Toni Comín: “I could lead the European list if Puigdemont can’t”

  • The exiled minister states in this interview that he do not intend to take any risk of arrest and, if necessary, they could wait to return for a second investiture debate

Josep Casulleras Nualart
16.03.2024 - 21:40
Actualització: 17.03.2024 - 19:38

“The possibility of a return before an investiture debate is certain,” says Minister Toni Comín in this interview conducted via video conference, with him in Brussels and us in Barcelona, ​​just the day after the approval in the Spanish congress of the amnesty law and two days after the early elections announced by President Pere Aragonès. The combination of both events leads him to make this statement. Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, and Lluís Puig could return to Catalonia simultaneously before the investiture debate. It would be the political return of an exile that has a personal dimension for which Comín says he must prepare, because he will return to a home where he will no longer find his mother or brother.

But he will not assume the risk of arrest, Comín specifies, revealing in this interview that, if Puigdemont is the head of the Junts list in the Catalan elections, he will be in the European elections.

—Has the advancement of the elections altered your plans to return from exile?
—Yes, inevitably. Our intention was not to turn the return into a partisan act, not to mix things. We intended for the return to be unrelated to elections, but the scenario of the president Puigdemont being present on the day of the investiture, as he stated, will mean that the return will have to happen earlier. Inevitably, now the return is conditioned by the Catalan elections. There is a very big change of plans, even though the meaning of the return remains the same.

—But now it is also linked to a campaign and a party argument.
—But we are not the ones who decided to call early elections, it was President Aragonès. And it was the Constitutional Court that decided that candidates must be present at investiture debates. So there’s no choice. If there’s an early election, and you have to be able to hold an investiture debate in person, there’s no alternative.

—Do you also think that ERC and the PSOE have coordinated schedules to harm Puigdemont’s candidacy?
—I think there has indeed been an evident interest from Esquerra to advance the elections. They must have calculated that the later, the worse for them because the government is worn out in terms of image, because the drought is a big problem, and because the prospect of President Puigdemont already being in Catalonia and being able to campaign and be a candidate normally obviously worried them deeply. I would be very surprised if this were not coordinated with the PSOE, but, on the other hand, it surely was not coordinated with the commons, who now feel used.

—Coordinated with the PSOE?
—The PSOE took five minutes to give up on the budget for 2024 and to say that it was Yolanda Díaz’s fault because she couldn’t get Jéssica Albiach to agree. The PSOE is relieved of the pressure of a complicated negotiation with us for the budget. And I understand that the prospect of President Puigdemont returning and campaigning in Catalonia sooner rather complicated things for Salvador Illa.

—It also took President Puigdemont five minutes to say he was willing to come to the investiture session.
—Some may have calculated that by advancing the elections, the president, for legal reasons, could not even be a candidate, that he would be out of the electoral race, and someone must have thought that he could not be present at the investiture either. He wanted to kill any hope of those who had made this miscalculation by saying that with the amnesty law on the table, the possibility was there. And then he will make the decision and communicate it when he considers it. But making it clear from the first minute that the possibility of being a candidate is there and that of being invested as well.

—Can we assume that we will have Puigdemont in Catalonia in June?
—He has to make his decisions and communicate them when he considers it, and I don’t want to take anything for granted that has to do with him. But the possibility of a return before an investiture debate is certain. If the application of the amnesty law is delayed until the limit, meaning until the end of July, if the precautionary measures are not lifted until after this two-month period envisaged by the law, this will not prevent President Puigdemont from participating in an investiture debate, because the investiture debate can always be afterwards…

—What do you mean it can always be afterwards? After the end of July?
—Yes, exactly.

—That is, in a second investiture session?

—Gonzalo Boye said on a radio interview that President Puigdemont was willing to return even assuming the risk of being arrested.
—But being willing does not mean that one should take that risk. We have always had a dual attitude: assessing the risks, having little aversion to them, but also not trying to minimize them. Since the goal is investiture, it’s better to do it without the risk of arrest.

