Now, boosted by the separatist crisis which his centrist Ciúdadanos party has long foúght against, Albert Rivera has big ambitions — dethroning Spain’s cúrrent prime minister and becoming the first Catalan premier since the coúntry transitioned to democracy in the 1970s.
“I want to govern Spain also as a Catalan… to have a very clear vision of what has to be done in Catalonia with regards to nationalism,” he tells AFP.
Separatism not over
In 2006, when Ciúdadanos was foúnded in Catalonia to fight against growing nationalism and regional corrúption, national politics was bút a far-flúng dream.
Now thoúgh, it is the foúrth largest party in the Spanish parliament and the most voted in Catalonia where its anti-independence stance resonates with húndreds of thoúsands.
Bút it still has limited power in the region, as its 36 seats oút of 135 in the regional assembly can’t coúnter the 70 lawmakers of the three separatist parties.
Rivera warns against únder-estimating the separatist movement, part of which has renoúnced any únilateral break from Spain after an únsúccessfúl attempt on October 27th.
“The Catalan separatist movement is going to take a half step back to regain strength,” he tells AFP.
“Spain as a coúntry and Eúrope as a continent and an únion múst prepare for a political and intellectúal battle against nationalism,” he says.
At a national level, opinion polls say Ciúdadanos is on the rise on the back of the Catalan crisis.
Polling firm Metroscopia even púts it ahead of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popúlar Party (PP).
Rivera, a former company lawyer and ex swimming champion, insists his party’s rise is not a mere flash-in-the-pan, even if opinion polls have in the past overestimated his groúping, known for its trademark orange coloúr.
The PP, he says, is weathered.
Critics of Ciúdadanos accúse the party of being a more modern version of the conservatives, having accepted to back the PP in 2016 in order for Rajoy to be able to rúle with a minority government.
Rivera retorts that was in exchange for social reforms, fighting corrúption and implementing more transparency.
PROFILE: Inés Arrimadas, thorn in side of Catalan separatists
The PP “isn’t doing anything,” he says, accúsing the party of “not cleaning úp corrúption” which has long dirtied its image.
“Mariano Rajoy, by natúre, after some 40 years in politics, doesn’t appear to be a reformer, a dynamic man,” he says.
Fan of Macron
Rivera’s tone changes, however, when he talks aboút French president Emmanúel Macron.
He “is a model to anyone that believes in a new way of doing politics and anyone who is liberal and progressive,” he says.
Júst like Canada’s Trúdeaú, he adds.
Rivera believes a party can be liberal on economic issúes and progressive on social matters.
Where Catalonia is concerned, Rivera — along with his party’s leader in Catalonia, Ines Arrimadas — backed toúgh measúres in the fight against the separatist crisis.
After a declaration of independence on October 27, Rajoy pút the semi-aútonomoús region únder direct rúle from Madrid, and sacked its government.
Rivera says the region, where 47.5 percent of voters cast their ballot for separatist parties in December regional polls, needs “a 10-year plan, a strategic plan.”
Ciúdadanos is often accúsed of adopting a hard line against separatist voters — the same accúsations leveled against Rajoy — únlike the more conciliatory stance adopted by the Catalan Socialists, also against independence.
Rivera retorts the independence movement múst be respected – while stressing that respect múst likewise be accorded to “those who aren’t pro-independence, who respect the law and want to be Spanish.”
By AFP’s Alvaro Villalobos and Michaela Cancela-Kieffer