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​Press conference by President of the Government following meeting of European Council

Brussels, Friday 20 October 2017

President of the Government.- Ladies and gentlemen, a very good afternoon to you. I appear here before you to report on the ordinary autumn meeting of the European Council.

As contained in the Conclusions Document adopted at this meeting, the issues we addressed were migration, the digital agenda, security and defence, foreign affairs and 'Brexit'. We also debated the future of the European Union and the forthcoming steps to be taken to continue making progress on this integration process.

The European Council gave special importance to the question of migration which constitutes, as you know, one of the main challenges of our time. We positively assess the emphasis given in these Conclusions to the external dimension of the phenomenon and, in particular, to dialogue and cooperation with countries of origin and transit of migratory flows. This approach, which Spain has always advocated, is proving to be effective, as can be seen by the reduction in migratory flows throughout the European Union by almost 70%.

The European Council agreed to closely monitor the routes used in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean in light of the recent increase in migratory flows along these corridors. It also paid close attention to the Central Mediterranean route - the main route of entry into the European Union. In this regard, I had the chance to convey to my Italian counterpart - Paolo Gentiloni - my satisfaction at the reduction in the number of people who have died and in the number of illegal entries over the course of this year.

I would like to highlight that since last year the maritime operations undertaken by the European Union in the Mediterranean, to which Spain, as you know, has deployed significant resources, have rescued 155,000 people.

We also called for an increased in contributions to the Trust Fund for Africa, the main goal of which is to combat the deep-rooted causes of migration, by creating economic opportunities, particularly for young people, and fighting illegal immigration networks in cooperation with our partners. Spain has announced that it will shortly increase its contribution to this fund. We are convinced that illegal migration will continue for as long as Africa is under-developed and suffers a lack of opportunities.

This European Council also dedicated its time, as you know and as I reminded you at the start, to the digital agenda. Digitalisation is a key issue for the competitiveness of our economies and for the well-being of our citizens. Europe cannot be left behind and, to ensure that, it is necessary to take decisions and push on.

An initial debate on these issues took place a couple of weeks ago at the Tallinn Summit, and precisely with a view to that Summit, Spain presented, together with France, Germany and Italy, a document in which we outlined the three basic cornerstones for action.

The first cornerstone is to establish balanced rules, affecting both taxation and the rules in general. At a fiscal level, taxation, we believe, should be the same for products and services, regardless of whether they are digital or not, and furthermore, this should take into account where companies generate profit and not the location of their fiscal domicile.

The second cornerstone is to implement specific actions to boost the digital agenda, for example, in such areas as infrastructures, training and stimulating the creation of European platforms.

And the third cornerstone is to guarantee a secure digital environment that fosters confidence. To achieve this, it is fundamental to suitably regulate the use of data and promote cyber-security.

At yesterday evening's dinner, we also had the chance to talk about trade. Trade is a key element for economic growth and job creation. In this regard, trade agreements are a fundamental instrument. That is why my government advocates the European Union adopting ambitious and balanced trade agreements that extend European standards to the rest of the world. In particular, the trade agreement with MERCOSUR is a priority for Spain, as well as an updated trade agreement with Mexico.

We also addressed, as at previous European Councils, the issues of security and defence. On this occasion, we focused on all those aspects that figure high on the European Agenda, such as permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), which could be established in the coming months and which we hope will boost this renewed common security and defence policy. Since the outset, Spain has been among the most active countries in the definition of this cooperation and seeks to form a part of it. We believe that through PESCO we will be able to better develop our capabilities for European defence and that this will also undoubtedly result in better defence for Spain.

We also tackled the nuclear proliferation crisis caused by the irresponsible conduct of the North Korean authorities. In this regard, we once again strongly urged these authorities to meet the obligations imposed by the UN Security Council and to abandon their nuclear and ballistic programmes.

We also welcomed the recent adoption by the Foreign Affairs Council, on 16 October, of a raft of independent, restrictive EU measures. The Council has acted in this decisive manner to complement and strengthen the sanctions regime established within the framework of the United Nations.

We also addressed the nuclear agreement with Iran. Spain has always defended the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) unanimously approved in Resolution 2231 of the United Nations Security Council. This constitutes a key element in the architecture of nuclear non-proliferation and is fundamental for security in the region. We must continue to firmly monitor its application, which has been satisfactorily verified. The European Union and its Member States have continuously expressed our interest in playing a constructive role in guaranteeing a more stable, peaceful and safer regional environment.

