts negotiate the budget together in Madrid?

— It would make very little sense for someone to negotiate a budget item, which is obviously a minor issue, when they do not sit at the negotiating table to resolve the major issue: the political conflict between Catalonia and the State. We ask Junts to appoint representatives from among its members of the Government, and we are convinced that there are many people from JxCat in the Catalan Government who share this vision.

Are you saying that it is due to an internal problem within JxCat, which is why it is not appointing members of the Government?

— I am convinced that there are people in the Government representing Junts who, if they were proposed to go to the dialogue table, would be delighted to help move Catalonia forward. It is paradoxical that those who did not want to sit down (the Spanish government) have been forced to sit down and those who wanted to sit down now do not want to do it. Very often the most useful confrontation is the one that puts the interlocutor in a greater commitment, and the best way to confront the Spanish government now is precisely at the dialogue table, because it is the place where it is observed by the international community.

Does the fact that the two parties of the Government are not represented weaken the position of the Generalitat?

— Undoubtedly a government is stronger the larger the majorities that support it.

Former president Puigdemont said that he did not want to negotiate his exit from exile. Was this foreseen?

— It was not foreseen to negotiate on the individual issue of anyone. We have always insisted that what comes first is the resolution of the overall political conflict.

Oriol Junqueras

Is it possible to reach an agreement with the Spanish government in two years on self-determination and amnesty?

— It is very difficult, but the negotiating tables are made between those who defend things that are diametrically opposed. The Spanish state must hold the record for the number of countries that have become independent, despite the fact that it had said it was impossible.

What is ERC's objective in the next municipal elections?

— It is very difficult for independence to succeed if it is not represented in the government of the most populated cities in the country. One of our objectives is that the presidency of the Barcelona Provincial Council is not in the hands of the PSC. We don't understand why JxCat gave them the presidency, because it seems to us that this clearly goes against the path to independence.

Are Junts and ERC reliable partners?

— Our obligation is to be reliable partners for the people of Catalonia. Unfortunately, for many decades there has been a strong vocation towards sociovergència [the alternating governments of the socialists and Convergència]. The pacts between the socialist and convergent worlds have been constant, they have tended to divide up the country, and this has done much harm to Catalonia because it has tended to separate part of the country from its metropolitan areas.

Has Catalonia overcome the economic crisis that we have experienced in recent years? Is it ready to move forward?

— We are overcoming some of the effects of the crisis resulting from the pandemic, but we are facing other challenges, such as those that may represent price inflation in the field of energy.

There are still after-effects of this economic crisis, such as shortages - do you see this as a passing issue or as a much more serious matter?

— Surely the break in the supply chains and the impact this has on inflation has some passing aspects. There is a danger that these temporary issues associated with the pandemic could end up becoming permanent issues in the economy, and we have to face these challenges head on, because a new crisis would have devastating consequences for a large part of our society and for a large part of our productive fabric. We are facing a technological reality that can favour the decentralisation of production, and if we are capable of getting on this horse we can contribute to building a much more balanced society.

Can taxes be raised in Catalonia and in Spain?

— Surely what we can do is to use taxation as a mechanism to correct some environmental or health-related deviations.

Would you agree with harmonising taxes between the autonomous communities?

— We are in favour of tax harmonisation in European terms. We must not allow certain large companies to abuse their position in the market to drive out small and medium-sized companies, nor should we allow certain institutional areas to apply fiscal dumping because they benefit from the general State budgets. It makes no sense at all.

It has been 10 years since you were elected president of ERC. Will you run again?

— I feel very useful and therefore I will always try to be as useful as possible everywhere. And it seems to me that within the organisation there are many people who share this vision.

What exactly is your role in ERC in this bicephaly with Pere Aragonès?

— To help always and everywhere. President Aragonès is the highest institutional figure in this country and he will always have my loyalty, and at the same time I am convinced that from the party we have the possibility of interlocuting with many economic, political and social agents to build great shared projects for the whole of our country.