In a sense, this interview could be called urgent, both because of the circumstances that have prompted it being held, as well as the questions it addresses.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba's aversion to print interviews is probably only superseded by that of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and the Socialist Party leader prefers the radio or television. But the gravity of the current situation and unfolding events over the last week have permitted Rubalcaba to overcome his reticence. A week ago, the PSOE was still debating how best to respond to Rajoy's repeated refusal to appear before Congress to do what any leader in the democratic world would feel obliged to do: explain what he knows about the extremely serious allegations being made by his party's former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, regarding the Popular Party's finances; reveal when he found about it, and what he had done about it. And also what he may or may not have permitted to be done in his name; in short, how he has handled the entire affair.
Last Tuesday, Rubalcaba said that if Rajoy was not prepared to appear before Congress, then he would have no option but to present a motion of no confidence. If carried through, it would be only the third time such a motion has been presented since Spain returned to democracy.
Then, last Thursday, EL PAÍS revealed that the chief judge of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, had continued to be a card-carrying member of the Popular Party until 2011 and kept this fact from the Senate while his candidacy as a magistrate was being ratified. Thus, the highest court in the land was dragged into a crisis that has left few of the country's institutions untouched.
This interview, which focused largely on these questions as well as touching on Rubalcaba's continued leadership of the Socialist Party, was carried out on Friday, July 19 at the headquarters of the Socialist Party (PSOE) in Madrid. On Monday, Mariano Rajoy announced that he would appear before Congress to "give his version" of the events surrounding the Bárcenas affair.
Asked by a journalist at a meeting in La Moncloa presidential palace with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Rajoy said he had presented the speaker of Congress "with a request to appear at the end of this month or the beginning of next, to address the political and economic situation. I will also talk about the question that is on everybody's mind. I will speak to Congress, and I will speak to the press. I have always given answers. This is the correct moment to explain in Congress what has happened up to now and to clear up questions that the citizens of Spain legitimately hold," the prime minister said.
Question. In February you called for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign, after the publication in EL PAÍS of hand-written accounts that Luis Bárcenas, the Popular Party's former treasurer, claims show that senior members of the PP, among them Rajoy, received illegal cash payments. You are again calling on Rajoy to resign. Why? What has changed?
Answer. I now believe that Rajoy was lying when he told the nation in February that there was no substance to Bárcenas's accusations. After that denial, the police investigation and the handwriting tests have confirmed the authenticity of the papers, and finally, the originals have appeared. It is impossible that Rajoy couldn't have known that they existed. This whole "everything's a lie, except for some of it..." There were things there that it was possible to see were true. This is what I believe constitutes lying, and a head of government cannot lie to the Spanish people.
A head of government cannot lie to the Spanish people"
Q. Have you been in touch with Rajoy since calling for his resignation?
Q. And before then? When was the last time you spoke?
A. Weeks ago, about Europe.
Q. Has anybody from the PP talked to you about the Bárcenas affair?
Q. Do you believe that the PP has been involved in illegal financing?
Q. What do you think the PP should do?
A. The PP hopes that either this will go away, or that the electorate will simply accept it. But they are wrong for two reasons: it isn't going to happen, and if it did, it would be terrible for Spain.
Q. Why would that be terrible?
A. It would be terrible if we became used to parties behaving illegally, and for things to just go on as if nothing had happened.
Q. Rajoy is not going to resign — at least that's what he is saying in public. What is the PSOE going to do?
A. This is a very difficult situation for the Socialist Party, because a party that has been in government knows that even in opposition it has to be part of the government. The truth is that the PP is making things very difficult, very difficult indeed. One of the government's tasks is to create channels for the opposition, for civil society. This is one of the biggest problems we face right now: there is no way for the opposition to have a normal relationship with an administration that refuses to appear before Congress to tell the Spanish people what has happened.
Q. Is the Socialist Party going to boycott the PP in any way?
Q. So what's the next step?
A. We don't have sufficient votes but we have the force that comes from dignity, and I believe that this force will eventually impose itself. This is a political crisis that Congress must resolve otherwise it will have an increasin impact on the government. This is what I told Rajoy during the state of the nation debate in March: it is not possible to govern while you are distracted by Bárcenas. I was right. Now I am saying that he will not be able to govern if he doesn't stop these blocking tactics in Congress.
Q. What would you say are the hidden costs to Spanish democracy of not offering an explanation over the Bárcenas affair?
A. The government is only thinking about itself. It thinks that it can hang in there, waiting for some upbeat economic data, or that unemployment might start to fall, and then it can say that the only thing that matters is the economy; but it is mistaken. The cost to our democracy is proving harmful. When the electorate begins to doubt in our institutions, starting with Congress, then this leads to a belief that our institutions have no value. We cannot accept that people are disillusioned, but at the same time do nothing to show that our institutions do work.
I will present a vote of no confidence, and then I will call for a vote calling for Rajoy to resign"
Q. If you decide to present a vote of no confidence, will you outline an electoral program, or use your time to discuss the Bárcenas case?
A. I will present a vote of no confidence and a debate in Congress, and then I will call for a vote calling for Rajoy to resign.
Q. Although you don't have enough votes...
A. The Socialist Party has 110 deputies in Congress, which is why I have made it clear that we are merely exercising the right of the opposition to debate with the government. This is about maintaining the dignity of Congress.