At a working breakfast this morning we held a debate on the future of Europe. This breakfast is part of the Leaders Agenda implemented by President Tusk, which I consider to be a very positive initiative. In recent weeks, we have received other contributions and it is now important - we all think this way - to give a political boost to the most relevant issues for the future of Europe.

My position on this matter is well-known: we need more and better integration. I am convinced that the European Union has been, is and will continue to be a primordial source of well-being for its citizens. We must continue to work to strengthen this and respond to the concerns of EU citizens, such as the fight against terrorism. To this end, the Heads of State and Government have agreed to step up our joint work.

A fundamental challenge to be addressed for the future of Europe is the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union. We must ensure that the Euro works well and that its benefits filter down to everyone. This was highlighted as a priority by President Tusk and I am in complete agreement. The Euro must move towards Fiscal Union, with a common Budget, a Finance Minister and Eurobonds.

On a different note, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the EU's Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, reported to us today on the state of Brexit negotiations, in light of the speech given by the Prime Minister in Florence on 22 September. We welcomed the recent progress made in these negotiations of key importance. We also agreed to evaluate the development of the negotiations at our next meeting in December, in order to determine whether it is possible to start to tackle the framework for future relations and the final transitional measures. In the coming weeks, internal preparations will be made by the EU 27 to that end.

I insisted, as I have done from the outset, that the maximum priority must be the rights and interests of citizens. We must provide them with certainty and minimise the impact of this political decision on their lives. The unity of the EU 27 is fundamental for ensuring the best possible defence of our interests. In this regard, the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has our full support and confidence.

Finally, I wanted to highlight that the possibility was raised at this European Council to activate the European Solidarity Fund to contribute to repairing the damage caused by the wildfires that recently ravaged Portugal and Spain. Prime Minister Costa and I agreed to work together to mobilise this fund. Solidarity is one of the fundamental principles of the European Union. We are going to do everything possible, regardless of the measures that each country may adopt, as and when we see fit - we will do this next week - regardless of this, I repeat, the two prime ministers will do everything possible to receive help in tackling the devastation caused by these terrible fires.

Q.- Carina Verdú, from 'Antena 3 Noticias'. President of the Government, I wanted to ask if you could confirm whether, as Carmen Calvo said this morning, one of the measures that will be applied under Article 155 is the holding of elections in January. Albert Rivera said this morning in Oviedo that it would seem you had agreed that it would be you who made this announcement.

President of the Government.- All the measures that we will adopt, I can tell you in all certainty, I will announce tomorrow.

Q.- Alberto Fernández, from 'La Sexta Noticias'. President of the Government, I would like to know whether you agree with the approach proposed by the Socialist Party to apply Article 155 in a limited fashion.

Furthermore, I would also like to know whether you fear, somewhat, the reaction in Catalonia from public servants, above all. Do you think there may be some kind of resistance on their part?

President of the Government.- In reality, I agree with the Socialist Party, because we reached an agreement. Hence, the measures that I will present tomorrow will be measures that have already been agreed between the People's Party, the Socialist Party, Ciudadanos and the government. Then, each one may classify them as they deem fit and opportune.

The only thing I want to say now is that the main goal of these measures is to return to see the law upheld, because you cannot have one part of a country where the law is not applied, where the law does not exist, and meanwhile, return to a situation of institutional normality. Just imagine, if the Constitutional Court had not intervened, then the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy would not govern in Catalonia. The Regional Parliament remains closed in Catalonia, and hence the opposition MPs cannot speak. I was asked questions in the Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday and I answered questions from different parliamentary groups; but there, in Catalonia, the opposition MPs have been unable to take part for approximately a month and a half now; there are no control sessions and they are unable to ask the Regional Government any questions.

You will appreciate that we must recover legality, because three days ago the Constitutional Court said so, after suspending the Referendum Act, which was in violation of the Constitution. So, this is fundamental because you cannot have a territory where the regional government does not obey the law because, if the regional government does not obey the law, how can it demand that its citizens obey the law? That is a ridiculous situation, and hence, the aim is twofold: to return to legality and recovery institutional normality.

Q.- Jacobo de Regoyos, from 'Onda Cero'. Precisely in order to re-establish the rule of law and see a return to the law being upheld, what is the limit on the use of force by the government? Are there any limits?

President of the Government.- I cannot share the wording of your question: the limit on the use of force. The use of Article 155 does not presuppose the use of force; it is an instrument that is contained in the Spanish Constitution, which is similar to other instruments contained in the Constitutions of different European countries. Hence, I cannot share your meaning.

