“Regarding the privileges of the Economic Agreement, there is a lot of legend and little to read the papers,” says Idoia Mendia, second vice-president and Minister of Labor and Employment of the Basque Government, on the hackneyed criticism of the financing instrument of Euskadi. Mendia recalls that it is a unilateral risk system and that if it is mismanaged “we cannot ask the central executive for help.”
The coalition between Basque nationalists and socialists has completed one year “and it works because we all follow the agreed program,” says the vice president. “Our point of friction is clear and public. That is why it has been left out of the Government.” Like its partner in the Basque Government, the PNV, the PSE-EE is in favor of advancing self-government, updating competencies and “shielding the social gains achieved in the last 40 years, but all in collaboration with the Executive of Spain and without unilateral routes “, clarifies Idoia Mendia. The second vice president details to elEconomista the challenges and objectives for the new political course.
It has been a year of the Government in coalition. What balance do you make of it?
The work of the coalitions is always done previously to forge a solid agreement, focused on the main axes which in this case are the recovery of employment, economic recovery and health, because this Government will continue to be marked by the pandemic. The coalition works well because we follow the government’s program and all the departments, be they socialist or nationalist, develop the same program.
Is there no ‘black point’ in the relationship?
Discrepancies, if they exist, must be managed and dealt with at home. The important thing is that you make a good agreement based on the important things. We are two quite different parties and our point of friction and disagreement is clear and public. That is why it has been left out of the Government, because the most important thing is stability.
What is the position of the PSE-EE regarding the advance in self-government?
Socialists have always believed that self-government is at the service of the citizen and that we must move forward, without repeating failures such as the ‘Ibarretxe Plan’ or the unilateral Catalan route. We are in favor of modernizing and shielding the social conquests that we have made in the last 40 years, such as the right to housing and the right to Income Guarantee Income (RGI) and that are not in the current Statute and must be put at. Reform of the Statute yes, but that it is something useful, not to confront the Basque citizenship. The agreements reached in the committee of experts on the presentation of self-government are defined and the disagreements, too.
What reforms would you include in the Statute?
If we finally take seriously a reform that gives the Basque Country a 21st century Statute, there are very interesting competencies, for example, how we better articulate our presence in the EU, how we manage immigration in the face of the demographic challenge, how we can make decree laws as they have other CCAA and in pandemic we have not been able. All in collaboration with the Government of Spain.
But first, pending transfers will have to be completed. Do you see it feasible in the current legislature?
There is a schedule for negotiating matters, some of which are not included in the Statute, but are matters of the State that can be transferred to the Autonomous Communities. It is a compromised calendar between the central and Basque governments on which they work. The elections and the pandemic have delayed the process, but both governments are working on the negotiation.
Right now the transfer of the Minimum Living Income is ‘in the oven’. Will it be received before the year of its due date at the end of October?
On the subject of transfers, it is difficult to set specific dates, because even if you reach an agreement, you have to develop it and go down to specific issues. The transfer of the IMV is of priority interest, as the Basque Government understands this word and is included in the regulations: managing the matter in an integral way. Euskadi never assumes a transfer that does not come with that integral character and that is where the negotiations are.
Will it be a great step to achieve the economic regime of Social Security?
The date of the calendar is for the beginning of negotiation in mid-2022. I would like a nuance about the IMV, since the Government of Spain has presented it as a benefit of the Social Security Institute but it is not in the background of the management of pensions, but in Budgets and is part of social policies. Therefore, it does not serve as a light for a future transfer of the management of the Social Security economic regime. No CCAA has opened that path and you have to think about how to do it. It will be an interesting negotiation from a legal point of view, long and very complex. But it has nothing to do with the IMV.
Most of the Autonomous Communities believe that co-governance has been lacking in the management of the pandemic. What do you think about that?
Co-governance has existed, but it is not easy to co-govern in a State like Spain with a central and autonomous government. With all the difficulties and complexities, co-governance has existed. I believe that there has never been a greater dialogue between the Autonomous Communities and the Government of Spain, and between the autonomous regions among themselves. It has to be something that has come to stay, that we have to save, maintain and develop.
About the Economic Agreement, what would you say to those who accuse the Basque Country of being a privileged community and that it enjoys the favor of the central government?
The Economic Agreement is constitutional law and every government, whatever the sign, has to comply with it. About the privileges I would tell you that there is a lot of legend about it and little to read the papers. The Economic Agreement is a unilateral risk system, that is, if things go wrong, we cannot go to the door of the Government of Spain as other Autonomous Communities do. Therefore, we decide what public services we want and based on this we decide what taxation we have to have. It is a demonstration of responsibility and caution in management for the next few years.
What do you think of the tax reduction in communities like Madrid?
It really seems to me that the Community of Madrid is taxing the rest of the Autonomous Communities, because on the one hand it has the plus that is the capital of Spain with the headquarters of a number of powerful companies that endows it with a significant volume of economic resources, and for another, cuts everything that can lower taxes as a community in its capacity. The truth is that in the last 20 years public services have deteriorated.
What goals do you set for the new course?
The main objective is to lower the unemployment rate below 10% at the end of this legislature and it is already at 10.3, thanks to the rapid recovery and there was no job loss that was expected. We also work on quality employment, equality, youth unemployment, etc. and in the digitization of Lanbide so that it is dedicated to orientation and labor activation. And the reform of the RGI is another challenge to reach the most needy groups: the elderly and children.
Are you in favor of raising the minimum interprofessional wage?
President Pedro Sánchez’s commitment was to do so with a clear economic horizon and now is the time. In the previous crisis we already witnessed a decrease in the purchasing power of citizens and it was not good for the economy. A unanimous agreement that benefits everyone is always better. I do not understand the reluctance for a rise of this caliber by the employers.
Do you think that the weight of your partner the PNV in Madrid is important for the interests of the Basque Country?
There are 18 Basque deputies in Madrid and all 18 defend the interests of the Basque Country and work so that Spain as a whole does well and, therefore, the Basque Country. Euskadi is not going to do well, if Spain does not do well and in that sense all the Basque parties defend the interests and the Basque agenda. But it is true that whenever there are socialists in the Basque Government and in the Government of Spain, the Basque Country does better.