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Press conference by President of the Government following African Union-European Union Summit

Spanish Embassy, Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Thursday 30 November 2017

President of the Government.- Good day to you all and thank you very much for attending.

As you are aware, I have taken part in the 5th African Union-European Union Summit here in Abidjan.

The holding of this summit reminds us that relations between the European Union and Africa are very close. The EU is the leading donor to Africa, contributing half of all international development cooperation allocated to the continent, as well as its leading trading partner and main investor. The European Union will also contribute close to half of the Budget of the African Union for next year.

These strategic relations are not limited to economic affairs, but also extend to peace and security. Of the 33 EU missions of a civilian or military nature, 19 have been deployed on the African continent, and almost 17,000 African servicemen and more than 10,000 African police officers have been trained by the European Union since 2010.

During my time here in Abidjan, I have had the chance to visit the patrol vessel "Infanta Cristina", deployed to strengthen stability and security in the Gulf of Guinea. I would like to highlight the extraordinary work carried out by Spanish servicemen on the missions deployed on the continent, such as in Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Gabon and Senegal. I would like to thank all of them for their hard work in protecting us and in offering African citizens a safer and better future.

This summit has focused on young people. The population of Africa is young and is growing quickly. Close to 70% of its population is under the age of 30. The total population of Africa is close to 1.2 billion people, representing 15% of the world's population, and this is expected to rise, according to estimates from the United Nations, to 2.4 billion by the year 2050, in other words, 26% of the world's population.

Africa has experienced major growth in recent years, but this however is insufficient. The continent is creating 3 million jobs a year, when it needs to create between 15 and 20 million. To achieve this goal, the European Union External Investment Plan, which we have presented and set in motion here will be essential. Through this European Commission initiative, which received the unanimous support of the Member States, we hope to mobilise more than 44 billion euros of investments on the African continent. The partnership initiative for Africa developed by the German Presidency of the G-20 is also important.

These instruments are in addition to those that already exist, such as the Trust Fund for Africa, which the Member States of the European Union have undertaken to strengthen and, in the case of Spain, I am pleased to confirm to you that we have agreed to increase our contribution to this fund by 6 million euros, fundamentally to be allocated to cooperation projects with Niger.

I have had the honour of representing the European Union at the work session on "Migration and Mobility" as the keynote speaker. During my speech, I had the opportunity to thank Morocco for the country's excellent level of cooperation on migration and in the fight against organised crime, as well as that of such other countries in the region as Mauritania, Algeria and Senegal. Yesterday I had the chance to speak with the President of Senegal.

I was also able to outline the principles of Spanish immigration policy, which to a certain extent, has inspired the new immigration policy of the European Union: first and foremost, the importance of combating the root causes of migration. As long as there is poverty, human rights are violated and young people lack opportunities, migratory movements will continue.

I also mentioned one figure which we often forget in Europe: 80% of the movements of migrants and refugees take place on the African continent, and five of the ten countries with the most refugees are in Africa. Hence, we must acknowledge their efforts and difficulties.

We have seen some very moving images on television in recent days. I expressed my profound indignation and condemnation of the brutal attacks on the dignity and the rights of individuals committed by the people trafficking mafias in Libya. We must work together to bring this scourge to an end and ensure the humanitarian repatriation of those immigrants that are in Libya.

Yesterday, as you know, we held a meeting attended by the President of the French Republic, the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of France and the President of the Government of Spain - myself - together with some prime ministers of certain African countries. We agreed - for the purposes of bringing to an end the serious events unfolding in Libya against the dignity of individuals - to set up a joint European Union-African Union-United Nations working group as soon as possible - the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, also attended this meeting - to support the International Organization for Migration and countries of origin in identifying and subsequently repatriating, with full respect for human rights, the immigrants that are in the attention centres in Libya. The authorities of this country have assured us - the Prime Minister was also in attendance - that we could count on their full collaboration.