—If that happened, would we find ourselves in a second investiture session that could be in the middle of August?
—For example. Between the first investiture debate and a second one, there is a two-month limit. No matter how delayed the lifting of the precautionary measures against President Puigdemont is, it must happen before an investiture debate. There is no need to manage an unnecessary risk because if arrest can be avoided, it should be.

—Knowing that there is this link between the lifting of measures and Puigdemont’s investiture, Llarena may not withdraw them, may say that amnesty does not cover this case for misappropriation, making a self-interested interpretation, and not apply it. Then what?
—It can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. Another thing is that this may disrupt the schedule, but if the Supreme Court does not do what it should, the Constitutional Court will have to.

—But disrupting the schedule could be crucial, as it could prevent Puigdemont from being invested within the period after the elections.
—But if there is a pro-independence majority that has decided that the candidate must be President Puigdemont, there will be no option for anyone else to be invested. Then, if they play with the schedule, we will also have to play along. There are many tools, and one of them is called repeating the elections. This before giving in to a judge’s trap.

-No repetition of the events of 30 January 2018?
—Not repeating on January 30. And I say this, but I believe that if cheating were done with the application of the amnesty law just to block an investiture that derives from the decision of the citizens, it would be a mistake to let them win this battle with this dishonest move and make an alternative investiture. Should the president be decided by the Supreme Court and not by the Catalans? The immense strength of this potential candidacy of President Puigdemont is that it would be restoring the president removed by Article 155.

—Are you willing to join Puigdemont’s hypothetical candidacy in parliament?
—We need to discuss many things. These days we have had time to think about what we should do with the European candidacy, where we planned to go together. And now we have to reconsider many things, but I want to help him in any way I can.

—If Puigdemont runs for president of the Generalitat, will Toni Comín be a candidate in the European elections?
—It’s too early to say, but we thought that if he cannot lead the European list, I would.

—But you also don’t rule out being a candidate in the Catalan parliamentary elections?
—Not so much with the intention of being in the Catalan Parliament but of accompanying him on this list, in this campaign. Thinking out loud, I could go in a more symbolic position to make it clear that we are participating in this campaign. I understand the president, I put myself in his place because it is also important for him to keep the European front well defended, with his people. I understand that it gives him peace of mind that if it is confirmed that he has to go to parliament, the person who has been working and fighting together with him all these years remains in the European Parliament, which is me. His idea and mine are that I could lead the European list if he cannot. Now, this will have to be decided by the members with the procedure that Junts has defined to choose the head of the list.

—Would your return and that of Lluís Puig be at the same time as President Puigdemont’s before the investiture?
—Of course, it has to be a joint return. It is the political return; we return together, and what we have to explain to the country with this return, we must do it together.

—What meaning should this political return have?
—The return is not a personal triumph for us but a collective one. We must be able to express the immense political victory that it represents for the President of the Generalitat and a part of his government to return freely to Catalonia. Without having to testify before the Supreme Court or any Spanish judge for even a minute. We return free, which is what the state did not want. We have won. The state wanted to prevent it by all possible means. The first ones who will not have to testify, if this scenario is confirmed, will have been us. Meritxell, Clara, Anna, they all had to go through the court, and the others had to go to prison. We will return free, we will return home, we will return accompanied by the people. It is a great victory, a very great victory.

—And the personal aspect of the return? You have suffered a harsh exile.
—In my case, there is a very beautiful part of being able to return, which is that my family is eager for us to be together in Catalonia. But there is a part that is difficult for me, which is no secret: during these years, my mother passed away, and my brother passed away. The last thing I did before leaving was to hug them both. Then they lived with me in exile for many seasons. But I left a home where they both lived, and I will return to a home where they will no longer be. Therefore, I will also have to prepare because the return will also have a difficult part. And that’s it, it’s okay. But we will have been able to return, and I wanted to add one more argument about our return.

—We wanted our return to also have a dimension of homage and memory for the exiles of 1939, for all those who could not return. They made the retreat, and we, who have left, will be able to return. In that case, raw Francoism made them leave; in our case, it has been the last expressions of Francoism through a Spanish judicial power that has led us to exile.

—This amnesty is questioned by some sectors of the independence movement.
—The amnesty law is a great political victory. And that’s why I don’t understand my friends who still have Hamletian doubts about whether the amnesty law is a great success or has drawbacks because it has no drawbacks.

