Speech by President of the Government at Debate on State of the Nation


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Lower House of Parliament, Madrid

Mr Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament,

On 20 December 2011, when I appeared before this House to request my investiture, a little over three years ago, I said to you the following, "There is no place for hesitancy when setting priorities in a country in which thousands of jobs are shed as each day passes". "I thus proposed to dedicate the full weight of this government and all the forces of this nation to stop this haemorrhaging of jobs, to stimulate growth and to speed up the return to job creation".

These were the priorities I set out for this term of office which were accepted by this House: to stop the shedding of jobs, to stimulate growth and to speed up the return to job creation.

Hence, it is reasonable to wonder to what extent this commitment has now been fulfilled. To put it another way, what is the state of the nation compared with that which I proposed to this House back then?

There could be no other priorities; at the end of 2011 companies were closing down each day, investment had dried up, there were no perspectives for growth and 3,200 people were losing their jobs every day.

It is quite another thing to imagine it would be easy to tackle these priorities. It was not easy at all: we had to deal with daily spending with an empty cash box; tax revenues had plummeted while debt was growing at breakneck speed; credit was a distant memory; there was very little confidence in our ability to repay loans, and hence our borrowing needs were extremely expensive; remember the escalation of the risk premium; there was even a certain risk of bankruptcy; the threat of a bailout hung over us; we were clear candidates to exit the Euro....... I don't need to stress this, Honourable Members, because, although this might be hard to believe, all of this took place barely three years ago. A bleak, chilly and depressing panorama.

We thus had to put up with a daily battle against those who tried to force us to ask for a bailout. I don't even want to think about what the economic consequences and, above all, the social consequences of accepting a bailout would have been. I will get back to this later.

The fact is that we didn't accept it. We wanted to pull the country out of this rut, restore the productive fabric, halt the shedding of jobs, recover confidence ....., but we also wanted to do this without an external bailout, without ceasing to act as a sovereign nation, without renouncing control over our own destiny and without abandoning all the people of Spain who were unable to cross this desert under their own means.

We had to devote two long years to straightening out that disaster; two tough years of efforts and renouncing other things just to straighten out our accounts. I would remind you, Honourable Members that everything we managed to save went to servicing our debt because no-one knew back then whether we were trustworthy. We had to tighten our belts during those two years, with no other support than hope because, as you would expect, we paid the price but reaped no benefits.

In reality, Honourable Members, and from the perspective of the benefit of hindsight and the clear change in situation, it is only fair to acknowledge that the Spanish people have paid a very high price to be reminded of certain basic principles that should never again be forgotten; principles such as not spending what you don't have, not living off other people's money and that the money you borrow must be counted very slowly and cautiously.

The point is that, despite all sorts of difficulties, we have managed to recover confidence, credit and, above all, job creation. I will not list all the facts and figures that you are already aware of. I will just give you a few figures that reflect the situation in the objective and undeniable manner where the numbers speak for themselves.

Jobs were shed over the course of six years; they are now starting to be created. In 2013, employment was still falling by 3.3%. In 2014, it grew by 0.8%, Net job creation affected 440,000 people. This, quite simply, means that we have turned the situation around, Honourable Members. We have stopped the rot, we have stopped shedding jobs and we are now opening the door to job creation which was exactly what we proposed at the start of this legislature, but which, for some, seemed unattainable.

Honourable Members,

Spain started this recovery by looking overseas, and by recovering competitiveness. Our exports grew even at the worst of times and helped us to better survive the tough years of 2012 and 2013. At today's date, exports represent close on 33% of the Spanish Gross Domestic Product. They have increased by more than any other G-7 economy, with the exception of Germany.

We have balanced out our foreign trade debt and halted the spiral of increasing debt that was suffocating us. Spain, which grew for years as a result of spiralling foreign debt, now produces and sells sufficient goods and services to finance all our imports. That, Honourable Members, has not happened since 1998.

This did not happen by chance, not did anyone give this to us for free. The number of companies that regularly export has grown by more than 22% since 2011. Many of our entrepreneurs started their overseas adventure through a process that there is now no going back on. The Spanish economy is increasingly more internationalised and has laid the foundations for more founded and diversified development.

