In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. In October, we spoke with Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Spanish ALDE member Ciudadanos, on Europe’s role as a global player, the political situation in her country, what she would love to work with if not politics, and more.
Inés Arrimadas, you have been leading Ciudadanos since March this year. What do you hope to achieve in this role and in your view, what are the main challenges Ciudadanos is currently facing?
For me, Ciudadanos is a project for the country, a tool to improve Spain, not just a political party. It is a space in the centre that re-establishes bridges between constitutionalists and is able to generate great consensus between liberals, conservatives and social democrats during times when populism and independence movements are on the rise. Our aim is to be present and take part in the decision-making in as many institutions as possible to undertake essential and urgent reforms, some of which have been postponed for decades in Spain. Among others, our country urgently needs a new Education Act that prepares our children for the future, a labour reform that adapts the labour market to the realities of the 21st century and a sustainable pension system.
Currently, the main challenge for Ciudadanos is trying to get liberals, conservatives and social democrats to agree in Spain, as we do in the European Union. It is only through this great consensus that we can reduce the influence of populists, separatists and radicals and conduct the great reforms that our country needs. After the last elections, I proposed Prime Minister Sánchez to unite forces between the three parties and form a government. Together we had 221 out of the 350 parliamentary seats. Yet, there was no political will.
"Our aim is to be present and take part in the decision-making in as many institutions as possible to undertake essential and urgent reforms"
Another challenge is to make our centrist, moderate and result-oriented voice heard, while other parties are becoming more radical in their approach. During the COVID-19 crisis in particular, we have seen how other parties are constantly looking to blame and shout at one another. In this context, Ciudadanos has been very pro-active, always looking for consensus and coming up with policy proposals and solutions to this difficult situation. We are proving that there is space for a more moderate, centrist and policy-oriented project also in Spain, just like in many other European countries.
Last, but not least, Ciudadanos will keep fighting the political and intellectual battle against nationalism. As liberals and democrats, dismantling nationalism is one of our great responsibilities. Since the separatist parties became allies of Pedro Sánchez, our fight is more important than ever.
Ciudadanos is indeed still quite a young party and has witnessed both great popularity and heavy defeats. How will you ensure that the party remains a viable and liberal force?
The only way forward for a political party that does not sustain itself with propaganda, that does not shout and does not fall in the traps of populism is to work hard every day, be useful and as a consequence act with moderation, calmness, pragmatism and a great sense of statehood. We must show citizens that there is an alternative, constructive way of doing politics: an alternative where politicians talk about citizens’ needs, propose effective solutions, leave ideologies and personal interests aside, are free of corruption and are ready to collaborate for the sake of the country.
Also, I must stress that while Ciudadanos currently has ten MPs at the National Parliament, we already govern in more than 400 city halls and in four autonomous communities of Spain, including Andalusia, Madrid, Castile and León and Murcia. In fact, today Ciudadanos governs for more than 20 million people. This gives us the opportunity to show that in times of great challenges, Ciudadanos is ready to work hard and come up with effective measures. When we implement or negotiate measures, we represent the needs and concerns of the whole Spanish population: those that voted for us and those that did not. We are certain that in times when political parties in Spain are only looking for confrontation and electoral retributions, citizens are appreciating our constructive and moderate attitude. Indeed, a strong liberal voice is greatly needed in Spain and we will keep being that voice.
Being a politician and a leader is not easy. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced in your career, and if you weren't a politician, what would you like to work with?
There is nothing comparable to the threat to democracy we experienced in Catalonia in 2017, when the nationalist parties imposed the so-called 'Laws of Disconnection' in the Catalan Parliament. Being present at the Parliament those days was deeply humiliating and made us feel helpless. But I was also very proud to represent the social majority of Catalans not seeking for independence and the vast majority of citizens who did not want their parliament to break the law and court rulings. A few months later, Ciudadanos won the Catalan elections, telling Europe and the world that most Catalans are proud democrats who feel Catalan, Spanish and European.