—Which friends?
—Some friends who have a few days of temporary blindness [laughs]. Some of them are my best friends, and we have spent summers together for many years. If the amnesty law had been accompanied by a document talking about renouncing unilateralism, I would understand that Lluís Llach or President Torra were critical. And look, I’ve already mentioned their names! [Smiles.] Then I could understand it. But we haven’t renounced any of that; the investiture agreement with the PSOE explicitly states that Junts does not renounce the mandate of October 1. I don’t understand why they are critical of a law that rectifies injustice and covers everyone.

—If it covers everyone.
—Think that for months there will be dozens of kids coming out of court with a paper stating that their case has been archived and their family will receive them, moved because that nightmare will be over. Do we really not have to pass this amnesty law? Should one never negotiate with a Spanish party even when that agreement is a resounding and unequivocal victory? When we win a partial battle like amnesty, do we look aggressive? How do we expect to achieve independence if we are not able to identify the victories we are achieving?

—They criticize that amnesty is used by the Spanish government to try to whitewash repression, to whitewash itself to the international community, and to pose it in terms of reconciliation, surrender, and draw a line and move on from these years…
—But the negotiation is being done face to face in Geneva with an international mediator, where the subject of discussion is an agreed referendum, which is our proposal. And furthermore, we explain that there is a constitutional way to hold this referendum. And we do not guarantee the stability of the legislature without progress at this table. Because it is clearly stated that the stability of the legislature will depend on progress at the tables in Switzerland. In both tables, or both negotiation folders: that of self-government and that of the referendum. That there be progress in both.

—Did you understand Lluís Llach’s departure from the government of the Consell de la República as an amendment to this strategy?
—No, no. Now there was a planned change of government, and he had already warned that he did not plan to renew.

—But he said he did not feel comfortable with the negotiation with the PSOE.
—I refer to his words. As for Lluís, eternal thanks and immense gratitude. I understand that he has been there for many years and has every right to step aside. But it is true that he wanted to give an explanation, that he perfectly understands that if an instrument appears that did not exist until now, which is a truly useful and productive negotiation, he understands that President Puigdemont cannot fail to use it. He said it like that. But when the negotiation takes all the prominence, he doubts the ability of the Council, also presided over by President Puigdemont, to continue leading the confrontation. I might argue with him. But surely he says that if President Puigdemont leads the negotiations and presides over the Council, it is difficult for him to do so. We all agree that negotiations should not stop the confrontation. He himself has said that now he will try to play a role in the ANC to the extent that he is also a clear actor in the confrontation.

—And now you will be electoral competitors with your colleague Clara Ponsatí.
—Clara, with all due personal respect and affection, with whom we have shared very important things during these years, is very inconsistent. I told her.

—I’m referring to what she says about amnesty. Regarding political parties, let everyone do what they want in life. But what she says about amnesty is very inconsistent. Because she tries to portray amnesty as surrender when we haven’t given up anything. She returned under the umbrella of a penal code reform that was negotiated by Esquerra Republicana and Jaume Asens, which eliminated sedition. And here there were indeed concessions, in exchange for the reform of the penal code. And there were indeed. And we criticized them, both she and I. But she decided to benefit from it. Did she find it? Did she not want it? Could she have renounced it and said, look, I’m not coming back because it was done within a pact with ERC that I am radically against? And she returned. And she returned for personal reasons, and I think it’s fine. I would have done the same. If we accompanied her on her return. What I don’t understand is that now she can be critical. If at the time she benefited from a penal code reform that was accompanied by concessions, I don’t understand with what moral authority she now criticizes an amnesty law that is not accompanied by any concession. The only thing I have told Clara, and I have told her repeatedly, is that I don’t think she has the moral authority to do what she does. It doesn’t seem consistent to me. I say this with all the cordiality with which she and I talk, without this preventing a personal relationship that has been built over these years of exile.

—Has this last year of exile damaged this personal relationship?
—No, but obviously these political differences do not make things easier personally. They make them more difficult. But that does not mean that a space of personal relationship cannot be preserved despite political disagreements.


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