Jordi Hereu home
It is a year since Jordi Hereu became Barcelona’s mayor. He took over the post from fellow Catalan Socialist Joan Clos, who was appointed to the Spanish government by President José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero. At the time, Hereu (appropriately enough, hereu is Catalan for heir) was an unknown entity to many residents, and his was an unexpected new face in command of the Ajuntament. Hereu recently told Metropolitan that he, too, was surprised by the promotion. “The decision of a president is a variable over which you have no control. It was a definite surprise.”
When pressed about whether he had ever envisaged becoming mayor one day, Hereu replied, “As a hypothesis, yes, but I live in the present. I’ve never made plans. I’m very focused on what I’m doing.”
Staying focused on the task at hand is now more important than ever for Jordi Hereu. In May’s municipal elections, he managed to retain the city council for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which has held power there for almost three decades. However, subsequent negotiations with the PSC’s previous allies Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds, saw the former decline a role in the new council and Hereu was left with a minority mandate.
This tenuous position has already shown its potential to undermine his term in office. As early as mid-July, the opposition parties on the council took control of the municipal commission for spending on publicity, an area where they have regularly accused the PSC of excessive outlay. “It’s a typical argument of the opposition, but it’s not true,” Hereu said, adding that he doesn’t have either the time or the inclination to argue with them about it, and, anyway, “Barcelona doesn’t spend any more than other cities.”
He is an amiable, chatty man, and confidently well-versed in the ways of a professional politician. Interestingly, though, when describing his political career Hereu commented in passing that he is uncomfortable with the word ‘professional’. “I would put it as: 30 years of interest in politics—almost a lifetime [starting when he was 12 and witnessed the transition to democracy]; entry into a political instrument, a party, 20 years ago; of those, 10 years in politics more in inverted commas, more as an activity. Then professional dedication for 10 years.”
Those 10 years, which followed seven working in the private sector, saw Hereu on the councils of Les Corts, then Sant Andreu and Gràcia. He was 41 when he took over from Clos, the same young age as Pasqual Maragall was when he became Barcelona mayor in 1982 (like Hereu, Maragall took power when his predecessor was summoned by Madrid). And it’s quickly clear that Hereu has been asked many times whether he intends to follow in the footsteps of Maragall and run in the future for the presidency of the Catalan autonomous government.
“For me, this position [as mayor] is not a stepping-stone to anywhere else. You can believe me or not. It’s very clear to me. People say that local politics is a halfway house, a school for general politics. In my case, local politics makes sense on its own terms: it’s the politics that interests me.”
It does not seem like false modesty when he claims not to have a long-term grand plan. But he does have plenty of plans for dealing with current concrete issues such as the AVE, a subject he’d rather speak about than how he would like his term in office to be remembered (“as mayor of a project…”) or what he plans to do ‘after politics’ (“there are people who, when they move from one place to another, reserve a space for themselves in the original place. I didn’t.”). His firm views on building the AVE high-speed train track through the centre of the city, however, show that he has embraced his present post with gusto.
On this particular issue, he seemed almost bemused by all the opposition, arguing that the tunnel will not run under residential buildings, but rather under the middle of the street and that the work involved is exactly the same as that being done to build new, and extend existing, metro lines. “I see it as another city project. There’s no reason that it should be done differently… I’m confident that we have the capacity to do things well.”
This is not the first time that Hereu has maintained his convictions regarding unpopular decisions. On September 8th last year, the day he took over as mayor, it’s probably fair to say that those people who were familiar with his work knew him either as the architect of the controversial Àrea Verde residents’ parking scheme or for his enthusiastic use of the security forces for surpressing unrest such as that seen on occasion at the Gràcia festa major. However, while Hereu is not afraid to face detractors over his ways and means, he is also thoughtful about less provocative issues, such as how it is to live in Barcelona as a foreign resident. “People love living here… but you have to work at it.”
Previously there were just residents and visitors, Hereu said, but now a new group has appeared that he describes as the ‘global resident’, who moves around the world as people previously moved within their country, and who may or may not want to put down roots here. Hereu appreciates the traits brought by these residents—“knowledge, energy, ideas”—and reflected on what Barcelona was doing for them in return. “We don’t have a tradition as a global city, but I think that it’s progressively become more global and I’m sure that we have to continue developing and evolving in certain respects.”
And what does Barcelona’s mayor think about foreigners learning Catalan? “For me, it all depends on what plan you come here with… and whether you want to capture the reality of the city. You can get by with Spanish. And if you really want to live the full reality here, you have to learn Catalan,” he said, whilst emphasising that even without Catalan it is still possible to make one’s life here. “It’s about when you have time and if you have time. There are free schools where you can go to learn Catalan. And it’s good to learn it.”
Whatever twist of fate—or party politics—it was that brought Jordi Hereu to this office 12 months ago, he seems both pleased to have the opportunity, and wrapped up in the work it brings. As he himself said, “I’m not thinking of anything else apart from Barcelona.”