While exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont responds to El Nacional's questions, in the front room a meeting of the exile body Council of the Republic is starting. On the street, a group of Catalans with pro-independence estelada flags and yellow scarves are being photographed in front of the building, in defiance of the rain. The image has become commonplace and breaks the monotony of this residential neighbourhood in Waterloo, Belgium. And in addition, this time, the visitors are about to get a surprise when the door opens and the president steps out to greet them.
From this office, flooded with daylight through its large windows, Puigdemont keeps a close eye on the movements of Pedro Sánchez in Madrid. He considers we'll have to wait until after the May 26th municipal and European elections to find out the Socialists' real intentions, but he predicts a coalition government with left-wing Podemos as a response to the results of last week's Spanish general election. The Catalan president advises Sánchez that he needs to assume a historical responsibility for understanding Catalonia's stubborn and persistent reality and responding to it. He assures that JxCat has the door open to dialogue.
This contention that you have with the Spanish state occurs just as Europe has seen Pedro Sánchez's PSOE victorious in the Spanish election, and successful in curbing the extreme right...
It is a bit odd if Pedro Sanchez is given the credit for curbing the far right. If we look at the map of Spain, basically the far right has been stopped in the Basque Country and Catalonia.
Is this Europe's reading of the results too?
I don't know. But there is one current of interpretation of the results that warns that it will be difficult to govern. The two major Spanish groups, PSOE and PP, the largest party and the main opposition party, had 222 deputies in the previous legislature. Now they have a total of 188. That is, the political architecture of the establishment has been diminished. There is much more fragmentation and power is distributed more widely. Pedro Sánchez will have to make decisions, if he wants to govern alone or in coalition, and with whom. All these decisions have consequences. Governing alone is risky from the point of view of stability.
Would it be stable to govern with the support of the pro-independence groups?
Sanchez should govern in a coalition with Podemos.
The Spanish political map seems to call for a coalition government with Podemos
Do you support a coalition with Podemos, then?
Seen from the outside, the Spanish political map seems to call for a coalition government. There's never been one. This coalition must necessarily be with Podemos.
A coalition with Cs would be a colossal step backwards
There's also Ciudadanos...
Yes, however, a coalition with Cs would be a colossal step backwards, it would be going back beyond several starting blocks.
But with Podemos, the total of seats don't add up to a majority...
I'm not telling Mr. Pedro Sánchez what to do. I'm only saying that it is not the same governing alone, as it is trying to form a coalition with Podemos, or settling the government with Ciudadanos, which is what the establishment is calling for... It's not the same.
The Ciudadanos option is also the one that PSOE party activists called to be rejected on election night...
On election nights, people call for all sorts of things ...
At long last, let's unblock democracy
Is blockage of the Spanish government an objective of the pro-independence parties?
Blockage has never been an option. We will block the culture of article 155, and what it represents: repression, persecution of the Catalan language, the threats against language immersion in schools, against the public media model in Catalonia, against the Mossos d'Esquadra police... And what are we going to unblock? The thing that allows this [155 culture] to be blocked. At long last, let's unblock democracy so that we can establish the dialogue that Catalan society demands in order to vote in a self-determination referendum.
How do you unblock democracy?
You don't unblock democracy with the Criminal Code, by jailing political leaders - some of whom win elections and are elected as deputies and senators - by trying them on rebellion charges for having done what voters asked them to do... Who is it that has been blocking democracy for a long time? The Spanish state.
How can it be unblocked?
By doing politics.
Could doing politics mean a pardon for the prisoners?
The menu for doing politics is much more complex. The prisoners have always said they don't want to be bargaining chips.
What does Puigdemont think?
The same thing that I told Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez. To do the favour of listening and respecting. What is it they have not yet understood of the message that Catalans have sent?
With prisoners and exile it is very difficult to solve anything ...
The prisoners and exiles don't want to be bargaining chips for anything.
When there was no one in exile or prison, there was no negotiation then, either
Is it possible for ERC and JxCat to negotiate self-determination with the Spanish government, while some continue in jail and others in exile? Is it possible?