I also expressed to the African and European leaders my conviction that we are facing an historic responsibility, one of the major challenges of our time, and that the achievement of a fundamental goal, both for Europe and for Africa, of ensuring safe, regular, orderly migration, tackling the problem at source through cooperation and a sincere commitment to the future of Africa, which is now upon us, depends, to a large extent, on the capabilities, prudence and responsibility of us all.

During the course of the summit, I also held a bilateral meeting with the President of Senegal, a country with which we have wonderful relations - I have visited Senegal and the President also visited H.M. the King and me on his visit to Spain - and also with the President of the European Parliament, Mr Tajani. And at yesterday's meeting, I had the chance to exchange points of view on the issue of migration with the Presidents of Niger, Chad, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea Conakry.

In short, by way of summary, Europe and Africa are tied by our geography, by our history, by human and affective ties, and also, and this is the most important issue, by our future. I am convinced that the work undertaken at this summit will serve to strengthen cooperation between our continents to the benefit of our citizens and, above all, to the benefit of our young people.

I am ready to take any questions. Go ahead.

Q.- If you don't mind, I will move straight on to Spanish politics, because I wanted to ask for your assessment of the fact that Podemos will unite its votes, its MPs, with the pro-independence forces to lodge an appeal against Article 155 in the Constitutional Court.

President of the Government.- Everyone is free to do whatever they deem fit and opportune; but I should remind you that Article 155 of the Constitution is an absolutely democratic article: it is contained in our Constitution, it was approved by the vast majority of the Spanish people when we approved our Constitution, it is an article that exists in almost all constitutions throughout Europe and it is an article that is only applied in exceptional circumstances. You will appreciate that the circumstance of someone unilaterally declaring independence of part of a country is an exceptional circumstance.

I would like to know what those people that are going to lodge an appeal before the Constitutional Court would like us to do. A regional parliament states that the Spanish Constitution does not prevail there, nor the Statute of Autonomy; it invents a new parallel legality; it removes from the Spanish people the right to decide on their own country; it doesn't allow those in opposition in the regional parliament to exercise their right to opposition; it declares independence and it would seem that Podemos and some others want us to do nothing. You will appreciate that something so ridiculous makes no sense.

I believe that we did what we had to do. We did this proportionally, democratically, with the majority support of the Upper House of Parliament, and we have called elections. In all honesty, I believe that this is the least we could have done and what everyone now has clear, fortunately, is that the State can defend itself and that, when someone attacks it, and attacks the very essence of the State and what is entrenched in the souls of the Spanish people, the State will always act because that is its obligation.

Q.- In this regard, the candidate for the Socialist Party of Catalonia - PSC - Miquel Iceta, has said today that his election manifesto will include a proposal to create a regional treasury in Catalonia to collect local Catalan taxes. What do you think of this proposal and do you believe that proposals of this type could put the brakes on the escalation of the pro-independence movement to some extent?

President of the Government.- One thing needs to go forward first: I respect Mr Iceta a great deal and he has fought a battle, together with the leaders of the People's Party and of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, that hasn't been easy in recent times. He has supported Article 155, which we have just mentioned, and hence he has all my respect, which does not mean that I don't agree with the proposal he has made this morning.

I believe that we have a very clear idea of the model of regional financing in Spain. The model of financing must be agreed upon between all of the regional governments. In fact, that is already happening at this time. I called a Conference of Regional Presidents which was not attended by the then-President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, Mr Puigdemont - he didn't attend because he didn't want to - we then set up a group of experts to draft an opinion, which has now been issued, and there is a working group on which each autonomous region has a representative, except Catalonia, because it didn't want to be represented there; the rest of the Spanish regions have a representative.

Hence, I believe that it is there, where it has always been over the last 40 years, that regional financing should be discussed. I believe that a wonderful opportunity exists to talk there, but that here it is not a question of resolving specific issues for each party because, if each one starts to ask for something different, then we may have a very serious problem, among other things, because the petitions may be contradictory and, when they are contradictory, they are impossible to resolve.

And I have said on some other occasions that the best model of regional financing is the model agreed between all concerned because, logically, things are seen in a different light depending on which region they are viewed in. In all honesty, I believe that the best way to resolve the problem of regional financing is between us all, as we have always done. Listen, this is a model which, despite all its difficulties, hasn't worked badly.

Q.- You have spoken about Spain's model of immigration that it has exported to the European Union. I wanted to remark to you that there is a wave of immigrants arriving on Spanish shores at this time - hundreds, even thousands of immigrants - and some are losing their lives on the way. I wanted to know if you don't think that this model has failed and ask whether it is necessary to revise it now; in other words, if the Spanish model needs updating as a result of the new wave of arrivals taking place here.

If you will allow me another question, also related to domestic affairs. There is a lot of talk about reforming the Constitution and I wanted to know whether the Constitution will be reformed in this legislature in your opinion. Are you prepared to allow a reform of the Constitution in what remains of this term of office?

President of the Government.- I believe that the Spanish model has worked well, and evidence of that can be seen in the approach now being adopted by the European Union. I believe that the Spanish model responds to what is pure common sense. People do not abandon their own country because they want to or because they are bored; people abandon their own country, especially young people, because they can't find any opportunities in their own country, when their future is non-existent and they perceive a lack of any future. Then logically, they want to leave and go to other countries - 20 is the normal age to leave - to carve out a life and live with dignity.

That, if it is done in a disorderly fashion creates problems, in this case, for European countries; but this is also terrible for African countries, because their best people leave, their young people, the people who are in the best condition to work, the people that can push the country on. No-one leaves their own country when they are 80 years told.

Hence, this is a very important issue, and moreover, as things have played out, people have died in the Mediterranean Sea and in many other places, as you are aware.

I believe that the Spanish model has worked but, of course, it is impossible to have a success rate of 100% here. I remember when 40,000 people a year were arriving in the Canary Islands but now, fortunately, not as many as 100 arrive there but of course we don't know what will happen in the future. People have arrived from Algeria recently, but we are looking at figures that are easy to take on board if you compare them with the figures from some years ago.

However, the number of people seeking asylum is growing a great deal and, as regards these asylum-seekers, the greatest number of petitions for asylum is coming from Venezuelans, with Syrians in second place. We received 20,000 petitions for asylum last year, whereas the number for previous years was much lower.

Hence, what we have to do, I repeat, and we must persevere in this, and this is not something that can be resolved overnight, is help those African countries to effectively fight poverty and ensure economic growth, to help raise standards of living. I have given you some figures on the future population of Africa, which should make us all think. We must help them so that people can earn a living in a dignified fashion in their own country, which is what the vast majority of people want, and to ensure that standards of living are raised.

We must work together to fight the mafias, which is what we are going to do now in the case of Libya, which was the subject of yesterday's meeting. You will have seen, as I did, the sinister images broadcast on television, that are unworthy of the world in which we live, in which people are belittled, as are their rights and dignity in a truly incredible fashion.

We must fight this battle together, between the African and the European authorities and, following that, there must be orderly and legal immigration. There are many places in Europe where people are needed at any given time; but there must be agreements on this, as are being made so that people go there, work and then return to their own country or stay there under certain given conditions.

Hence, I believe that the model is a good one. Now, to look for the number of people who travel from one place to be zero, well that is very complicated.

The next issue - the reform of the Constitution - whether this will be undertaken in this term of office. I believe that what is important is for people to tell us what parts of the Constitution they want to reform. If they want to reform one thing, and that is logical, sensible and everyone supports it and looks on it well, then this can be reformed at any given time; but, of course, what you can't talk about is reforming the Constitution without us firstly knowing exactly what the reform is that we are going to undertake, what it is that needs to be reformed and why it needs to be reformed.