As members of Ciudadanos, we became active in politics so that we could contribute towards building a promising future for our country. But for us, politics is not meant to be a profession – our party emerged as a civil society project and we all have jobs and careers. For example, I have a degree in Law and Business Management and a postgraduate degree in International Business Management and worked for many years as a consultant in the private sector. Another example is Albert Rivera, who after leaving politics a few months ago, returned to his former profession as he always promised and is now working in a law firm. If I were not involved in politics, I would love to give a spin to my career and be an archaeologist, specialising in Egyptology. I am fascinated by the ancient world and the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations. I believe it’s never too late for those who keep dreaming!
And to those young women who dream about entering politics, what would be your advice?
It is true that in Europe we still have a long way to go in ensuring equality between men and women. However, if we compare ourselves to other regions of the world or to our own past, we can be proud of what we have achieved. Currently I am the only female candidate for the presidency of the Spanish Government, but I was also the first woman to win the elections in Catalonia and the national leader in Spain who has had the most support from party members to lead their party.
The only advice I can give to any young woman is that hard work, effort and freedom are the basis of any success. Do not accept paternalism of any kind, not from men or from people that are mistakenly calling themselves feminists, but are in fact telling women how to dress, think and feel. As a party, we are committed to liberal feminism, which is open, tolerant and inclusive and that seeks to unite society to achieve freedom and equality between men and women.
With democracies backsliding in Europe, what would you change if you were in charge and how can we fight against the forces that undermine liberal values, such as the rule of law?
Ciudadanos is a great and proud defender of the European project and we believe that it’s key to promote greater unity, freedom and equality to fight the rising threat of populism and nationalism in our continent. A greater Europe translates into more freedom, more employment, more civil rights and more well-being. In Spain, we have witnessed numerous examples of this: when the Catalan nationalists tried to tear our democracy apart, Europe openly reacted against it. In the midst of this pandemic, Europe is reaching a hand to us with the European funds. Recently, when Sánchez and Podemos tried to politicise our judiciary system, Europe stood firmly against it. For Ciudadanos, Europe is a great guarantee for a prosperous and bright future.
"A greater Europe translates into more freedom, more employment, more civil rights and more well-being"
Defending freedom, democracy and the rule of law entails respecting the law, the courts and the separation of powers. To ensure this, it is key to fight against corruption, to depoliticise organisms that are meant to be independent and to maintain the credibility of the institutions. We have presented reforms to increase transparency and are the only party in Spain that has shared a proposal to depoliticise the judiciary system. This initiative aims to ensure that the judges themselves, not the politicians, elect the judges that later convict politicians in case of corruption or breaking the rule of law.
The vast majority of citizens are convinced democrats, but populists, radicals and separatists take advantage of the slits of disenchantment to promote people’s fears and undermine liberal values. In this context, it is crucial to convince citizens that a political project free of corruption, with effective separation of powers, which is centred around the needs of citizens and not around the interests of politicians is possible.
And with multilateralism continuously under threat, how can we make Europe more influential in the global stage?
Firstly, Europe needs to keep advancing in its integration. Indeed, together we are stronger. And secondly, it needs to continue to set an example to others. In times of increasing protectionism, it is important that we promote open societies, global collaboration and competition.
Moreover, it is key that we keep developing a common European project. We need to exchange more knowledge and best practices between countries, develop and strengthen common foreign and internal strategies and evaluate our policies across Europe. There needs to be a clear shift from countries only defending particular interests to defending those of the EU. Additionally, to strengthen our global influence, we must also strengthen the countries that form the European project, by developing country-specific policies and making the necessary investments to overcome national weaknesses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of each country and the European Union as a whole. Yet, in times of crisis, political leaders from different countries and political backgrounds have been able to agree on a common European recovery fund. Europe needs to keep walking to this direction: establishing agreements, responding to citizens’ needs and coordinating politics across Europe. In sum, the future of Europe relies on shared responsibility and solidarity.
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