When there was no one in exile or prison, there was no negotiation then, either. They still refused everything completely. It isn't this that has caused dialogue to be blocked. It isn't this which makes the difference. What makes the difference is if the Spanish government finally decides to act as an exemplary, full, mature and European democracy. Scotland's First Minister announced a referendum on independence four days ago. I haven't heard anyone from the United Kingdom accusing her of staging a coup.
It is for Pedro Sánchez to read the results and assume a responsibility that he has, historically
But all that you're demanding, how should it be done specifically? What do you expect Pedro Sanchez to do?
The one who has to make a move is Pedro Sánchez. It isn't us who are not candidates to be prime minister. It is for Pedro Sánchez to read the results and assume a responsibility that he has, historically, of being prime minister in a Spanish Parliament under these present conditions. It is up to him to read the reality. It is a stubborn reality in the case of Catalonia, persistent. Since I don't know what he'll say, we must be prudent.
Is there any interlocutor mediating between Puigdemont and Sánchez?
Could there be?
That doesn't depend on me.
It depends only on him?
We've never had any problem in accepting dialogue
On Puigdemont's part would there be any problem ...
There has never been any. I opened the door to Inés Arrimadas here! I have no problem.
So, is there nothing decided on the issue of the investiture of the Spanish government? Is it all open?
Imagine that Pedro Sánchez proposed a self-determination referendum, how could we say no to his investiture? On the other hand, if he says he wants us to invest him as PM because he wants to govern alone but wants to pass budgets with Ciudadanos. It's not the same, is it?
I'm interested in what Pedro Sánchez will say the day after the European and municipal elections. For now, we're still in campaign.
But there's one thing that we do know. He's already said that there won't be a referendum.
You know what I'd like to know about Mr. Pedro Sánchez? What he'll say the day after the European and municipal elections, because we're still in a campaign period.
If Pedro Sánchez says there won't be a referendum, president Puigdemont, what would you prefer JxCat to do? Should they vote no, along with the PP and Cs? Should they abstain?
What I will say if the deputies ask me for my opinion, I will say after the European elections, because all that we could say today and until the elections is part of the election campaign. Pedro Sánchez says one thing now and he may end up doing another, as he has done in the past.
We don't know which Pedro Sanchez will go up to the lecturn in Congress to ask for investiture votes
Could a return to talks, and to the figure of a rapporteur, which was raised after the 2018 meeting in Pedralbes, be a starting point?
The person who left the table was Pedro Sánchez. But since we aren't yet at that point, we don't know which Pedro Sanchez will go up to the lecturn in Congress to ask for investiture votes. Whether he'll have the word 'no' tattooed on his forehead. Whether or not he's got free from the [Socialist regional] barons. If he has caved in to the pressures of the Ibex 35 [business lobby]... Doing politics means that, not putting the cart in front of the horse... it means waiting. What are we talking about? To vote for Pedro Sánchez as prime minister come what may, whatever happens? I didn't think it was a plebiscite on Mr. Pedro Sánchez. We have expressed ourselves in an election campaign and if Pedro Sánchez knows how to read what is happening in Catalonia, he'll make a speech. We'll be open to what he says.
Do you expect him to call JxCat to the round of talks, on forming the government, that he's to start on Monday?
He's obliged to do so.
Our deputies will do politics. And the president of our political group will be Jordi Sànchez. The Socialist leader will have to go and see him.
And who has to to go?
Jordi Sànchez has to go. We have won a political position. We have our votes there. Our deputies will do politics. And the president of the political group will be Jordi Sànchez. Mr. Sànchez - Pedro - will have to go and see Mr. Sánchez - Jordi. And he'll have to negotiate even if he doesn't like it. Saying that I won't speak with these people because I don't like what they support is very undemocratic. Recognition of the other means this: respecting the position of someone who has beaten you through a contention and who you don't like at all, but who is there as a legitimate representative of the people.
Seen from here, the sensation is that the trial is a farce. A shameful farce.
