María Guardiola (Cáceres, 1978) has served 15 days at the head of the PP of Extremadura. She reaches the first political line from the City Council of Cáceres, although she had high-ranking responsibilities in the Government of José Antonio Monago (2011-2015), whom she replaces in the Presidency of the party. She appears natural, with an almost constant smile and with a fairly moderate speech, despite the fact that there are those who hastened to baptize her as ‘the Extremaduran Ayuso’ as soon as it became known that she was the candidate, first by Pablo Casado and then by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, for Extremadura.
You are the first woman to reach the Presidency of the regional PP, you could become the first woman to preside over Extremadura and you have formed an executive with a majority of women. Is it a statement of intent or is it a coincidence?
The Popular Party has always had many very good members and many very good women who, perhaps, have not dared to take the step, have not seen the moment. I think it is good that women give an example that we can be in the political front line and that we can do politics from the feminine, that not only women have it, men also have it. Do politics from sensitivity, empathy, solidarity or teamwork.
He talks a lot about the renewal of the party, which is true that there has been some, and constantly defends a new way of doing things. Could it be interpreted as a motion of censure against the PP that Monago directed until two weeks ago?
Changes are always good, but when you spend a lot of time in the same place you get away from the real perspective of things. The previous leadership had been there for 14 years and did fantastic things: Monago was our party’s first president of the Junta de Extremadura and he did things very well. But it is also true that the party needed one more revolution, a change, and it is important that we women take this step, that we learn to work in a different way, that we get much closer to the street and that we open a process to listen to the citizenship.
You have made reference to the fact that Monago had been in the leadership of the PP for almost three decades and this week, after being received by Guillermo Fernández Vara, you said that you had seen an exhausted president. In addition, his partner Laureano León has demanded that a new generation be made way in Extremaduran politics. You are 44 years old, are you playing the PP with age as a strategy?
It has nothing to do with it. I am a young woman, with a lot of strength, but in my team there are older people with the same strength as me. It is not a question of age, it is a question of desire, freshness and power in politics. Guillermo Fernández Vara is exhausted but not because of his age. He is because he has been sitting on a Governing Council for 25 years and has been carrying out the same policies for 25 years with the same results.
Are you ‘the Ayuso from Extremadura’ as some colleague described you as soon as it became known that you would be the president of the PP in this region?
I’m not. I admire Isabel Díaz Ayuso a lot, what she has achieved, the support of the people of Madrid for her political project, but I am María, a normal woman, perhaps not a typical politician.
Why is it considered so?
I have never been on the front line and this has been a step forward from the conviction, with the clear idea that I can change things because from comfort, of course, people do not advance. We have to get out of the conformism and resignation to which we were accustomed with socialist policies. We have to step forward when there is a chance to really change things, from within. I have wanted to do that and I do it surrounded by a great team.
He has been released in office with two issues that have led Extremadura to be the front page of all the national media: the fires that have devastated the north of Cáceres and the commissioning of the so-called fast train. Are the fires the fault of environmentalists or should we seek an explanation in climate change?
I don’t want to blame. What you have to do is analyze what has happened to correct the errors that have occurred. When I have approached some of the fires and have been able to speak with the mayors and the townspeople, I have perceived that they have the feeling that things are not being done well. Therefore, there has to be a process of deep reflection and not being afraid to change what is not working. In this sense, the forestry policy is quite improvable, the hand of man is important to protect the environment. That is why you have to find that balance and keep in mind that no one is more interested in protecting the natural environment than people who live in rural areas.
Do you think there is an excess of environmental protection?
From my point of view, yes. And it is showing that there are many environmental barriers and we must consider that it is possible to make uses compatible in order to continue growing and converge with the rest of the autonomous communities. It cannot be that everything is protected and that there are activities such as agriculture and livestock that are not possible. Or even hunting.
I am going to enumerate: the hunting, the bulls, the excessive environmental protection, the defense of the luxury urbanization Isla de Valdecañas, another look at the lithium mine project in the city of Cáceres… To the PP and the PSOE of Extremadura there are more issues that unite them than those that separate them.
Of course there are many things that unite us. But there is an important difference: I like to talk about realities and I am more into working than announcing. I like projects that are true and not the small models that we are used to. We are tired of hearing wonderful macro-projects that never arrive and that causes frustration in Extremaduran society.
It is a good starting point to talk about the start-up of the new train between Badajoz and Madrid.
The train has been a real embarrassment for our region and I think it shows what we are at a national level: we always arrive late and badly. It cannot be that the president of Renfe comes to Extremadura to tell us that the solution is to adjust travel times so that we do not have the feeling that we are late. It cannot be that and that nothing happens, that nobody resigns and that Mr. Fernández Vara, who represents all Extremadurans, does not raise his voice. We cannot have a socialist government chained to the government of Mr Sánchez because in the end we are all going to sink.
The President of the Government has received three colleagues from his party in Moncloa, the presidents of Galicia, Andalusia and Castilla y León. The need to reform the regional financing model was put on the table, but in his party they do not agree on how: geographical dispersion or population.
Extremadura is going to strongly defend that dispersion and the cost of public services be valued and that is why it must be taken into account that Extremadura has the same surface area as the Netherlands and a small population. If we are trying to fight against depopulation and ageing, we need a good financing system that compensates the cost of living in small municipalities. Fernández Vara promised to raise his voice in Madrid to defend a new model that would benefit us and, so far, I have not heard him joke.