Pere Aragonès: "The negotiating table must be set up before the summer holidays"
BarcelonaThe President of the Catalan Government, Pere Aragonès (Pineda de Mar, 1982), receives the ARA in the Palau de la Generalitat four days after taking office.
Have you occupied the office of president of the Generalitat?
These must have been days of great emotional intensity.
— The moment when you are alone in the office of the president you see that you have a historical responsibility, in terms of everyone who has preceded you, but above all you have a responsibility with regard to the hopes placed in the 14 February elections.
It's one thing to see yourself alone and another to see yourself as being free. Do you see yourself as free, as the country's first authority?
— Absolutely. The only limitation I have is the trust that the Parliament has placed in me.
What did Junqueras say to you when you hugged each other in Parliament?
— He gave me a lot of strength and told me I could count on him for whatever I needed. This is how it has always been and now we are doing it in a different stage, in which there will be a party leadership that will be Junqueras', differentiated from an institutional leadership that corresponds to me as president of the country.
When we interviewed president Torra for the first time, he explained to us that his fear was that his presidency would fall into symbolism. What fear do you have?
— What I want is for the Generalitat to once again be perceived as the government of the country. I want to be everyone's president. Independentist and left-wing, but a president for everyone.
Have the last presidents not ruled for everyone?
— Yes, they have. But the State and the repression have tried to create a false image and I will focus many of my efforts on reversing it.
When do you plan to implement the agreement for amnesty and self-determination and who would you want inside of it?
— In the next few weeks my aim is to bring together the forces of the investiture, to involve the pro-independence social organisations and, from here, to bring together as many institutions as possible. The State government must be very clear that dialogue and negotiation are necessary. There will be no resolution of the conflict either with the defeat of the Catalan side or with continued repression.
Have you spoken to Pedro Sánchez [the Spanish PM]?
— We have had conversations in the last few days -via WhatsApp- and we have agreed to have a quiet conversation next week, with enough time to be able to prepare everything that is to come.
Do you think the dialogue table could be set up before the summer?
— We cannot wait much longer. Therefore, before the summer holidays the negotiating table has to be set up, which has to have a public part but then also a whole part of discreet work to be able to advance in possible ways for solutions and agreements.
The PSOE has always refused the referendum and the amnesty. How far can this negotiating table go?
— They have always refused to do so and we will never stop proposing it. I know that a resolution of the conflict will not come overnight, but I also know that we have to prove it. We have to take the conflict out of the courts and other repressive organs of the state that will try to hold it back, and place it on the playing field where conflicts of a political nature are resolved politically, which is dialogue.
When do you expect a decision on the pardons?
— We have always defended amnesty, because pardons would not cover the exiles or all the open cases that exist. We have also said that we will not oppose any measure that would alleviate the pain of the prisoners, their families and the country. What I do ask is that the Spanish government does not speculate with pardons, that it makes a fair decision and that it is quick.
Sánchez, with the pardons, has opened a crack within the PSOE.
— They are the reactionary sectors, who, at any small advance, are once again positioning themselves. But if the Spanish government wants to advance a solution it has to be brave. ERC has been brave.
Will you vote in favour of the reform of the crime of sedition?
— It will be necessary to see the proposal, but what should be done with this crime would be to repeal it, in no case say that instead of ten years you get five. It will be very difficult for the pro-independence movement to participate in negotiating that we get fewer years in prison.
What were you doing on 1-O [the day of the Catalan independence bid referendum]?
— I was at the polling station in Pineda de Mar, getting involved like the rest of citizens and trying to ensure that the fact that every two hours tenths of national police passed by the side of the polling station did not lead to police charges. Therefore, being the first of the human cordon in front of the National Police, and I would do it again.
And what is the mandate of 1-O?
— On 1-O there was a clear pronouncement in favour of independence, but we have to bear in mind that this great strength was accompanied by the difficulties in implementing the result. If we want to continue forward we need to turn our weaknesses into strengths.