This phenomenon has partly come about because our prices have turned us into the most competitive economy in the Economic and Monetary Union, even surpassing Germany. Our products are attractive due to their quality, but also due to their price, something we had lost in the not too distant past.

We recovered overseas confidence when international investors saw that Spain was competitive and could sustain itself without becoming indebted. The risk premium started to fall: we have gone from more than 635 basis points in 2012 to little more than 100 points now - in reality, it currently stands at a little below 100. There are those that would say that this was a gift from the European Central Bank, but all the measures in the world offered by the European Central Bank would have been of no use if Spain had continued to be a country with a very low level of competitiveness. There is a good example, currently in the headlines, that very clearly goes to show what I have just said; but fortunately, this has not been the case in our country thanks to the raft of structural reforms we have approved during the course of this legislature.

Honourable Members,

In mid-2013, a year and a half into the current term of office, we achieved what many thought was unfeasible - Spanish economic activity started to grow, reversing the trend of economic recession inherited from the previous government. And our economy has now been growing month-on-month for the last year and a half. We closed 2014 with an increase in our Gross Domestic Product of 1.4%. This was the first year to see growth since the start of the crisis.

Furthermore, our expansion is no longer simply a product of our foreign trade sector; households and companies have recovered both confidence and their capacity to consume and invest. Domestic and foreign demand are converging, and the goods and products produced by the Spanish people are sufficiently attractive to cover both areas of demand. Spanish households are now perceptibly seeing an increase in their budgets, as can be shown by the figures on retail sales, car registrations and new mortgages. All of these are enjoying clear growth. Consumer confidence, measured by different indices at both a national and international level, are at record highs. There is renewed optimism in terms of Spain's expectations.

Thanks to the restructuring of the financial system, credit, or better put, the lack of credit, these chains that restrained us over the last few years, are now falling away: in 2014, new operations by small- and medium-sized enterprises with financial institutions rose by 9%, the largest percentage increase since the start of records back in 2004, and moreover, the associated costs have fallen considerably.

In short, Honourable Members, the culmination of this process is job creation. 2014 is the first year of the crisis, the first year, since 2006, in which jobs have been created and unemployment has fallen. With the figures from January 2015, we can now say that there are 74,000 fewer recorded unemployed than in the first month of this legislature in January 2012. And we can also say that, with the Eurostat figures for December, the latest figures published, there are 156,000 fewer unemployed in Spain than in the first month of this legislature. Furthermore, according to the Labour Force Survey, half of the jobs created in 2014 were under a permanent employment contract.

To put it another way, although there is still a lot to do, we are improving and gaining ground at an ever increasing rate.

And this is sustained and stable growth, with sound bases which - if we don't change course - can be maintained and even speeded up.

  • Spain will meet its deficit targets in line with our European commitments.
  • We will maintain a foreign trade surplus, thus reducing our foreign debt
  • Our prices will continue to fall, thanks to lower petrol prices and the stability of other goods and services, thus helping maintain our purchasing power while allowing us to gain in competitiveness compared with other countries.

Thanks to this and thanks to the efforts from all concerned, between 2014 and 2015, the Spanish economy will create some 1 million net jobs, thus meeting the commitment I made to the people of Spain in this very House.

So, Honourable Members, that is the present situation of the Spanish economy. I no longer need to bring you promises or raise hopes. We are now in a better position; we have solid and tangible evidence that can be measured and counted because they are objective realities.

The state we are debating today is that of a nation that has exited this nightmare, that has bailed itself out, that has recovered economic confidence, that enjoys a good reputation, that is once again attractive for investors, that has reorganised its functioning and that is seeing growth in consumption and investment. A nation in which the wheels of economic activity are starting to turn faster and which - thanks to all of this - is now starting to see job creation and a lower number in the ranks of the unemployed, which was the main objective of this term of office.

Honourable Members,

We did not need a whole decade; I am talking about just three years. That is what it has taken Spain to raise itself up again following its demise. You can only compare the speed of our recovery with the speed in which we previously fell.