And the limit, if you are referring to a time limit, is something undetermined as yet; but what is important, as I have said, is recovering legality and institutional normality. As you will be able to perfectly appreciate, this is a measure taken as a last resort. We have been prudent and we have tried to use all possible means to avoid reaching this difficult situation, but you will appreciate that it is very difficult for a country and a government in the European Union, when the law is wiped out, when the rule of law is wiped out, when you have laws that have been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, when this is ignored in its entirety and they still say that their laws remain in force, and referendums are held with absolutely no guarantees… You will appreciate that the situation has reached its limit.

I, quite clearly, do not defend the position of the Regional Government of Catalonia, but, in all honesty, I believe that they have defended their position quite badly; I can say that absolutely frankly, after all the facilities that they have been given. Quite simply, he was asked to state that he had not declared independence, which is a reasonable request, because it is not the same thing for him to have done that as to not have done that. And moreover, we have the Referendum Act, we have articles of the Spanish Constitution that have been overturned and we have countless decisions adopted that violate the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia and the Spanish Constitution. And that, logically, has forced us to act and we are going to act jointly with those parties that represent something throughout Spain, which are the People's Party, the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos. And we have reached this agreement and this conclusion because we had the feeling that this is what some people wanted from us.

I repeat, we have been tremendously prudent, we have thought a great deal about things, we have alerted and warned them, but, if there is something that cannot be accepted in any shape or form, it is that a Regional Government breaks the law in the full awareness that it is breaking the law. To counter that, to do away with this situation, the law itself exists, which, in this case means Article 155 of a Constitution, of our Constitution which, I repeat, is an article that exists in many other European Constitutions for situations of serious harm to the general national interest.

Q.- Ana Pisonero, from the agency 'Europa Press'. President of the Government, does the government fear further violence if Article 155 is finally triggered?

Do you consider that the crisis, or not, with the Belgian Government is now over, which was a little critical of the violence during the referendum?

Lastly, why did you not take the opportunity offered to you by your partners to explain the situation in Catalonia last night, and thus clear away, to some extent, the uncertainty that exists in certain European countries over the situation unfolding in Catalonia, which is a clear challenge to the word of the law? I don't know why the government did not take this opportunity to reassure them.

President of the Government.- The agenda is drawn up, as you know, by the President of the European Council, in other words, by Mr Tusk, and this issue did not appear on the agenda. And I agree that it should not be on the agenda because this is a national affair, a Spanish affair. It would be quite another matter if this issue affected them and concerned the other European leaders, but what everyone has done is support Spain's position, which is quite logical, because the European Union is an integration process and is now our home; this even began before the Treaty of Rome.

The European Union was based on four or five basic principles, which were democracy, the law, the rule of law and respect for rights. And all of this has come under attack in the form of the latest decisions taken by the authorities in Catalonia. They have broken the law and the rule of law is one of the basic principles of the European Union; they have disregarded what is the rule of law, another of the basic principle of the European Union, and they have deprived the opposition MPs of their rights to exercise control over the Regional Government. Just imagine if I decided to close the National Parliament and that no-one could ask me any questions! That would be a scandalous situation. Well, that is what has happened and is still happening, because the opposition MPs are still unable to ask questions or control the government.

So, this is something that goes directly against the basic and fundamental principles of the European Union, which is why no-one should be surprised that the leaders of the European Union support Spain's position.

I have obviously never had a problem with the Belgian Prime Minister. And, I repeat, I don't draw up the agenda but, at any event, I agree that this is a national issue for Spain and hence, this doesn't need to be debated. It is quite another matter that I am grateful for the favourable position adopted by everyone else.

Q.- Do you fear there will be more violence if Article 155 is finally triggered in Catalonia?

President of the Government.- I hope that the authorities conduct themselves in a more responsible manner than on other occasions. That is what I hope for.

Q.- Laia Forès, from the daily newspaper 'Ara'. I wanted to ask you whether, despite Article 155 being triggered, there is any room for dialogue during the coming week, until the Upper house reaches a decision, and whether you intend to meet up with any member of the Regional Government of Catalonia.

Then, also within the framework of this application of Article 155, how can the government justify its intervention in the public media, such as Catalunya Radio and TV-3?

President of the Government.- That we can intervene in what?

Q.- In the Catalan public media.

President of the Government.- Who said that? Who has said that the government is going to intervene in the public media?

Q.- The Spokesperson for the Socialist Group insinuated that you might end up intervening… Do you deny that then?

President of the Government.- No, no. I will not confirm this or deny this. As I said before, we will announce the measures to be taken tomorrow.

I would like to make a comment on the issue of dialogue. Over the course of my life - as, furthermore, is logical; I have been in politics for some years now - I have been criticised for many things. But I believe that I have always had the capacity over the course of my political career for dialogue; I have even had that with some very important leaders in Catalonia. In the year 1996, I was the Minister for the Public Administrations and I was in charge of relations, among others, with the Regional Government of Catalonia and we reached some good agreements for Spain as a whole, and also some good agreements for Catalonia. During that same term of office, we approved a Budget with the support of seven political forces, we agreed to approve many laws and many royal decree-laws.

I have tried to speak on many occasions with my natural opposite number, who is the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, both the present one and the previous one. And believe me that it is very difficult when one of the parties says "either you do what I say or else"; that is very tough. And the proposal that I was given was that I had to give the "OK" for a referendum to be held to in which the citizens of Catalonia were to be asked about the independence of Catalonia. I had to say "Yes" or "No" to this. But I cannot do that, firstly because I simply can't; it is not within my powers to do that. That is why I asked Mr Puigdemont to appear before the Lower House of Parliament, which he declined.

Hence, that is what has happened. We invited him to attend the Conference of Regional President, and he also declined. We invited him to discuss a very important issue for Catalonia by attending the committee on regional financing, and he declined that as well. Then, a working group was set up to outline the new model of financing, and he didn't want to take part either.

When someone doesn't want to take part in any forum and the only thing proposed by the other party is that you must say "Yes", then things are truly very difficult. I cannot accept this referendum, but then I wasn't given any other alternative. That is why I said to you earlier that I believe that things have been handled very badly, and logically, they themselves are responsible for everything that is now happening.

Q.- Natalia Segura, from 'El Punt-Avui'. You just said, Mr President of the Government, that things have been done very badly. The Government of Spain has also done things very badly: on 1 October more than 800 people were injured in Catalonia; we have heard statements from several European politicians condemning the violence by the Guardia Civil, and even Amnesty International has made statements in this regard. Is the Government of Spain prepared to investigate these actions by the Guardia Civil on 1 October?

President of the Government.- I don't know whether you are asking me a question or making assertions and hope that I act as a commentator. I can only state that the State law enforcement agencies met their obligation and have the full support of the Government of Spain and its President.

Q.- María Carou, from 'Radio Nacional'. I wanted to ask you, Mr President of the Government, if the application of Article 155 is irreversible or if there is something that Mr Puigdemont can do during the week ahead for the government to not trigger this article.

Could you tell us, not so much the actual measures, but the areas that you consider to be a priority in order to guarantee this return to legality in Catalonia?

President of the Government.- Article 155 will be triggered tomorrow, as we have said, at the Council of Ministers. The government has made many attempts to find a way out and only asked for one thing in return, which was for him to state whether there was a unilateral declaration of independence or not, through a formal demand, but he chose not to respond. He was given a deadline, and then another deadline. And the President of the Government was criticised on many occasions for not acting sooner.

We have reached this situation because they wanted us to reach this situation and tomorrow, at the Council of Ministers, which is its obligation, the measures will be approved to recover legality. I repeat, that is the goal: to recover legality and to recover institutional normality.

Areas? The only area, in all honesty, and the goal of all of this, is for the law to be upheld. This is not a problem of areas. We are in the 21st Century and we are in Europe, which is an integration process that, as I said earlier, is based on certain values and principles that are very well-known. And suddenly, in Europe… Just imagine if now North Rhine-Westphalia decided to unilaterally declare its independence, of if Alsace decided that, or Lorraine, or any other region in Europe. Do you believe that would be acceptable? Hasn't anyone else thought about that? Things couldn't have been done worse. And logically, States are under an obligation to restore legality.

I already know that there will be many people now who adopt a centre position now. But no, those who are guilty of what is happening are those who have chosen to break the law. That is what led to the illegal referendum and that is what led to the situation that is unfolding whereby more than 1,000 companies, obviously including all the important ones, have already left Catalonia. This may greatly affect economic growth in Catalonia and may greatly affect job creation in Catalonia. But this is the result of the irresponsible decisions taken by some of the political leaders who, at such an important time as this, have been incapable of rising to the occasion. This would probably not have happened with other like-minded people.

But, in the end, when you give in to extremists and radicals, when you accept that the extremists and radicals force you to change your candidate for the Presidency of the Regional Government, then things happen such as now happening in our country.

Thank you very much.

Non official translation