Q. Is there really much point calling for a debate about transparency and corruption when the other main party, the PP, will abstain?
A. The problem is that the PP is burning the bridges that in most democracies exist between the main parties, and that allow them to discuss important issues. This is not just about the PP. This is Mr Rajoy's problem, and it is Spain's problem. When he says that he won't be blackmailed he needs to think carefully about his words. The real problem is that there are reasons why he could be blackmailed. He seems unable to distinguish between his role as head of the PP and being head of the government. He cannot ask the Socialist Party to work together to resolve important questions of state until this issue has been resolved.
Q. Have you ever received more than one salary?
Q. And extra payments?
Q. Do you believe that Mr Rajoy has received such payments?
A. I would like to believe that he hasn't.
Q. Are you in a position to affirm with absolute certainty that the Socialist Party hasn't been involved in illegal financing since the Filesa scandal, which involved front companies in the 1980s?
Q. How can you be so sure that your party has not been involved in illegal financing?
A. We learned our lesson. Twenty-five years ago, the Socialist Party learned a very hard lesson, one that we still remember.
Q. Regarding the so-called ERE scandal in Andalusia [involving a regional development fund used for false early retirement payments to up to 100 people, often for companies they had never worked for], would it not make sense for all those involved to step down now?
A. The case of José Blanco [the former Socialist Party public works minister was accused of taking up to 300,000 euros in kickbacks for contracts, but was last week cleared in the courts] is illustrative of the problem. The case dragged on for 20 months. Last week I asked myself what would have happened if he had resigned his seat in Congress. I think that would have been very unjust. There is such a thing as the presumption of innocence, and it has to be applied to politicians as well.
Q. Isn't that exactly what the PP would say about the accusations made against it?
A. In some cases they could be right. I have no problem accepting in some cases that they are sometimes right. But in cases like Bárcenas, where things have been proven, then political responsibility has to be assumed.
Q. Does the law on party financing need to be changed?
A. Yes, obviously.
Parties need to know that the sword of Damocles is hanging over them"
Q. To what extent?
A. I am a great believer in preventive controls. It is clear that in the past there have been no such controls.
Q. Is the Audit Office not doing its job?
A. It doesn't work. That is obvious. We need preventive mechanisms and we need a body that can look at a party's books regularly. Parties need to know that the sword of Damocles is hanging over them. It's sad, but true.
Q. The PP says that its books are beyond reproach because the Audit Office has examined them.
A. The problem is that the PP had a parallel accounting system, which of course was never seen. The challenge is to make sure that there are no parallel accounts.
Q. Is Spain's monarchy facing a crisis?
A. No, there is a particular crisis at the moment, but the monarchy will overcome it.
Q. Do you think that King Juan Carlos will abdicate?
A. I do not think he will do so at the present time.
Q. Have you discussed the matter with Rajoy?
Q. And what conclusions did you reach?
A. That the monarchy is going through a difficult moment right now; that some of the things that have happened, particularly the Urdangarin affair [the king's son in law is accused of stealing public money via a network of front companies and a not-for-profit foundation], have all damaged the image of the monarchy, and that we need to be aware of this.
Q. What is your opinion on the revelation last week that the head of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, hid the fact he was a member of the PP from the Senate when he was being interviewed for membership of the court?
A. I think that there are three things going on here: one is hiding something, which is unacceptable. Then there is the legal aspect: whether a member of the Constitutional Court may or may not belong to a political party. Finally, when you have continued belonging to a political party after joining the Constitutional Court, it is only reasonable that you be excluded from deliberating on certain matters.
Q. Will you be calling for his resignation?
A. Let's see first whether the PP's parliamentary group, which put him forward as a candidate to join the Constitutional Court, knew he was a party member.
Q. Do you intend to be the Socialist Party's candidate in the next general elections?
A. At this point in my political career, I am thinking only of my party. If I can be of use to the party I will try to do so.
we are facing an enormous crisis that requires the Socialist Party to be useful and straightforward in opposition"
Q. What do you think about the constant speculation over who should take over the leadership of the Socialist Party?
A. A mistake. Firstly, we are facing an enormous crisis that requires the Socialist Party to be useful and straightforward in opposition. In the second place we need to offer an alternative, something different. This is not a cosmetic problem that can be sorted out in half a dozen headlines. Creating a new project requires a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of discussion. In the third place, we need a party that can adapt to the times we are living in, a party that can change. Thus: opposition, project, party. These are the things that we need to do, and when the time is right, we'll decide on a candidate.
Q. Do politicians in Spain have a future after the age of 60?
A. There is no point denying the evidence, but at the same time, thinking that people elect prime ministers purely on the basis of their age is mistaken. People want a prime minister they can trust, who has ideas, who is capable, and who is open and transparent.
Q. How does Rajoy score in those terms?
A. Right now, Rajoy's trust factor is pretty much zero, and this is a problem. His problem is that he didn't tell the Spanish people what he was going to do, and for 18 months he did practically the opposite of what he said he would do. Now he faces a serious credibility crisis over the Bárcenas affair. In other words, during an economic crisis, a prime minister has to call on everybody to make an effort, to pull together, to make sacrifices. How can Mr Rajoy ask pensioners to make further sacrifices, which I am sure he will do in September, now that they know about the millions of euros his party has kept hidden? How can he do that? This is a question of moral authority. A prime minister's moral authority is vital, and all the more so when he or she is asking the country to make sacrifices.