Do you think you will be able to count on the PSC for some government agreements?
— We are a long way from that. It is clear that it has opted to replace Cs as a reference point for those opposed to independence, and this makes it difficult to reach agreements, but in areas such as European funds, the strengthening of the welfare state and the renewal of bodies we have to reach an agreement.
The agreement with the CUP talks about an attack on the state, preferably in the form of a referendum, while the agreement with Junts rules out any referendum that is not agreed. Which is the good version?
— There is one thing that comes first, which is the negotiating table. We have two years to see if it has produced results. If it is impossible to reach any kind of agreement or if there is enough margin to continue exploring it and, from here, to consider what the next step is. Rather than saying today what the concrete form of a step forward will be in the event that the round table fails, where we should focus our strategy would be on improving the conditions for independence.
Is two years enough time for all this work?
— ERC's is a project with a long view. We look to the next decade as a decade of economic and social transformations. And obviously, with regard to the conflict with the State, what we must not do is let the situation fester, or drown in day-to-day difficulties.
Is it a mistake to set a deadline of two years?
— The deadline, although it is in the agreement with the CUP, is fundamentally conditioned by the end of the Spanish legislature. There are two years left of continuity of a state government that, despite the abysmal distance that still exists, has recognised that there is a political conflict that has to be resolved.
You have promised a cohesive government. How will things be done differently?
— By setting broadly shared goals. Another message I conveyed to my government is that we are not here to do technocratic management. We have profiles with a lot of technical knowledge to make a transformation in policies.
Did the election of Jaume Giró surprise you? You know him well.
— He is a person who has extensive experience and knowledge of how high-level decisions work, and I think this will be very positive. All the members of the Government are clear that what must guide us is the coalition agreement between ERC and Junts and the investiture agreement with the CUP.
What will your government and the parliamentary groups do to ensure control over how European funds will be allocated?
— It is one of the issues that will be on the agenda of my meeting with the president of the Spanish government. The distribution should be based on objective criteria and, if this is the case, Catalonia will obtain a significant part of the resources.
Will they reach the Catalan business fabric, which is made up of small and medium-sized companies?
— That is the objective, because, beyond the fact that in some sectors there may be a large company that acts as a single driver, this is not done by a single company.
Will you try to negotiate the funds with the PSC and the Comuns in favour?
— In the area of European funds, we must be able to work together. I call for a national vision and not a party vision.
You said you wanted to involve the judiciary to prevent evictions like the one on Tuesday. How will you do it?
— With a protocol of evictions in which there is much more exchange of information with the judicial bodies and in which mediation is always prioritised. One of the measures provided for in the coalition and investiture agreements is the incorporation of 200 mediators in the field of housing of the Generalitat.
Is it of any use to have a Feminisms ministry, if this is not a cross-cutting issue in all the other ministries?
— Precisely because it is a cross-cutting issue it has to be on the table of the executive council with a ministry that has the capacity to influence all the decisions taken by the Government.
When the first hundred days of government are over, what would you like to have set in motion or what message would you like to have got through?
— That we have already started the negotiation table on the conflict with the State, that we have put on the table the axes of the next budget, and also that we have started the national pacts in the field of ecological transition, mental health and linguistic rights.
What is your relationship with vicepresident Jordi Puigneró?
— We have shared a government and we have a very good, cordial relationship.
Have you spoken to president Carles Puigdemont?
— Yes, the first congratulatory letter I received was from him. We have had a conversation this week and my wish is to be able to meet with him in the next few weeks.
— Or in Brussels. Among other things because Carles Puigdemont is the main political referent of the party with which I have a coalition.
In which other president of the Generalitat would you mirror yourself?
— You look back and they all have very unique elements. I can't get away from the fact that I am the first president of ERC to be chosen by Parliament after Lluís Companys [president in 1934 and 1936-1940], but from the moment I take office I don't want to be remembered as a president of ERC alone, but as a president who governed for everyone.