Congress has just approved the first democratic housing law, which will empower communities and town halls to regulate rental prices, which have skyrocketed in recent years. The norm has gone ahead, like so many others during the legislature, thanks to the votes of Esquerra Republicana and EH Bildu. Oskar Matute (Barakaldo, 1972), representative of the Basque independentistas and negotiator of their formation in the parliamentary processing of this law, defends in an interview with this newspaper his strategic alliance with the government parties to continue achieving social advances and stopping the arrival of a coalition of PP and Vox to Moncloa.
This Thursday the first democratic housing law was approved. It was a commitment from the government parties and an objective of both yours and ERC and the rest of the partners. If they gave the numbers from the beginning, why did it take more than three years to approve it?
The government parties in the electoral campaign had verbalized their desire for a state housing law, but the points of departure were very different, we had to clear a lot of undergrowth to reach a meeting path. It is what we have tried. It has been the work of everyone, including the pressure of social mobilization and denunciation by the media, which has placed the housing problem at the forefront of political news. This has made it possible for us to overcome the reluctance of the Socialist Party to dare to go further, to break the paradigm and make the right to housing the main element.
The opposition has also accused the Government of doing an electoral use with this law. The negotiations, from what was publicly disclosed, had been going well for months. Have you and the government played with the times to make the approval of this law coincide at the gates of the campaign?
Our initial distance was so great with the Socialist Party that it thought it was not going to have chances to get the law out. And that probably meant that during that first part of the legislature the negotiations were very sporadic and almost made contact. That was the case for quite some time. I can understand or intuit that the Government has seen that the legislature is much more complete with a housing law than without it. And the only possibility was to get it out with Esquerra Republicana and with EH Bildu, not with one of the two, but with both. This has allowed us to raise the bar for negotiations to achieve a law with a markedly progressive character.
I believe that this reflection may have existed in the PSOE. But now it’s the municipal and foral elections; in November or December they are the general ones; next year they are European and in our case autonomous. We live in almost continuous electoral contexts. What are we saying? That everything that is not done in those two years, which is usually the landing of new governments and the implementation of certain dynamics of change, is electoral? If someone does electoralism to improve people’s living conditions, to give people more rights, electoralism is welcome.
Do you think it will be effective in lowering rents? The tenant unions have reproached them for not being a structural reform.
This law is not going to be magical, like no law. EH Bildu would have liked to go much further and surely ERC too. This going further brings us very close to the original demands of both the platforms affected by mortgages and the tenant unions. We have gone as far as possible because we believed that it was preferable for a housing law to be passed than for us to continue in this scenario of deregulation and authentic real estate jungle. With the meeting point we have reached, some issues can begin to be resolved. This law is inspired by the practical experience of Catalan law, which was only in force for two months due to the filing of the appeal to the Constitutional Court. During that time, and this is what the Metropolitan Housing Observatory says, it has been shown that capping rental prices and declaring stressed areas served to lower rents in those places where action was taken. They obviously did not halve, but they held back and stopped any kind of escalation.
The alternative to this law, with the correlation of forces that exists in the Congress of Deputies, is to continue as we are.Continuing as we are is throwing people out of their neighborhoods, it is making people’s life projects go through being 50 years old and having to share a flat, because you have to dedicate more than 50% of your salary to paying rent for a living place. That must be remedied. We did not consider any other option.
One of the holes mentioned by the tenant unions and that Unidas Podemos has tried to address without success with the negotiation of a last-minute amendment was that of tourist rentals.
There is nothing in the law regarding tourist apartments because we would be witnessing a jurisdictional invasion and that would give reason, from [the Madrid president, Isabel Díaz] Ayuso to the PNV or whoever it was to appeal to the TC. And the TC on more than one occasion has indicated that the exclusive competence in housing matters corresponds to autonomous communities and town halls. But things can be done. Palma has done things. The Donostia City Council on March 12, 2023 decided to paralyze the granting of licenses for tourist apartments for one year until it has updated its General Urban Planning Plan, which is an instrument that municipalities have to order urban use in their municipality and That gives them important skills. Since 2017, Bilbao City Council has regulated that tourist apartments can never be above the first floor and if they are on ground floors they have independent access and that there cannot be particularly stressed areas where there cannot be more than one floor per block.
