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Statements by President of the Government prior to the investiture of the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and the former Speaker of the Lower House and European Commissioner, Manuel Marín, as honorary doctors

Salamanca, Monday 13 November 2017

President of the Government.- Ladies and gentlemen, a very good day to you and thank you very much for attending this press briefing.

I would like to say what an honour it is for me to be in a city such as Salamanca today, here at the university. It will be 800 years old next year. This is the oldest university in Spain, with a tremendous renown, as well as one of the oldest in Europe. I had the opportunity to be here a year ago, precisely when the preparations began for the events to celebrate this 800th anniversary. In the end, this has been celebrated at the start of this university academic year.

Hence, for me it is an honour and a cause of satisfaction to be here, once again, at Salamanca University in the very heart of the city. It is also an honour because we are celebrating a very important event here today, the granting of honorary doctorates to two people who I have a tremendous appreciation for:

- Manolo Marín, who has done a great deal for Europe since back in 1982, when he held the portfolio for European affairs under the first government of Felipe González. He was a European Commissioner and then the Speaker of the Lower House from 2004 to 2008. I am told he cannot attend on this occasion, but his family will be here. But, at any event, I also want to pay tribute to someone who is a great pro-European and who has worked very hard on this great project, the most important in recent centuries in all of our peer countries, which is the European integration project.

- Secondly, I also want to express my satisfaction at the University of Salamanca granting Jean Claude Juncker an honorary doctorate. Jean Claude Juncker, as you know, is the current President of the European Commission. He has had many responsibilities, not just as Prime Minister of Luxembourg, but also as President of the Eurogroup on many occasions, and he has been one of the people who have worked the hardest to the benefit of the European Union and the integration process. He continues doing that to this day, as many of us can see, fortunately, and he does so with great intensity. Hence, my warm congratulations go to Jean Claude Juncker.

I also want to thank Jean Claude Juncker for the European Commission's support for the Government of Spain, and, above all, for Spain and the people of Spain at this very difficult time we have had, and indeed, are still going through. Jean Claude Juncker has supported the actions of the Government of Spain, he has declared his respect for our Constitution, for our laws and for our judicial system, and that is most assuredly most comforting.

It is most comforting because what have been brought into question in Catalonia recently have, above all, been European values - the value of democracy, the value of the rule of law and the value of legal certainty; three values which are undoubtedly fundamental, which are the very essence of the European construction project, and which were subject to attack, although it has been duly substantiated that the State is capable of defending itself from those who wish to destroy it and those who wish to run roughshod over the law.

This is undoubtedly very important because all the countries in the European Union, 100% of them, have supported the decisions that have been adopted, and have supported the territorial integrity of Spain. That is very comforting. Both the Government of Belgium and the Flemish Parliament did this yesterday, as you are aware, by a vast majority.

So, and I will summarise what I have said; what is taking place here today is primarily a European event; primarily European because the people awarded an honorary doctorate - Manolo Marín and Jean Claude Juncker  - have devoted a good part of their lives to this European integration process, and this university is today a home to all Europeans and will increasingly be so in the future. And it is also a primarily European event because today we are defending here the values we believe in and which have made Europe what it is today - the most important region in the world in terms of democracy, liberty, respect for human rights, economic and social progress, and the care of people.

Thank you very much and I will now take any questions, should you have any.

Q.- The European Commission has maintained its growth forecasts for Spain, but has warned of the risks if the situation of instability persists in Catalonia. Is the government afraid…?

President of the Government.- I am not sure if you heard your colleague's question. For those of you who didn't hear it, I am asked about the forecasts by the European Commission and by the fact that the Commission has stated today that the events unfolding in Catalonia may affect the Spanish economy as a whole. I will give you my opinion on this matter.

In principle, the European Union has raised the growth forecasts for Spain. It has said that we will grow by 3.1% this year, in 2017, well above the European growth average, and it has said that next year growth will stand at 2.5%. The forecasts made by the Government of Spain are similar, at 3.1% for this year; but we have lowered our growth forecast for next year from 2.6% to 2.3%, precisely taking into consideration that these events may cause problems in the future.

There are some things that we are seeing - such as the number of companies fleeing Catalonia - that are bad news; tourism has been affected, some institutions have also been affected, as has trade, an area in which we have seen some truly worrying statistics today, and it may end up transpiring that we do indeed need to lower the growth forecast for next year. But, at any event, the main goal, which I believe should be a common and national goal, is that, after the elections on 21 December, things return to normal.

The goal, at least the government's goal, and I understand that the goal of most people, is that after 21 December we begin an era of calm, of normality and we begin an era in which co-existence is recovered, and hence, the economy can continue with the rate of growth we have enjoyed in recent times.

The latest figures on job creation for October - those of the Social Security system - are of 90,000 more jobs throughout Spain; but, of course, the increase in Catalonia has only been by 1,900, while in Madrid and the Region of Valencia, for example, the figures stand at above 30,000 new jobs. That is not good for Catalonia, and nor is it good for Spain as a whole and that is the challenge that we are all facing now.

I hope that on 21 December we will begin a new era, I believe that what we need to do now is look to the future and I believe that what people want to see is a period of calm, with our companies working well, making a profit, hiring people and, in short, that the well-being and wealth of the Spanish people, and particularly the people of Catalonia, is not prejudiced. But, at any event, that is one of the figures we have recently seen.

Q.- Returning to the situation in Catalonia, the members of the Board are giving testimony today; this would seem to be a change of strategy and they are responding, for example, to the Public Prosecutor. I don't know what you think about this change of strategy and if you believe it could…

President of the Government.- I am the President of the Government and I believe that the best contribution I can make is to respect the decisions of the judiciary. Hence, I respect what the members of the Board of the Regional Parliament of Catalonia do today and I also respect the actions by the Public Prosecutor's Office and the judges, and obviously their decisions; but allow me not to go into further detail, because it does not fall to me to do so. It falls on me to take decisions that fall to the government; it falls to Parliament to control the government and support it, if it deems this fit and opportune, or censure it if not, and the judges have those tasks assigned to them under our Constitution, which I respect, whatever their decision may be, whether I like it or not.

Q.- (Inaudible)

President of the Government.-  The government always has all the outcomes in mind, but it is not the government's role to voice its opinion on events that are only future possibilities. What the government has to do is state its position and our position, I repeat, is that 21 December is a very important date and that, hence, it is very important for a mass turnout, for everyone to vote and be aware - this is always said, but in this case it is clear - that these are decisive elections. Hence, I hope that people exercise their right to vote and I hope that from here we can move to a situation of moderation, of calm, and of course one in which everyone meets their obligations as Spaniards and as Europeans, the first of which is to obey the law which, at the end of the day, means our rules of co-existence that respond to the will of the majority.

Thank you very much.

Non official translation