Spain has gone from being a country on the verge of bankruptcy to becoming a benchmark in recovery that other countries in the European Union are presently setting their sights on.

Spain is no longer a problem for Europe; it doesn't need a bailout nor does it need to exit the Euro. There is now no talk of that. Spain is no longer in the press headlines, nor in the conversations of European leaders or international institutions, except in a positive sense. Others now have to bear these headlines.

That country we received in ruins is one of the countries that now enjoy most growth in all Europe and the one creating the most jobs. That country which had to take precautions and it was subject to unbearable interest payments when it came to borrowing money, now has all the doors open to it and it is enjoying the lowest interest rates in its history. Honourable Members, today we have issued three-month bonds at a zero percent interest rate.

No other country in difficulties has seen anything like this.

Aside from that, everyone must value things how they deem fit or opportune. I, Honourable Members, respect what those are saying who are not undertaking an election campaign in Spain. Every country in the world and all the international forums are placing Spain as an example of economic recovery, as a result of what it has done and the outlook for the future.

And it is not that they are praising the current situation on its own merits, which would in itself be a great deal; they are praising the current situation in comparison with what we were handed over back then, in other words, they are measuring the quantitative leap we have made from the depths we found ourselves in. That is why the merit seems two-fold to them and they admit as much.

Honourable Members,

The government has done what it needed to do, but the merit belongs to Spain and to the Spanish people. Everyone has helped contribute to this: regional governments, local councils, workers, public servants, business leaders, families, etc. The results show that this nation, when it is led responsibly, knows how to respond, to overcome and to act, because it has the resources, ambition and, I mustn't forget, that spirit of solidarity acknowledged by the whole world in the Spanish people, because it rises up to quash all adversities and without which the uphill path would have presented a much more thankless task.

Honourable Members,

I said this two years ago in this very House, in a debate such as today's: the Spanish people have shown that they are not children. They were aware of the difficulties and they were able to distinguish perfectly between what helped them and what hindered them. They did not confuse what they might have liked with what they needed in those dramatic times. With better or worse grace, with better or worse resignation, they accepted the sacrifices; they accepted the inevitable. They appreciated that it was time to take ourselves seriously and fight tooth and nail for our own future. We can now say with satisfaction that we have achieved this.

The Spanish people know how to rise to the occasion. They have good reason to feel proud of what they have done and of the results obtained from so much effort.

But Honourable Members, having said that let me add something else: there is still a lot to do. Let's not confuse the end of an act with the end of a play.

We know what we need to do. The unemployment rate is still too high, a great many Spanish people have been out of work for more than a year, and many of them for more than two years; the youth unemployment rate continues to be unacceptable…

There is still a lot to do, but we have created the right conditions for this. We now know that we can achieve this.

We have taken a giant step which, in itself, constitutes the best stimulus for speeding up our pace because, if in just three years we have managed, between us all, to overcome the most difficult part, which was stopping the rot, turning the situation around, recovering impetus and making progress, what can prevent us, if we persevere, from stepping up the rate of growth, consolidating well-being and recovering jobs? Only one thing: ourselves. I will come back to this later, Honourable Members.

Now I want to move on to the Welfare State.

The economic crisis did not only lead to a decline in the economy in Spain, an unprecedented increase in unemployment and a major plummet in tax revenue; specifically, Honourable Members, of 70 billion euros. The effect of all this placed the maintenance and quality of our basic public services at risk, as you can perfectly appreciate. Moreover, the economic crisis caused an increase in social inequality, a risk of poverty and of social exclusion at a much faster rate that in the European Union as a whole. And it could not have been anything different: the main reason for inequality is unemployment and its rise had been unstoppable in the years of the crisis. There are few things that are more unfair than the fact that someone is unable to find a job to maintain themselves.

It is obvious that the challenge facing this government was not only limited to correcting the major macro-economic imbalances and job creation; it was necessary to do this while preserving the fundamental aspects of our system of social well-being. Hence, it was a question of pulling Spain out whole, not in small pieces, and not turning our backs on anyone, particularly the weakest, who are those who were having the worst time, those who at that time sought out the welcoming arms of their families and selfless aid which, fortunately, have never been lacking in such a supportive country as ours.

