Europe “means respect for the rule of law” and the rules must be upheld, “no matter the circumstances,” the president of Spain’s People’s Party, Pablo Casado, comments on apparently warming ties between the Sanchez government in Madrid and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Stressing his own “total” commitment to Greece’s territorial integrity, he also says that “there should not be excuses for that commitment.”
We are seeing some activity in relations between Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which translates into bilateral agreements even in the sensitive field of defense. Would you say that we are experiencing an upgrade in the Madrid-Ankara cooperation? How do you assess this development, given the tense relations between Greece, Cyprus and the European Union more broadly with Turkey?
Europe means freedom and solidarity. Europe means openness. But Europe also means respect for the rule of law. Being European means respecting the rules that we have given ourselves and that constitute one of the fundamental pillars of our coexistence. Human rights, gender equality and religious freedom ought to be observed no matter the circumstances if we want to call ourselves European. Greece and Spain share this spirit, and we both want the Mediterranean to be a place of encounter and freedom, not a place of tension.
My commitment to the territorial integrity of Greece – like that of any of our European partners – is total. And I strongly believe that there should not be excuses for that commitment. I am well aware that this commitment goes both ways, and in Spain we are especially grateful for the support given by the rest of Europe whenever our sovereignty has been challenged, even by radical separatism within our nation.
European leaders, such as Emmanuel Macron for example, have raised the issue of changing the EU’s strategy in foreign and defense policy. The French president’s quote that “NATO is clinically dead” was characteristic. What do you think?
We should not forget that NATO is a defense organization, and in a world where authoritarianism reappears, NATO’s role should broaden to guarantee peace for those countries who want to live in freedom. I do believe in an extended alliance that brings in countries on the basis of values, of their commitment to freedom, and not only because they belong to a certain geographic area. Why can’t Israel or Australia be part of a new alliance based on freedom? NATO shouldn’t be dismissed, but it must be updated.
The transatlantic bond is solid, but we must assume our responsibility as Europeans. We cannot rely on the sole protection of the US forever. We should be responsible and adjust our military spending to reality and improve our military forces to face unconventional threats: from hybrid warfare to cyberwarfare. We need to restructure our defense industry, making our armies interoperable. European defense won’t be real until we start making decisions beyond rhetoric.
A crucial debate on the future of the Eurozone Stability Pact is under way. In fact, there is pressure from some sides to ease the rules, at least in terms of public debt, at a time when we are waiting for the new German fiscal policy agenda. What are your positions on the character that any changes to the Euro agreement should take?
I think there is a previous step which we should not take for granted. The most important thing is to implement economic and fiscal policies at home that are up to the challenge we face. In Spain, unfortunately, the government is in the process of approving a budget based on false economic forecasts that have been discredited by independent analysts and international organizations.
In addition, it is betting on an excessive tax increase that tramples the middle classes and will slow down the growth of our economy. The structural deficit will rise to 5%, and the public debt up to 1.4 trillion euros. All this to finance the whims of the government partners (Socialists and left-wing populists) and their nationalist and independentist supporters.
Greece has been at the center of successive crises, culminating in the debt crisis and the Grexit scenario. Today, an attempt to rebrand Greece is evident despite the adverse conditions imposed by the pandemic. How do you evaluate the work done in the Greek economy in recent years and where would you focus policy makers’ attention?
I respect and admire the Greek people. They were able to understand that left-wing populism was not interested in improving their lives, but in imposing an ideological agenda that was pushing Greece into the abyss. And I greatly respect and admire Prime Minister Mitsotakis for being able to bring Greece and the Greeks back to the road of recovery. He took difficult decisions (that’s what the right-wing parties are forced to do when they come to power). He did not try to fool the Greeks. And he is facing problems without selling cheap rhetoric. He is a model for certain right-wing leaders in Europe.
Like Greece, Spain is a country with high exposure to tourism and consequently to the complications of the pandemic. Is the Spanish economy retrieving its losses? How do you see the picture developing in 2022?
In both Greece and Spain, the impact of the Covid crisis in tourism has been enormous. Unfortunately, in Spain, some ministers have tried to demonize tourism. Despite this, I believe Spanish tourism is strong and will overcome this crisis, as will the whole of our economy. We are a strong and competitive country, facing important challenges, and we have to launch structural reforms to boost investment and productivity and to improve job creation. I have proposed the use of Next Generation EU funds to improve our tourism sector and for other structural reforms, such as those implemented by the Mitsotakis government. Unfortunately, the Socialist government in Spain is focusing on short-term spending guided by political patronage.
Do you see the glass half-full or half-empty, bearingin mind the evolution of the pandemic? Do you foresee disengagement from this crisis in a reasonable amount of time?
I am realistic. I would love to be able to say that the Spanish government is working in the right direction. But being realistic means trying not to lie, because change comes only from truth.
I highly value our potential as a country, and I strongly believe in the Spanish people. But I strongly criticize our government for putting sticks in the wheels of Spain’s recovery. Those sticks are many: higher taxes that strangle the middle class, uncontrolled energy prices that drown Spain’s economy and households, concessions to populists and nationalists with the only objective of staying in power.
But let me tell you this: I cannot be negative, because when I visit companies, schools, hospitals or talk to people on the street, what I see is strong people, I see fighters that want to overcome this crisis, be free, and have a good life. Spaniards do not need empty rhetoric: They deserve politicians who look for improving conditions so that they can freely achieve that good life.
The pandemic has made the globalization debate even more complex, in a challenging environment that has given rise to phenomena such as populism, both in Europe and the US. Factors such as cheap labor costs in the East and the automation of production are putting pressure on employment and the extent of inequality in European societies. Where do you stand on these issues and, consequently, what do you think should be the strategy of the European center-right in this direction?
In a context of global economic crisis and a pandemic with appalling consequences, many citizens, in the grip of fear and despair, wonder openly about globalization. I do believe that some of the excesses of globalization and the technological revolution must be addressed. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A center-right political proposal saves what is valuable from globalization and defends the people’s desire to belong, to work, to have a family and live a better life. Addressing complex problems with simplistic solutions is the shortest road to populism.
Immigration is a clear example of this, and it is materializing intensely both in Greece and Spain, because of our borders with non-EU countries. A problem in Ceuta or Melilla or the Canary Islands is a European problem and it shouldn’t be left unattended for populism to feed on it. We must defend safe borders and legal and orderly migration, while also upholding Europe as an open area, free from xenophobic discourse. We must improve European instruments to enforce border control, while we promote prosperity in our neighboring regions through effective economic and social cooperation.
The climate crisis requires a change in the energy policy mix. However, the sharp rise in prices tends to justify the concern of those who are worried that Europe is proceeding with the green transition without an effective plan. Do you agree with this assessment?
Europe has made a clear stand in its Green Deal for a low-carbon economy and we share that ambition. We agree to walk toward that future, but assuming that it is not as cheap, as fast and as easy to implement as it seems according to the legislation being passed in our states. We must act in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that has to be done in a way that spurs growth and job opportunities in our own countries, while creating prosperity and reducing poverty around the world at the same time. Europe has to be able to meet this challenge, knowing that a global player, no matter how good its conditions are, cannot properly operate with tougher rules than those of its competitors. With a substantial dependency on foreign sources of energy, it is our industry that is at stake. The same happens with micro and nanoelectronics. With 80% of semiconductor foundries and assembly operations concentrated in Asia, can we seriously talk about a common strategy on digitalization? Can we even talk about future competitiveness at all? We must venture into the challenge of returning Europe to be an industrial power, and not only a consumer one.
How is the political scene in Spain being formed today and how would you sum up your personal goals?
Spain is governed by means of an amalgam of parties. Socialists and left-wing populists in government, and nationalists and independentists backing them. Unfortunately, the real problems of the Spanish people seem to be the last of their concerns.
My personal commitment – and that of the entire People’s Party – is to restore stability and illusion to a country that deserves much more than a government that wants to tell them what to think, how they should educate their children, or at what time they should put on the washing machine. Spaniards deserve much more: First, they deserve reliable and solid institutions, based on respect for the constitution and the rule of law. Second, Spain urgently needs an economic policy that does not drown companies and the self-employed workers in taxes, so that they can be sources of wealth, innovation, and job creation. And third, Spain needs a social policy that helps those who want to start a family and those who suffer and are not able to get ahead on their own.