You've said that you're following the referendum trial in the Supreme Court. What do you think?
Seen from here, the sensation is of a farce. A shameful farce. Europeans with whom we speak about it are outraged. When the verdict comes out, that will be the moment when things are made clear.
Trapero didn't tell me that he had a plan to arrest me, but that didn't surprise me. I never asked the Mossos to do what they couldn't do
What did you feel when Major Trapero of the Mossos d'Esquadra testified that he had a plan to arrest you?
Trapero has been a loyal servant of the government of Catalonia. He has been exemplary, a great police officer. I have a great personal and professional respect for him. And I always told him that he had to do his job and I had to do mine. Beyond that, naturally he never informed me that he had a plan to arrest me. That would have been the last thing! What kind of police officer would he have been if he had told me! That speaks to his professionalism. I didn't know. I should also say that I wasn't surprised either. If they had received a judicial instruction, the Mossos knew what they had to do. I never asked them to do what they couldn't do, so it hurts me that someone like Trapero is being prosecuted. It is a complete scandal, a disgrace.
The then Spanish PM and his deputy, Rajoy and Saénz de Santamaria, denied that there had been contacts with the Catalan government. Did they lie to the court?
In democratic countries, perjury is a crime. As the Spanish state is moving away from democratic standards, I don't know what will happen. My vision is another.
It is clear that there were intermediaries between the Spanish and Catalan governments.
What is your vision?
It is clear that there were intermediaries [between Spanish and Catalan governments], that there were proposals. To avoid the declaration of independence on October 10th 2017 there was an exchange of messages...
Between the Spanish executive and the Catalan government. Until the 10th, they were telling me that the Spanish Government was prepared to open a dialogue if on the 10th we didn't vote for a declaration of independence and do something that was irreversible.
What happened will have to be explained at the right time, and it can't be before the verdict
Do you have these messages?
I have all the documentation, the notes ... and there are plenty of witnesses to all this. In the PP and the Socialist party. This will have to be told at the right moment, it can't be before the verdict, and with a historical perspective, not to stir up arguments or sell books for Sant Jordi.
In fact, Basque leader Iñigo Urkullu also declared in the Supreme Court trial and gave details of those contacts...
And has anyone opened due diligence for perjury against Rajoy and Santamaría? Does anyone trust the State to ensure that this is a fair trial?
Did you the suspend the declaration of independence because of those talks?
If I thought the desire for dialogue was genuine and, therefore, accepted something as painful for me as suspending the declaration of independence, it was because there were elements that made me think that there could be an effective, fruitful and powerful dialogue. And among those elements on the table was the political value of the 1st October referendum. What could the Catalan Parliament do with the referendum? That was talked about. Having the possibility of establishing talks on the substantive issue, it seemed to me that I had to make a gesture. I made the gesture, I did what I had to; they didn't.
Why did it all get derailed?
They were probably already deceiving me. That's why the requirement for an independent rapporteur is essential. It's the minimum, because we can't trust each other. That's why we can't understand what happened on October 27th 2017 if we don't take into account what happened before the 10th. Either there had to be clear guarantees that Article 155 would not be applied or there would be no possibility of me callling Catalan elections. And I always spoke in these terms to everyone.
When on October 27th you announced that you were calling elections, three leaders of the PP appeared saying that article 155 would be applied, with elections or without ...
To them it was all the same. With a declaration of independence or without it, article 155 would have been applied equally. The decision had been made before and I think it was confirmed on October 3rd.
Was the declaration of October 27th a declaration of independence?
Yes. It was a declaration by Parliament that only the Parliament of Catalonia has the authority to revoke.
It was not implemented, the Spanish flag was not lowered, the decrees weren't signed...
It's a public and well-known fact that there was a declaration of independence. It was a parliamentary motion and what is agreed to by Parliament can only be revoked by Parliament. And since the elections on 21st December 2017, what Parliament has done has really been to confirm the mandate of 1st October.
Part Two of El Nacional's interview with Carles Puigdemont is here.