What brought you into politics?
I was involved in real politics when in 1987, 30 years ago, I took part in an electoral list in the city hall of Barcelona. At that time, I was elected as a city councilor in the opposition. It was some years before the summer Olympic games that took place in 1992. This first experience was a very interesting one because I was close to people, and 8 years after that, I joined for the first time the Catalan government as a minister of public affairs and land policy. Two years later, I was appointed minister of economy and finances, and three years after that I was appointed minister of presidency and first minister of the government. Then, in 2003 I was a candidate for the first time for the presidency of Catalonia. I won the election by a narrow margin, but I was sent to the opposition because there was an agreement between three different political parties that composed a new government. I spent seven years in the opposition, and in 2010, after new elections I won by a large margin and became the 129th president of my country.
You recently mentioned that you envisioned Catalonia being the “Denmark of the Mediterranean” in terms of the economy. What do you think the economic implications are for the rest of Spain should independence for Catalonia be achieved?
It depends on the capacity to reach agreements with Spain, or not. If there is a negotiation and agreements are reached, then nothing will happen because we will share the debt and the liabilities. We will also share the assets, and I’m sure that in this case, if negotiations exist we can reach a normal and profitable agreement for both sides. If there is no agreement because Spain refuses to sit down at the table, talk about the issues, and reach an agreement, then the situation would be more complicated. If there is no agreement and Catalonia goes ahead with the creation of a new state, then the result of that would be that Spain would lose 19 percent of its GDP but keep 100 percent of its public debt. In these circumstances, the Spanish economy would not be viable, and there would be threats to the Euro because the Spanish economy is too big in Europe to be considered a marginal economy. The situation would be so negative for everyone that, in my opinion, it won’t happen.
For many, the ruling by the Constitutional Court of Spain in 2015 put an end to the independence process. What do you think is a potential resolution to this issue of the Spanish judiciary?
This is something that I don’t know, because they have to make their own decisions. If I analyze what has happened up until now, I would say that the Constitutional Court has struck all the resolutions the Catalan Parliament has approved. What they say is that the Constitution of Spain should be modified to allow a referendum in Catalonia on independence. However, this is not entirely true. What the Spanish Constitution says is that the independence of a region of Spain is not possible. But, one thing is the independence of a region is one thing and another completely different thing is to hold a referendum to know how broad the majority is in favor of independence. So the democratic fact of holding a referendum is not forbidden. This is our claim—we do not want to gain independence unilaterally. We want to have a referendum to know if we have a majority in favor of independence or not. In Quebec, there were two referendums on independence, and in Scotland, there was one referendum in 2014. So, the Québécois people and the Scottish people were granted the referendum, and this is what we are asking for in Spain.
The Societat Civil Catalana submitted a formal complaint to the President of Harvard, Drew Faust, regarding your invitation to be here. How do you respond to such internal dissent within Catalonia?
I respond by saying that if you don’t talk about the issues, you are not going to work them out. If you want to solve problems, you have to talk about them. I can understand that for a lot of Spanish people and some Catalan people, independence is not a favorable situation—they don’t like it. As a Democrat, I respect their position, but they also have to respect the position of the others. There were plebiscitary elections in the Catalan parliament, and the outcome of these elections was an absolute majority in the parliament in favor of independence. This is what people voted for a year and a half ago; if you have an absolute majority of a parliament in favor of an idea, let’s say independence, then I think that the obligation of the other side is to sit down at the table and talk about the issue, and this is what we’re asking for. However, the response in Madrid is that although you have an absolute majority in your parliament and although there have been huge demonstrations in the streets of Barcelona in the past five years—despite all that—there is nothing to talk with you about, and this is the problem.
If independence were to be achieved, you would essentially have a fully dual-national population in which all Catalonian citizens are also Spanish citizens. How does that bode for a future Catalan identity?
This is our real demographic situation. It is important to take into account that 70 percent of the Catalan population has no Catalan roots. This means that their grandparents or their parents, or even they themselves, were not born in Catalonia. This is a very sophisticated and complicated demographic situation, and despite that, 80 percent of the Catalonian people want a referendum, even with this demographic composition. In terms of citizenship, if Catalonia becomes an independent country, then this new country should offer all people the opportunity to choose their nationality, so that a person living in Catalonia after the referendum and after the creation of the Catalan state could choose between the Catalan and the Spanish nationality, or both.
What if you have regions in Catalonia where you have a supermajority that vote against independence? Would such a province have to remain within Catalonia?
Catalonia is a nation like other nations in the world. If the majority of citizens say that yes, they want a new state, than all citizens must follow this way. If they do not want to follow this path, they can always live in Catalonia without the Catalonian nationality. We have a lot of French, Italian, British, and German people living in Catalonia, and they are not Spanish right now. That could also be the situation for the people who prefer to live in Catalonia without being citizens of the new country—they would be citizens of Spain living in Catalonia.
How do you think the resurgence of right-wing movements in Europe, such as The National Front in France or Alternative for Germany, bodes for the independence movement?
The relation between these populist movements and the independence movement is not a direct relation. There is no direct link between these two phenomena. It is also important to take into consideration that the movement in favor of independence in Catalonia is a non populist movement. We back the decisions of austerity, which is not populist; we are not against the Euro, which is not populist either, and we want more refugees, which also not populist. So if you compare the populist movements in Europe with the independence movement in Catalonia, you will find big differences. Some of these movements are strictly populist movements against everything, but our movement in Catalonia is exactly the other way around. Who’s your favorite FC Barcelona player? Messi. I say Messi because a lot of people, including myself, know that Messi is the best football player in the world, and we have him in our team.