I understand what you are proposing, but what we are talking about is the political will or lack of political will that many governments of different colors have had in many places to enter into the issue of housing, because you have to face real estate investment funds, vulture funds, or because you have to face a public opinion that to a large extent or to a large extent is very jealous of its possessions.
When Unidas Podemos said that it was negotiating an amendment, that it should go out with you and with ERC, was it then a toast to the sun?
I don’t want to put my fingers in the eye so unnecessary. I think it is a very Madrid reading of politics. Here are Ayuso and [the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez] Almeida and I understand that it is difficult to fight copper with such a right-wing intellectual stole. But you cannot claim to co-opt powers because you do not like an autonomous government that undermines the self-government of all areas, not just Madrid, because the day the color of this government changes, the only certain thing will be that the autonomous community or the City Council has a competence that was taken from you and that can be used against you. We have always defended that powers and self-government are best exercised from the bottom up. We do not understand that the solutions come from there. Surely it also has to do with the proximity of an election. There are different lists of the left in Madrid and I suppose that there too each one has to mark their profile, because everyone has a lot at stake.
Is this law a bargain for squatters, as the right says?
When I see the right wing talking about this, I get the feeling that they think that squatting is the easy way to Valhalla or Paradise. Most of the people who are forced to enter a property that they know is not theirs do not do it for pleasure. And by this I do not mean that it is the home of anyone, but rather that it could be that of a bank or a vulture fund and blocks are kicked around by the geography of the Spanish State that are closed. A very good part of what they call squatting occurs because there are evictions. What we have to do is avoid evictions. What we have to do is offer guarantees so that no one, without a housing alternative and with few resources, is forced to have to be a victim of mafias if there were any so that they sublet them I don’t know how, I don’t know what housing, or for anyone have to enter a house.
You also have to tell the right that you are lying with this, as with everything, because this law does not override or invalidate what the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Law have on trespassing and express eviction in 48 hours. And people have to know that when it comes to dwelling, it’s not just the house in which you live. This is not about going down to buy bread, they occupy your house and spend three years to recover your house while your bread has become hard. It is that your dwelling can be up to five and six houses.And that hasn’t changed, not even changed anything about usurpation, which would affect homes that aren’t dwellings because they are entire blocks.
Don’t they know or are they talking about squatters for other reasons?
Basically it is another diversionary maneuver. In the same way that some have used the diversionary maneuver of the invasion of jurisdiction to hide their political positions and not tell people that you agree that this is going as it is and you don’t want to get angry with banks and vulture funds because they You are going to put certain limits to your benefit.
Both you and ERC and Unidas Podemos have recognized that this law could have been more ambitious. If the situation is compared with the gag law, it seems that the same scenario occurred with that law, but the outcome was different.
Or with the labor reform, too, right?
Both with the gag law and the labor reform, we started from an approach that was identical to that expressed by the Socialist Party and United We Can in the electoral campaign of the general elections. Both [the president of the Government] Pedro Sánchez Castejón and [the second vice president] Yolanda Díaz said that the labor reform had to be completely repealed. We stayed there but the PSOE and UP or those who had government responsibilities in those areas decided that we had to stay a few steps below what they promised. And with the gag law, exactly the same. That is what we said in minute one and what we said in minute 90. Those who changed position were others, who decided that even though they would like it, and I have no doubt that they would have liked it, it was not possible to go so far, despite the fact that the numbers gave. You have to show me empirically that you can’t do it if I can put the votes on the table for you.
In housing, the precedents we had were campaign promises that a housing law had to be enacted to guarantee that all people could access housing. Of course, the opposite is ugly. I can’t imagine anyone saying: even if you have the right to a home, I’m going to give it to you because I don’t like you. The precedents were what was done with [ex-minister Miguel Ángel] Boyer, with Felipe González, and another reform that was made during the government of José María Aznar. We knew that we were starting from a scenario where our level of demand towards the Socialist Party was very high, but where the PSOE had to be moved from far behind for what it had done and where we could not pressure it with a breach of an electoral commitment.*100050 *
But reflection can be done in the same way. The good effects that the labor reform is having in terms of permanent contracts or the negative consequences of not having a gag law, even if it were insufficient, continue to exist and will continue to exist, at least until the next legislature.
*100053 * But to that reflection you can do the following. If what has been done is good and increasing severance pay on the left seems to be considered good and the numbers show, why isn’t it done? Taking for granted that what could have been done, even if partial, has not gone in the wrong direction, why don’t we do what was left undone? Who prevents us? You still have to be honest and tell people that a priori the vote of [the president of the employers’ association, Antonio] Garamendi is worth the same as mine, Oskar Matute, but that his ability to coerce the government is much greater than mine. and he can threaten to try to overthrow a government. In Catalonia we saw it with October 1, with the march of companies and with the role of the King and other stories. We don’t usually have a problem telling people the truth. There are people here who are in charge, who do not run for the elections and who decide to set the ceilings and limits to how far things can go.
During this legislature, what has been called the investiture block, or what the founder of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, calls the historical block. Although neither you nor ERC supported it, they have been giving their votes for most of the main government laws in these four years. Podemos understands this as a political strategy for the future that must be consolidated. Do you see it that way?
I would like to make a reflection or, using parliamentary jargon, a transactional amendment or modification to what were the original principles of Podemos. If you go back to 2015 or 15M, you will see that all political science concluded that bipartisanship had to be ended because it meant that things did not change and that power remained in the same hands.Already then we told them that the bipartisanship could fracture in each block into two or three parties, but as long as the balancing factor, the hinge, was from the right, although covered in nationalism, the policies would remain the same.
What has been the historical change? That for the first time we have replaced that faithful of the balance, clearly oriented to the right, which were the CiU and PNV, by another faithful of the sovereignist balance, pro-independence, but from the left. And that has led this legislature to dare to search for spaces where expanding rights is the norm and the obligation of a government that calls itself progressive.
This reflection is still valid and we are willing to maintain that bet. And we do it not because this government has us in love, but because the alternative of the PP and Vox has us terrified. A government of PP and Vox threatens to take away our identity as a people, our rights as a people. As long as we are the faithful of the scale, [the leader of the PP, Alberto Núñez] Feijóo can already kick the April Fair because he is not going to step on the Moncloa. In the end, the phrase that they taught us in training schools about plugs and threads is useful: the left frees and the right tightens.
At a time of reconstruction of the national left, it seems evident that there is a divergence precisely in this strategy. The relationship between Yolanda Díaz and ERC is not good. The vice president has also criticized you for not supporting the labor reform and the deputy spokesman for the UP, Enrique Santiago, a supporter of Díaz, also did the same with the gag law. Are you worried that the leader of that space does not share the strategy of Podemos?
I think that the debate that is taking place on the left to the left of the PSOE is a debate that we are trying to attend from Euskal Herria Bildu respectfully, in moderation, and not interfering. I am not going to point out in this interview elements of judgment that someone can understand that they are trying to push the balance to one side or the other in that struggle that is evident that they are maintaining. But I think that we must also be careful with certain statements, because if someone points out that a rapprochement with EH Bildu or with ERC is not very good, is he wanting us to deduce that with the PNV it is better? I thought we were talking about the space of the left of the Socialist Party, for that I already have others. So, absolute respect and let them debate.
It is good that this space is recomposed, that it is capable of carrying out a project that has continuity. Also from experience. Euskal Herria was born in 2011. It is an amalgamation of political forces with different trajectories, but with the search for a common objective that has been able to go from a minimal program to a solvent and powerful one. And that makes us be perceived as the left of Euskal Herria. I would like that in the Spanish State they have a left in the Spanish State that is capable of making all this transition of fusion and mixing of different ones without for the umpteenth time ending up looking like the parodic element of The Life of Brian with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Judea and the Judaic Front, Popular Liberation.
How do you reconcile this support at the state level with the electoral competition in Euskadi with the left?
When we only talk about competition there is a partial photo. It is clear that we are running in the elections on separate lists and that we are trying to obtain the greatest number of votes possible to validate our ideas, our projects and get closer to our objectives. But we also live together. And in Euskal Herria, for example, there are numerous towns in which EH Bildu has the mayor’s office supported by councilors from Elkarrekin Podemos. Why is there a willingness to point out the element of competition instead of the element of coexistence? Coexistence is more important. If not, ask the people of Durango, Galdakao or Rentería or Arrigorriaga, to cite populations where EH Bildu governs but where we will need the votes of Elkarrekin Podemos to advance majorities against the PNV and the PSE.
I ask you a question similar to what is happening with the PNV, although in this case the struggle is for the independence or nationalist vote, while in Congress they have voted together on numerous occasions and the two forces maintain general support for the Government.
As a general photo, it is likely that one can perceive that we have voted on most things together. But I remember that the PNV has not been very in agreement with taxing large fortunes, with taxing electricity companies or banks.In the end, the PNV is a conservative, right-wing party, no matter how much it fascinates many people on the left in Spain. And Euskal Herria Bildu, with all its imperfections and surely with all the limitations that we can offer, we are a party of the left. Then there is an open struggle in our country, and that is a competition for the leadership of the country.
The PNV in Madrid often shows anger with us. I think because they have the feeling of having lived in a block where they were the only residents. They did and undid as they pleased and they were the only voice in the block. And by the time that other residents have entered that block and that we have entered wanting to do other things, their heritage of being the only voice has run out a bit. The Basque people, like surely any people on the planet, are a plural people.
In an interview with this newspaper at the beginning of the legislature, he spoke of two important issues when assessing the presence of his formation in the Congress and its influence in the Government, the end of the dispersal of prisoners and the right to decide. This March, the transfer of five of the last six ETA prisoners to prisons in Euskadi was ordered. Has your training had anything to do with this government policy? Arnaldo Otegi showed “contained joy” after the decision. Because?
When we conveyed to the bases of Euskal Herria Bildu the commitment to be a relevant political actor in the Spanish State and we asked for their endorsement of this commitment, we set ourselves three objectives. One was to reverse cuts and expand rights in all economic and social matters. The other was to continue deepening the resolution of all the open wounds of the conflict that we have experienced in our country. And one of those wounds is the prison policy of exception for Basque prisoners sentenced as a result of their participation in one way or another in the conflict. And the other element was that of plurinationality or the right to decide.
I think we have managed to get the Spanish government to understand that there could be no exceptional legislation because it damaged the very democratic foundation of a State that presumes to be democratic. And because you cannot talk to someone who is willing to maintain positions that we understand to be illegal or exceptional with regard to prison policy. We think we should be glad that the dispersal is over.
Otegi was referring to the fact that although we had managed to put an end to the dispersion and now all the prisoners are in penitentiary centers of the Basque Autonomous Community or the Navarre Foral Community, what remains, for example, is that the National Court is used as a battering ram to stop grade progressions. Now what remains is that there are no violations of the rights of prisoners in other matters.
Regarding the right to decide, it is an issue that has not been very present in his speeches and proposals in Congress during this legislature. Have you decided to postpone this discussion to talk about other issues?
It has been difficult for us to show a clear line of progress on this matter because we are still experiencing the tidal wave of what happened on October 1 in Catalonia and than he could have guessed. We would like much more progress and not so much in the right to decide as in plurinationality. The proposal made by the Government of Catalonia is very interesting, the Government of the Spanish State should take it into account. Basically it is proposing a democratic cotton test: that the people decide, that they can do it with guarantees, that we do not look for confrontation scenarios, but for negotiation and that we can agree on the rules of the game. We have a challenge for the next legislature.
Do you think that this will be discussed more in the next legislature?
I would like to, but say now that this is going to be the central debate of the future legislature would be to venture a lot, because in the previous one, when we started, we did not think that a COVID was going to hit us and we did, or that a volcano was going to erupt on La Palma and did erupt, or that the exit of the COVID It was going to lead us to a dynamic that has been quite another with the economic crisis.
There is a lot of talk that we are living in liquid times and that we are going to live in an era of uncertainty and instability. Perhaps it is true and asking ourselves now which debate you want to be the central one in two years is not taking into account that we live in a context of continuous instability with issues such as what we are seeing with the drought or all the effects of climate change .
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