“The layoff fraud scandal not only pains me, but it is embarrassing”

New Andalusia premier Susana Díaz faces up to the Socialist Party’s checkered past in the region it has ruled for three decades

Susana Díaz at the Andalusia government's San Telmo palace.
Susana Díaz at the Andalusia government's San Telmo palace. Julián Rojas

Andalusia's new Socialist premier said she is "hurt" and "embarrassed" by the alleged fraud committed at a regional government subsidized layoff fund, which has ensnared several past officials and could still drag in her predecessors, José Antonio Griñán and Manuel Chaves. She has therefore vowed to wage a ruthless war against public corruption as she begins her term. In this interview with EL PAÍS, she maintains that Spain needs a "strong and solid" Socialist Party (PSOE), and that the ongoing sovereignty debate in Catalonia is "a national problem affecting us all."

Question. Only about a year and a half ago you had a full time position with the Socialist Party in Andalusia and now today, at 38, you are the Socialist leader with greatest institutional power in Spain. Has everything happened too fast?

Answer. I am taking all of this on with a responsible sense of vertigo, but aware that I am facing one of the most difficult moments in the region's history.

Q. They have said that your entire political career has been inside the party and that you barely have management experience — but suddenly you are in charge of the Andalusia government.

A. I have had responsibilities within my party and in other administrations, especially at the local level. I have "flight hours" in various areas of responsibility so I am aware of the difficulties we face right now.

Q. What changes will you make in the Andalusian government?

A. I want the citizens to feel closer to the administration, to know that there is a government that governs with them, not just for them, and ensure transparency. We need to open windows to ensure that information reaches citizens.

We need to open windows to ensure that information reaches citizens"

Q. Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 36 percent, almost 10 points above the national average.

A. There are two elements that exist in Andalusia not found in other regions. Here, the population continues to grow. Second, we have historical structural problems. In 30 years, many things have been fixed, but you need to look at the Andalusia of 30 years ago. Is this a justification? No. All administrations are responsible and I feel it too.

Q. If in the future your party could govern Spain with the United Left (IU) coalition, would you recommend the experience you have had in Andalusia?

A. We are demonstrating that there are other ways of governing and if this project is recognized in Andalusia, obviously it opens the doors of hope to other citizens of Spain.

Q. In your inaugural speech you underscored the need to fight corruption but you did not mention the unemployment fund. Do you think that took some credibility away from your address?

A. Corruption embarrasses me, no matter what you call it — ERE [layoff scandal], Gürtel or Bárcenas. Two years ago, when I was secretary of the PSOE in Andalusia, I apologized for the ERE case because it caused me pain and I was embarrassed by it.

Q. Now, as regional premier do you still apologize for it?

The vast majority of people in public service are honest"

A. Certainly, most certainly and always. The vast majority of people who are in public service in my party and outside of my party are honest.

Q. Anticorruption prosecutors have appealed a writ by Judge Mercedes Alaya which states that two former premiers [Griñán and Chaves] should be named as official targets in the case because it could cause damage to the defense strategies of others who have been implicated.

A. I respect any decision, but I wish the confusion over the past several days would end as soon as possible because it is doing significant damage to certain people, something that seems unfair.

Q. How should the Catalonia debate be handled?

A. The problems being generated in Catalonia are to be blamed on both the centralist position of some as well as some separatists. All of the regional governments must sit down with the prime minister and hold frank talks with one thing in mind that cannot be negotiated: the equality of all citizens no matter where they live.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS