Manuel Valls, French prime minister between 2014 and 2016, was the invited speaker at a symposium organised by SUR at the Hotel Barceló in Malaga last week.
The politician, who was born in Barcelona in 1962, has been linked with a return to frontline politics as the possible future mayor of his birth city in an attempt to head off the Catalan independence movement.
"The real debate now is between democracy and populism," he said, with reference to the Catalan crisis. "As a European I can say that Spain is a major country. Its language is spoken by 500 million people worldwide, and it is one of the oldest nation-states, alongside France and Great Britain. If Spain breaks up, so does Europe."
This is what he says has brought him into the debate over Catalonia: "I thought that neither European nor Spanish leaders realised the risk that Catalan nationalism posed."
Valls was answering questions put to him by SUR editor-in-chief Manuel Castillo and spoke following speeches by businessman Félix Revuelta and president of the Cajasol foundation, Antonio Pulido.
From the first moment, Valls made clear his commitment to the European project: "Europe has been and is a project dreamed up to put an end to wars and quarrels. For the most part, the countries share values and a view of the world; the role of the Union has to represent peace, freedom, progress, culture and a state of wellbeing."
Valls, however, admits that the project is being threatened by populism and - especially- democracy.
"It is the responsibility of us all to look at it carefully and to offer political solutions. We need collective answers allow Europe to get out of the trenches and to develop."
A platform for Barcelona
The possibility of the former French PM running for mayor in Barcelona, therefore, dominated much of the discourse.
Though he refused to confirm whether he had been tempted by Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera's offer to be the party's representative in the 2019 elections, Valls stated his belief in seeking an agreement between pro-unity parties to "create a project for the city that brings optimism".