I can state that we are open to this. In this case, a committee has been set up to assess the functioning of the State of the Autonomies over recent years and, in light of the conclusions reached by this committee we will decide on whether it is necessary to reform it or not and we will see what needs reforming. I am not in a position to say, until such time as I know exactly what needs to be reformed, whether it will be done in this term of office or not.

Q.- President of the Government, I don't know whether you can give us a little more information about this action plan you mentioned was agreed yesterday for Libya. Can you give us some more information about Spain's contribution, about whether police officers will be sent or what exactly we are talking about?

As regards the model of regional financing you mentioned it us, the plan at the Conference of Regional Presidents was to approve this before the end of the year. Can you give us a date? When do you think this might be approved by?

President of the Government.- You are all perfectly aware of the situation in Libya at this time. It is very difficult to reach an understanding, for the reasons you are aware of, with the Libyan authorities, although yesterday its Prime Minister was with us and undertook, as far as he could, to collaborate with the European Union and with the African Union.

What will Spain's contribution be? This is a tripartite agreement, between the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations. So, Spain will participate as a member of the European Union's delegation and it will take a very active part because this is an issue that is important to us, that affects us, and we intend to resolve it, above all, because this is a problem we are familiar with as we have lived with it for many years now. Hence, Spain will play a very active role.

This will have to be a plan that has short-term and medium- and long-term measures. The short-term measures must fundamentally be to do away with the dreadful situation that has infolded there and which, I repeat, we have all seen on television, where the mafias are trafficking human beings as if they were objects, without respecting any rights or their dignity as human beings.

So, what we intend to do is ensure the European Union and the African Union repatriate all these people to their countries of origin, which is what they want at this time; I repeat, with the collaboration of the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union.

That is the most urgent issue because this is an issue that, I repeat, affects the dignity of human beings and then, work must be done in the medium and in the long term. The medium- and the long-term plan is related to what I said to you earlier: these phenomena will continue to take place until such time as people can live a dignified life in their own country. That is logical. Someone who is 18 or 20 and hasn't had the chance to study, who has no future on the horizon, who has no qualifications and who thinks that no-one is going to give him or her a job; that person sees that in France, or in Italy, or in other countries, there are people who go there and things end up turning out well for them there, and so they are then willing to risk their life because what they have here doesn't allow them to live.

The question is to continue improving cooperation and, above all, to continue boosting economic growth and job creation. We sometimes do not realise that there are already many Spanish companies working here, there are many agreements with local business leaders and the question is to achieve what we are all aspiring to do - create a society with a high level of well-being and wealth, which can be helped with money and training.

And it is good to have an institutional framework; in other words, all countries have to have their own police force, their army and their institutions that function well. We must be effective in the fight against poverty; we must demand that the human rights of individuals are respected - another of the reasons why many people leave their own country - but that is an issue somewhat more for the medium and long term, and persevere with what is already being done. In other words, things are being done through a great deal of hard work.

I have had the chance to say on some occasions that the European Commission is now taking things seriously and that [Jean Claude] Juncker and [Federica] Mogherini are doing things well. This is an issue that I remember, back when I was the Minister for Home Affairs, that I raised there, because this is an issue that we could see out there, and it still exists. Not long ago we saw how there were hundreds of thousands of people arriving from Syria, coming through Turkey, arriving in Greece and this caused a very complicated situation in the European Union.

A date for completing the model of regional financing? I don't know. I want to agree on the model of financing, it is my intention to do so, because this is a model of financing that we need to agree on, at least with the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers' Party] and it would also be good for Ciudadanos to sign up to it. I say "at least with the PSOE" because we have 137 seats and with this number we cannot approve the model of financing, and also because the PSOE governs in several autonomous regions, and hence it is necessary that the Regional Government of the Balearic Islands, of Andalusia and of Valencia are in agreement, as well as those governments in power in Madrid, Castile and Leon and Extremadura.

Hence, what I am seeking is unanimity but it is very important that if we want a model of regional financing for the PSOE to agree on this with us because, I repeat, we cannot do this with 137 seats; we need 176.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation