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PABLO IGLESIAS | PODEMOS SECRETARY GENERAL

“In the general elections there will be two options: the PP or Podemos”

As the Spanish anti-austerity party celebrates its first year, its leader talks to EL PAÍS

Podemos secretary general Pablo Iglesias.
Podemos secretary general Pablo Iglesias.

Podemos, the left-wing political grouping that has become a major force in Spanish politics virtually overnight, held a rally in the southern city of Seville to celebrate the first anniversary of its creation last Sunday. At the event, founder and leader Pablo Iglesias delivered a searing attack against the Socialist Party and its secretary general, Pedro Sánchez, as well as Susana Díaz, the head of the Socialist Party-led regional government of Andalusia, arguing that Podemos represents voters’ only alternative to the ruling Popular Party, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who will be standing for re-election this fall. After the rally, Iglesias spoke to EL PAÍS.

Question. At today’s rally you launched a very personal attack on Pedro Sánchez, instead of Mariano Rajoy. Why?

We’ve been told that we won’t be able to introduce the universal basic income in the first two years in office”

Answer. I wanted to highlight something that’s very obvious: Sánchez is finished. No doubt about it. Does he support the reform of Article 135 [which includes an amendment committing the government of the day to balancing the budget, introduced by former Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero] of the Constitution or not? This is not clear. Which political party does he support in Greece [which goes to the polls this weekend]? He has to stand up and be counted on these issues. He doesn’t seem to have much to say about tax havens, either. He says he opposes them, but then refuses to support our motion of censure [against European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker] and the investigative committee [into allegedly illegal tax deals he brokered with multinationals to locate in Luxembourg while he was prime minister], which the other European socialist parties have supported. It’s not clear whether Sánchez would form a coalition government with the PP, either. He has argued that this would be necessary to stop Podemos, and on other occasions has said he wouldn’t. One thing I can tell you categorically is that Podemos won’t be forming a coalition with the PP.

Q. And would you form a coalition with the Socialist Party?

A. If it were prepared to make a 180-degree turn; if it recognizes the mistakes it has make, that the amendment to Article 135 of the Constitution was an error; if it accepts that we need to restructure the debt, as well as helping people unable to pay their mortgages by allowing them to return properties in lieu of payment, then we would have no problems. But I have my doubts. We seem to be moving toward a scenario in the general elections where there will be basically two options: continue with the PP or embrace the political change that Podemos represents.

Q. What model do you think is best for Catalonia?

A. We have always said that Spain is a plurinational reality and that any solution must accept that.

Q. But just what kind of solution would that be? A federal model, or one that is centralized with limited devolution of powers to the regions?

A. We would have to lay out all the options as part of a constituent process and then see which is the most efficient for assuring sovereign instruments. I am more concerned about making sure that there is a public health system that meets all our needs. Whether that system speaks to people in Catalan, Basque or whatever, is for me of secondary importance.

Q. Podemos says that the Catalans should be given the right to hold a referendum on independence. Would that be legally binding, or should one be held at national level?

A. Anybody who says that the regional question can be sorted out by a referendum knows that what they are saying isn’t true, and we have no problem with this happening. But to discuss this so that the right to decide on the regional question and other things is a legal reality, it is first necessary to begin a constituent process.

Q. Supposing that this constituent process takes place and its outcome is reflected in a referendum, should the Catalans be allowed to decide on Catalonia’s legal status within Spain, or should the rest of the country have a say?

Contrary to the messages our adversaries are sending out, the business community understands that we are sensible people”

A. All options can be put on the table in a constituent process and I think that you have to ask Catalans what legal relationship they want with the rest of the state. I believe that what they think is absolutely essential for any model to work.

Q. What constitutional reforms are you calling for?

A. We are defending social rights, which are the basis of all sovereignty: the right to education, the right to a home, the right to healthcare, these all need protecting. These are Podemos’s priorities.

Q. But those rights are already included in the Constitution.

A. I’m not saying that the solution to all those problems is the Constitution, but perhaps we need to make sure that the contract the electorate sign through the constituent process is fully protected so that the material bases of democracy cannot be questioned.

Q. When will your political program be ready?

A. We have already presented the document in which we outline how to address economic questions. I’d like to know what the Socialists and the PP’s proposals are. The PP seems to be saying that everything is fine, while we have no idea about the Socialists.

Q. Have you met with business leaders?

“Demonstrating is always healthy”

During his speech in Seville, Pablo Iglesias also encouraged Podemos supporters around Spain to attend a demonstration on January 31 in Madrid.

Question. What is the aim of the demonstration?

Answer. Spaniards still enjoy the right to demonstrate. We want to say that we are tired of having to protest for the right to such obvious things as health and a decent education. We want to mobilize people, not to ask the government for anything, but to say that political change is possible. Some people believe that politics and social affairs are different things, that politics is carried out by men with ties. We believe that politics needs to be everywhere.

Q. What are you looking to achieve by demonstrating?

A. We want to send out a message that there are tens of thousands of citizens who want change, and we want to visualize that, to say that it isn’t Podemos that will bring about political change, but the people.

Q. You criticized the Maidan demonstrations and protests in the Ukraine.

A. I have never criticized the Maidan protests. It is something very different to criticize a coup. Demonstrating is always healthy, whether it is Russians or Ukrainians. But some people want to confuse a coup with a demonstration.

A. There are members of Podemos who are meeting with sectors from the business world, both foreign and domestic investors. In general, we are happy to say that in the face of the messages that our adversaries are sending out about us, the business community understands that we are sensible people. We see that in the United States, where the opposite policies to what we’ve done here have been applied, that the macroeconomic data is better, and that the unemployment rate and the situation of families have also improved.

Q. But in the United States the labor market is more flexible.

A. There are those who say we need to be more flexible, but when you say to somebody that they’re going to be paid €400 to be more competitive, that doesn’t work, because the main thing an economy like ours needs to work is consumption, and there is no consumption without money, and so the economy collapses.

Q. How come Podemos has abandoned its radical ideas?

A. One thing is true. It’s not the same to prepare a program for the European elections, in which one outlines a series of general characteristics about the situation in Spain, as it is to create a program to govern the country, and it’s certainly true to say that we have taken this task seriously. The economists we have worked with tell us that we’re not going to lower the retirement age to 60 in one or two years, and that we have to see doing that as part of the general trend of sharing work, so that’s what we’re going to do.

Q. And the idea of a universal basic income?

A. We’ve been told that this is a great idea, and an interesting trend, but that we’re not going to be able to do it in the first two years in office.

Q. So you’re creating a more realistic program?

A. It’s clear that when you assume the responsibilities of government that you’re going to have to negotiate with powerful sectors and that means taking a different approach.

Q. You have defined Podemos’s program as social democratic, but the Izquierda Anticapitalista [Anticapitalist Left] is the basis of the organization, and has a very different ideology.

A. I don’t think that ideological definitions help us to understand what is going on in Spain at the moment.

In the US, where the opposite policies to what we’ve done here have been applied, the macroeconomic data is better”

Q. Do they help to create an electoral program?

A. I think that ideology can help us to define identities, but that when it comes to laying out a program for government, one has to look at what the real possibilities are. Historically, social democracy has been based on the idea of social rights. And some recognize that this is the right approach, including the Christian Democrats. We would say that trying to understand this country simply in terms of left and right is nothing more than a confidence trick.

Q. Would you support an anti-terrorist pact put forward by the Socialist Party or the PP?

A. I don’t think that is something a serious party would do. I think it is populism. We believe that our problems cannot be solved through populist measures but by working seriously on issues. According to the polls, the PP and the Socialists together do not even have 50 percent of the votes. So any pact would simply be between two parties, not a pact of state.