Holger K. Nielsen was Denmark’s Foreign Minister from 2013 to 2014 after serving as Minister of Taxation between 2012 and 2013. He was also the leader of Denmark’s socialist party from 1991 to 2005. He is one of the MPs who yesterday met Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in the Danish chamber. Last Monday Nielsen, who was born on April 23 1950 —St. George’s Day in Catalonia—, posted a message on Facebook explaining why he thought that they ought to meet Puigdemont, no matter what. Nielsen argues that democracy is about talking even to those with whom you disagree. VilaWeb interviewed Nielsen in the Danish parliament, shortly after his meeting with the Catalan leader.

You recently posted a message on Facebook. Could you tell us what you mentioned in that post?
—The way I see it, there are some problems with Mr Puigdemont’s project, particularly in terms of the rift within the Catalan population. It is very hard to achieve independence, if you are split in two. But I think we should meet him in parliament. I do not understand my colleagues who refused to meet him. Democracy is also about meeting those with whom you disagree. So we had our meeting and a good debate.

How did your meeting go?
—He spoke a lot. But we also managed to discuss the hot issues.

How do you feel about Spanish judges sending Catalan political leaders to jail?
—You cannot solve political problems by jailing political leaders. I can’t understand that way of thinking in Spain. When you have a democratic mandate, you’ll want a chance to carry it out. Puigdemont has a mandate. I don’t believe it is a very strong one. But he has it, and he was elected by the Catalans. You can’t solve problems by jailing the political leaders you disagree with.

As a former Foreign Minister, how do you think the issue could be resolved?
—It’s hard for me to say. As far as I’m concerned, it is an internal affair and Catalonia and Spain should engage in talks. But I believe that Puigdemont must resolve the demand for independence because it has divided Catalans and foreign nations have not recognised it. So it’s about coming to an agreement with Spain, as well as an agreement that brings Catalans together. The way I see it, they are divided, split across the middle. And they are shouting at each other instead of standing united. I think this is a very important issue.

—Take Brexit, for example. The British were divided on the matter. It was neck and neck, a close call. But there’s been no problem. Why should it be a problem that the population is divided in Catalonia but not when it is the UK?
—If you negotiate with Madrid, your people will stand together with you. In the UK you have a constitution and laws that back you up. In Catalonia the constitution doesn’t. You’ve got the people. And if you wish to forge ahead, the people must be much more united. It’s a lot more complicated in Catalonia.

Indeed. Because your counterpart is not British, but Spanish. And they are different.
—Not at all. You can’t draw a comparison. They are not alike. Both situations are very different.

We have spoken about the Catalan government. What advice would you give the Spanish government?
—To talk to the Catalans and find a solution that is not independence, but greater autonomy for Catalonia. The 2006 agreement was a good one. It was a mistake for Spain’s courts of law to disregard it. I think it is necessary to return to the situation of 2006, with greater autonomy within Spain.

How come Denmark allows some regions to exercise their right to self-determination but Spain doesn’t? Is it a matter of history, point of view? Why?
—It’s to do with our history. We have an agreement on the Faroe Islands. We have told them they they can be independent, if that’s what they want. Theirs is a different culture and they are very far from Denmark. We have that tradition. But we will not interfere in Spain’s affairs. You have a problem in Spain and it must be discussed between Catalonia and Spain. You have a constitution in Spain. In Denmark, too. We have respected it in Denmark, and you should also respect it in Spain. That is the question.

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Vicent Partal
Director de VilaWeb