INTERVIEW

Ciudadanos leader: “I could see myself governing with either the PP or PSOE”

Albert Rivera tells EL PAÍS he wants to be at the helm of a new political project in Spain

Albert Rivera during the interview from Ciudadanos headquarters.
Albert Rivera during the interview from Ciudadanos headquarters.Álvaro García

The success of Ciudadanos in the Catalan elections, where it won the highest number of votes and seats, has shone a spotlight on its growing popularity. According to a new Metroscopia poll, Ciudadanos would be Spain’s preferred political party if general elections were held now– snagging the title from the incumbent Popular Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The real revolution is evolution

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, 38, spoke to EL PAÍS about how he hopes to capitalize on this surge of support.

Question. The Metroscopia poll listed Ciudadanos for the first time as the top political force. How do you interpret this?

Answer. We have to be cautious. But there is a trend. It’s a phase change. We are in a moment of political transition: the new has not arrived, and the old has not yet disappeared.

Q. Is your success at the Catalan elections behind this momentum?

A. We were founded 11 years ago in Catalonia for this moment. The lesson we showed is that you can’t copy nationalism, you have to defeat it. And as a result, Spain has seen what we have been defending in Catalonia, and they want it for all of Spain.

Q. But Ciudadanos won and then decided to sideline itself. Was that a mistake?

A. It’s better to speak clearly. We won the elections but we are not able to govern. There is an electoral law that was not changed in 35 years by either the PP or the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). And Podemos betrayed its voters [by refusing to side with either the pro-independence parties or the so-called constitutional parties against independence]. At the moment, with pro-independence leaders in jail or having fled, we can fight for control of the Mesa [the permanent board of officers in parliament]. We still have time.

Q. You’re criticized for being in the opposition without wanting to get your feet wet in government. Why did you not form an alliance with Rajoy and enter government in the 2016 general elections?

A. We couldn’t govern with the PP because it’s a spent project that’s marked by corruption. The only way we could have governed would have been with a new government, a new prime minister, a new project. We are convinced that a new political project cannot happen with Rajoy.

Q. Do you think Ciudadanos is seen as the new face of the right?

We are in a moment of political transition: the new has not arrived, and the old has not yet disappeared

A. I don’t share this image and citizens don’t, either. Progressive liberalism is growing across the world, with figures like Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. Ciudadanos is part of that. We have to consider how to implement progressive policies without hurting the economy. The real revolution is evolution. Real change is not about toppling what works, but rather questioning what doesn’t work.

Q. If Ciudadanos forms government, what will be its priority?

A. In socio-economic terms, unemployment and the precariousness of work. And, on the other hand, Spanish unity. Catalonia as a symptom, not as a problem.

Q. There’s criticism that Ciudadanos has a personality cult. Do you have a team for Spain’s regional elections?

A. If the elections in Catalonia have shown us anything, it’s that in Catalonia we have an amazing team.

Q. But Ciudadanos comes originally from Catalonia. What about the other Spanish regions?

A. You have to give people time. Nobody knew who I was in 2006 and now they know me. Our regional and municipal leaders have only been around for two years.

Q. Should general elections be brought forward?

We have to consider how to implement progressive policies without hurting the economy

A. The prime minister is the only one with the red button. I want stability but also reform. If I was to write a wish list to the Three Wise Kings, I would say Spain needs a stronger government, a new one which is clean, credible and has a national project for the country.

Q. Earlier you said you would not enter government because you did not believe in the PP’s project. Would you veto Rajoy from any executive that includes you?

A. In politics, two years is an eternity and now the polls have allowed me to consider other things, like defeating Rajoy at the ballot. If Spaniards want to give us an opportunity to govern, we will do it. I see myself as capable of forming a government with people from the PP and the PSOE because I already have agreements with them.

English version by Melissa Kitson.