We all wanted to exit the crisis together, without social rifts, with neither circumstances nor our participation further exacerbating the existing inequalities.

And this was not easy, Honourable Members. The whole world knows this: it was not easy because there was no money available. Revenue collection had fallen by 70 billion euros.

In reality, it wasn't that it wasn't easy, but rather it was very difficult. There were many who assured us that it was not possible to achieve what we sought to do: a type of squaring the circle that consisted of recovering the economy while reducing the deficit, making structural reforms and, at the same time, maintaining the bulk of social spending. And, while saying that it wasn't possible, they encouraged us to ask for a bailout; they "encouraged" us, because that is exactly how it was. But we didn't do that.

Honourable Members,

That was the major decision of this legislature, that was the great social policy measure of this legislature: avoiding the bailout; the best decision we made.

Honourable Members,

We wanted to decide on our own future and, while others were forced to take drastic measures, we were able to draw certain red lines that we weren't going to cross. And we didn't cross them.

Bailouts are unrelenting. They neither take account of age, social status, nor the strengths or weakness of each individual family. They consist of aid, but very demanding aid, which leaves no option but to adapt to austerity, without any margin to help the most needy.

Honourable Members,

This did not enter into the considerations of those who urged us to request it; those who summarised the benefits of a bailout, but who didn't waste a single word on assessing its negative social repercussions. We did do that; it was our obligation to think about these considerations. For that reason, we were prudent in our statements - I repeat, prudent in our statements - and steadfast in our determination to avoid this.

Honourable Members,

The easiest thing would have been to accept the pressure, but this was highly unfair and, for that reason, we didn't do it. We refused to exit the crisis at the expense of pensioners, of the unemployed or of the Social Security Treasury.

Honourable Members,

That is what I lived through.

What we sought to do was undoubtedly more difficult, more arduous, more laborious, but it was fairer. We could have failed, but no-one could say that our attempt was not worthwhile. We thus established a commitment to protect the Welfare State from collapse, to maintain social benefits and to guarantee the pillars of our basic public services, such as healthcare, education, pensions, unemployment benefits and the rest of our social services.

To do that, and in order to recover growth and job creation - the best guarantee of the Welfare State; I repeat, the best guarantee of the Welfare State - we undertook the economic policy that you are familiar with. In parallel, extraordinary mechanisms to support our public authorities, both local and regional, were set up, because many of them were unable to attend to their debt maturities, they couldn't pay their suppliers and they couldn't maintain their public services. I am referring to instruments such as the ICO Credit Lines, the Supplier Payment Plans and the Regional Liquidity Fund. I would remind you that more than 70% of these funds were allocated to social spending. I will go into this issue in more detail later.

So, all these decisions and policies as a whole have led to the results you are all aware of. The most important of these is that we managed to ensure, as I promised in the Investiture Debate, that 9,275,000 pensioners have been paid their pensions and continue to be paid their pensions on time, month after month. You froze them and, moreover, at a time when inflation was above 3%, needless to say.

Spending has obviously increased because there are now more pensioners than in 2011, but also because the amount of these pensions has increased. We are paying out over 19 billion euros per year more than were being paid out in 2011. And these pensions have acquired greater spending power.

By the way, this comparison I am making between the current situation and the situation back in 2011 does not accurately reflect the reality, Honourable Members, because this hides everything that we have managed to avert but which could have taken place, such as, unfortunately, what is still taking place in other countries. Pensions could have fallen, as has happened in those countries subject to a bailout, which, in some cases, have been forced to be dropped by as much as 20%. But here no, because we didn't accept a bailout.

Honourable Members,

We were also told that we wouldn't be able to pay unemployment benefits, but that hasn't been the case. That's right, we were told that but it hasn't happened. They have been paid on time. And it wasn't because they didn't have arguments for that, since, when they were running things unemployment increased by 3,400,000 people, and quite frankly, it wasn't easy to pay out these unemployment benefits.

Honourable Members,

The Spanish people have spent considerably more on unemployment benefits than is spent in any one ministerial department. It is good for this House to be made aware of that fact. The cost of paying out unemployment benefits was almost as much - not now, because jobs are being created - as the total outlay on all the ministerial departments together. I repeat, Honourable Members, almost as much money on unemployment as we allocate to all the ministerial departments together.

Moreover, since the very first moment, the government undertook to help, as much as possible, those affected by long-term unemployment. One of the first measures we adopted was to maintain the PREPARA programme until such time as the unemployment rate fell below 20%.

And now, insofar as circumstances have allowed us, the government has agreed a new form of aid to help the 450,000 long-term unemployed with the trade unions Comisiones Obreras and UGT, and with the business organisations. The aim is to facilitate their re-insertion into the labour market through an intensive overhaul of the employment services so as to adapt to the difficulties of finding a place facing so many people.

In another scheme of things, and as I said earlier, in order to help the regional governments and local authorities to implement the social policies under their responsibility, instruments have been designed such as the Regional Liquidity Fund and the Supplier Payment Fund. Over the last three years, the State has provided the regional governments with more than 122 billion euros under this heading. Of that amount, more than 71% was allocated to help finance basic public services: healthcare, education and social services. This year, in 2015, we are making available new financing and liquidity instruments to guarantee the provision of these basic services, for an amount of 39.87 billion euros, in 2015. Thus, by way of example, a Social Fund is being set up to finance regional government debt to local authorities deriving from agreements on issues of social spending.

Honourable Members,

I am not going to go into the decisions of the different regional governments on those issues under their responsibility, principally healthcare and education, but I should remind you that the measures adopted by my government have resulted in 750,000 Spaniards having a healthcare card that they didn't have before, and that 1 million long-term unemployed no longer pay 40% of the price of medication, and that we have made the largest budgetary allocation to grants in the history of Spain.

And I didn't want, Honourable Members, to end this part of my speech without mentioning the tax reform that has been in force since the beginning of the year, which will put 9 billion euros back in taxpayers' pockets and result in additional GDP growth of 0.55%. This is an ambitious reform, which seeks to drive job creation, strengthen the competitiveness of our economy and reduce the excessive fiscal burden on wages. Moreover, the reform establishes a fairer tax system, with a special emphasis on helping the most needy groups, those on medium and low incomes, large families and people with disabilities. 20 million taxpayers already have more income available each month and those on income of less than 24,000 euros per annum will enjoy a tax break that is almost double the average. A strong increase in personal and family minimum thresholds, of up to 32%, and three "negative taxes" or "family cheques" have been created for large families and people with disabilities, which will benefit more than 750,000 families.

In short, Honourable Members, we have managed to provide our Welfare State - that stood on the verge of a meltdown - with sustainability and maintain the benefits offered under our public system. And that has not been easy because, as I said earlier, lost revenue amounted to 70 billion euros, Honourable Members. Sometimes we don't realise just what that means.

Hence, the most important thing is not that we have started to exit the crisis, but rather what we have done so without renouncing social cohesion.

And I want to make a special mention, because it is only fair, of the middle classes in our country that have borne the cost of maintaining the cohesion of our society during this very tough crisis. I believe it is necessary and fair to highlight this effort and their solidarity.

At all times - I have said this on some occasions in this House - we have tried to be fair in sharing out the cost of this crisis, and hence, those who kept their jobs or enjoyed the greatest income contributed through their efforts to helping those who had lost their job or, due to their age, were unable to return to the job market. We have asked for a great deal of effort from the Spanish people, Honourable Members, and I know that the middle classes have had to make the lion's share of these efforts. That is why I want to take the opportunity of this stage to say that Spain owes them a great deal and that now is the time to start to balance out this situation. A good part of what I will present today to this House is along these lines.

Honourable Members,

Now that we have overcome the most difficult times, albeit with much still to do, we can start to apply more advanced social policies, but I would like to insist on one idea, Honourable Members: in order to make progress on social policy it is necessary to have solid foundations of economic growth. Money doesn't grow on trees, we have to produce it through our daily work. In order to share we need to create because, if not, what you end up dishing out is desperation and misery.

We will now move on, Honourable Members, to another scheme of things.

Nothing has stirred up such discontent among our citizens, and rightly so, as corruption, as you would only expect. I believe that the aim of everyone is to try to avoid any repeat of this form of conduct in our country. For my government this is obviously a priority objective. Since the first General Policy Debate of this legislature, we started taking the first measures to this end. Those initial reforms were the advance party of the most far-reaching legislative raft that has ever been presented in relation to the prevention, dissuasion and punishment of corrupt practices.

As you will remember, the reforms range from the financing of political parties to their model of functioning; from transparency in the public administration to the requirements to be met by those holding senior positions in carrying out their functions; from harsher penalties for certain offences to the way in which the investigation phase of summary proceedings can be made swifter. Essentially I am referring, as you are aware, to the Law Regulating Senior Positions, the Law on Financing Political Parties, the Transparency Act and, of course, the reform of the Criminal Code.

As a result of each of these measures, and all of them as a whole, we have taken a major step forward in removing the sources of corruption, eliminating the grey areas that protect them and stepping up the penalties handed down for these offences.

Although fraud will not disappear, because the offence will never disappear, it is now much more difficult for corruption to take place and, if it does, it will be much more difficult to evade the strong arm of the law and, consequently, the sentences handed down will be much harsher.

It is still too soon to appreciate the results of these reforms, but I can assure you that, by the end of this legislature, Spain will have one of the toughest legal systems in terms of prevention and sentences for corruption.

Honourable Members,

Allow me to mention now the events that have taken place in Catalonia over the last few months; in particular the referendum on self-determination called for November 9; an illegal initiative that finally did not take place and was replaced by a propaganda event lacking any form of democratic legitimacy or political effect.

Honourable Members,

From the outset, I said that this referendum could not be held, firstly because it was illegal - I said this, but so did the Constitutional Court and the majority of this House - but also because it was a harmful initiative that undermined the equality of the Spanish people and deprived millions of compatriots from their right to decide on what they want their country to be.

From the outset, my government devoted itself to defending legality and the rights of all the people of Spain. Honourable Members, we did so with prudence and with determination, with firmness and proportionality.

From the outset, we worked to defend harmony, the harmonious co-existence among citizens, the need to tackle the challenges facing us together and also to highlight how well things have gone for us over the course of our common history.

Of course we would have preferred for this simulation not to have taken place. We would have preferred so many resources and energy not to have been wasted on a project doomed to failure from the outset. We would have preferred it if the Regional Government of Catalonia had devoted these efforts to overcoming its financial difficulties, to seeking the best way to help its entrepreneurs and to attracting more foreign investment and stimulating its export companies.

Honourable Members,

I remain ready and willing to seeking areas of understanding with the Regional Government of Catalonia and with any other State authority, always from a standpoint of respect for the law and for the regulations we have enacted between all of us. They are what have guaranteed decades of peaceful co-existence, an unprecedented level of decentralisation among the developed world and respect for the plurality of our country.

At any event, in order to make my position clear, I would like to reiterate, yet again, that I will never accept putting Spain's unity at risk, or our national sovereignty, or the equality of the people of Spain before the law or their fundamental rights. Nor will I allow people to strive to violate the content of our Constitution or try to modify what is established therein through different procedures. Because, Honourable Members, Spain is a democratic State in which everyone, including this Parliament and, of course, the government and its leader, are subject to the law; each and every one of us.

Honourable Members,

I cannot appear before this House to talk about the state of the nation without speaking about Europe, because European policy forms part of our domestic policy.

Our relations with the European Union are a fundamental part of our national policy and we have been able to see this clearly and directly during these tough years in which we have been combating the crisis.

I believe, Honourable Members, that Europe has also changed a great deal, and for the better, over these last three years. I refer, for example, to Banking Union, with its Single Supervisory System and the Resolution Mechanism which the Spanish banks have joined following the wonderful results they obtained in the stress tests carried out and which show the success of the re-structuring process carried out on our financial system.

Since the outset of this legislature, my government fought in Europe to make progress from austerity to growth policies, from conformism to driving integration. From this point of view, I have always argued that the success of our policy on the ground lies in our capacity to convert strictly Spanish interests into priorities on the European agenda, and hence into common interests for Europe as a whole.

That is why we should welcome the raft of measures to drive investment in Europe, the so-called "Juncker Investment Plan", which the European Council approved at its meeting in December and which dovetails with the EU's current priority of economic growth and job creation. As you are aware, the aim of this initiative is to mobilise up to 315 billion euros between 2015 and 2017.

Part of these resources will be allocated to financing Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Mid-Cap Companies. It is not necessary to underline the importance of this point. Quite simply, I would remind you, Honourable Members, that this type of company represents the main part of our business fabric and the greatest job creators.

The other component of the "Juncker Investment Plan" encompasses infrastructure projects of a European scope in areas such as digital networks and energy, but also in transport, education, research and development, energy efficiency and renewable energies. Spain has already identified a series of projects that fall under these criteria. We will continue working on this process, which is thriving and dynamic.

As well as this investment plan, the European Council in December tasked the Commission with a proposal of extraordinary importance for our country and which could also be subject to financing under the "Juncker Investment Plan". This proposal seeks to take further steps towards the single energy market through the development of energy infrastructures and, in particular, interconnections.

This issue is essential in ensuring that the Iberian Peninsula ceases to be an energy island and to balance out our prices with those of our neighbours. The interests of Spain and Portugal, postponed on so many occasions, now fall in line with the strategic interests of Europe as a whole, which will ensure the diversification of energy sources and thus avoid situations of dependence that could work against the interests of its citizens.

Honourable Members,

Last week I had the satisfaction of inaugurating a new high-voltage interconnection between Spain and France, together with the French Prime Minister, Mr Valls. This infrastructure is vital and helps bring our objective of ensuring an interconnection capacity between the two countries of 10% of installed power closer; an objective which, by the way, has been delayed many years.

The major progress made in this area is that the European Council has taken on the idea that this historic claim by Spain and Portugal to increase energy connections with Europe should form part of the priority actions of the EU as a whole.

To this end, my government is organising a Summit in Madrid on 4 March, to be attended by the French President, François Hollande; the Prime Minister of Portugal, Passos Coelho; the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, with a view to kick-starting this project.

Honourable Members,

Despite the difficulties, Europe is taking steps in the right direction and, by the way, the recent agreement with Greece is a good example of this.

My government welcomes with great satisfaction the Eurogroup agreement reached last Friday. This contains the intention of the Greek Government to continue complying with the regulations and agreements with the Eurozone, to maintain the current institutional framework to implement the plan under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund, the ECB and the European Commission, in other words, the institutions, and to successfully conclude the current programme.

It has not been easy to reach this agreement, On the one hand, you have the rules and commitments with the Eurozone in terms of financial assistance - only with Greece, the Spanish State has committed more than 26 billion euros - and, on the other hand, you have the new government's intention to redefine its debt and its economic policy, despite the commitments acquired in the current programme. So, Honourable Members, after three meetings of the Eurogroup and one of the European Council, the conclusion of these talks has been framed within the best possible pro-European spirit that defines all the Member States. That is what happened. The commitments will be met, flexibility will be applied where and how it was planned to be applied, and the guarantees that the creditor countries obtained when we made the effort to support Greece remain intact. In reality, things couldn't have turned out any other way and it is good that people know that.

Honourable Members,

Things are this way because the Euro is one of the most important components of the European integration project, because all the States that form part of the Eurozone not only enjoy rights but also have to take on commitments, particularly all those that guarantee the sustainability of the single currency. The European Union is a community of rights where the rules must be observed by all parties that join. This is not an a la carte club and there is no place for impositions or unilateral measures. Honourable Members, it is good for us to know that.

The principles that govern the Eurozone are those of responsibility and solidarity, fortunately, Honourable Members. And they are the two sides of the same coin. The European Union has acted with great support for Greece, with great solidarity and we approved this support here on a unanimous basis, Honourable Members. But, of course, this support also requires responsibility from Greek governments.

That is why I welcome this agreement, fundamentally because it is very good for Europe and for its future.

I don't want to end this part of my speech without referring to two other issues, which are also important, and which have taken up a lot of time at recent European Councils, and which particularly concern us as European and as Spaniards.

I refer, firstly - I will do so briefly; perhaps this afternoon I can elaborate, but I believe that it is important for me to refer to this issue - to the crisis in Ukraine. The Heads of State and Government support the agreement reached in Minsk by the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and France, and the German Chancellor, which offer a new opportunity to find a solution to this crisis.

It is very important for us that the European Union maintains a united position in relation to the situation in Ukraine. I believe that any solution should be political and negotiated, and guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The European Union will continue to provide Ukraine with political and financial backing, as seen in the new financial aid package amounting to 1.8 billion euros, in addition to the 11.1 billion euros already committed to. The solution to the crisis must necessarily include Russia, which is a trade partner and one of the main neighbours of the European Union, and which must oversee compliance with the Minsk Agreements.

That is the position we are defending and on which we are in agreement with our European partners.

Secondly, I want to draw the attention of the Honourable Members to another issue that everyone here knows is very important: the declaration approved at February's European Council on the fight against Jihadi terrorism, which included Spanish contributions and whose final draft has our full backing. By the way, I would take advantage of this moment to congratulate the State law enforcement agencies for the brilliant operation that have carried out today against Jihadi terrorism and which is the continuation of many others in recent days.

Honourable Members,

At a request from President Tusk, I took part in the debate to communicate Spain's experience in the fight against this blight. This experience showed us, and I explained this to my colleagues at the European Council, that the Rule of Law can defeat terrorism based on three conditions: a political and social commitment, decisive and constant police and judicial action, and international cooperation. I referred to the recent State Agreement with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, signed on 2 February, highlighting that this is a fundamental part of the political and social consensus and essential for successfully tackling this serious threat.
One of the priority elements is to step up the control of the external borders of the European Union while safeguarding all the progress we have made on the Schengen acquis. This will enable us to increase security while preserving the free movement of people. It is also necessary to boost international cooperation with third countries.

I am particularly pleased that, at Spain's initiative, the declaration includes recognition of the role of victims and of maintaining their memory. No-one better than them can so accurately convey the testimony of the senselessness of terrorism and the higher morals of democrats over those that attack liberty and the rights of all.

Honourable Members,

There is less than a year to go before this legislature draws to a close; a legislature in which we have laid the foundations for sustained growth and well-being, and in which we have started to see the results of the reforms, to reap the rewards of our efforts.
We are currently the country to enjoy most growth and to create the most jobs of all the major economies in the Eurozone.

onourable Members, the country to grow the most and create the most jobs. No-one expected to see this three years ago; but no-one now doubts that this year Spain will continue to head up the economic growth and job creation tables.

We have recovered confidence, because we have shown our determination when taking measures and prudence when assessing its effects. That is why we hope to make an additional increase to the growth forecasts for this year.

I can announce that the government's forecast at this time for the growth of the Spanish economy in 2015 is 2.4%; 0.4% higher than previously announced.

Honourable Members,

This is not a forecast based on mere good intentions; quite the opposite, because many analysts are saying that we will probably exceed this figure. Of course, the government will work for this to become a reality, as we have done thus far. Our track-record shows that if we all work together, the reality can exceed the official expectations, as happened here in both 2013 and 2014.

The foundations for this are already laid. Our economy is no longer based on debt; it is based on confidence and competitiveness. That is why we expect consumption to continue growing at around 3%, in line with 2014. Investment in capital goods will grow by more than 7% and, after seven consecutive years of declines, we also expect to see growth in both residential and non-residential construction.

We also expect to see the foreign trade sector performing better. The current account balance of payments will record a surplus and the financing capacity of the Spanish economy with the rest of the world will be in excess of 1% of GDP.

On another note, price trends will continue to be particularly favourable for the Spanish economy.

If these forecasts are materialised we will clearly be in a position to create more than 500,000 jobs in 2015. In other words, we will reach the end of this term of office with a total of one million jobs created between 2014 and 2015.

For this reason, because the government hits its targets and exceeds in forecasts, we will continue working. There are those who might think that you only need to wait for the harvest to be brought in. That is not the case with this government. This legislature is not over yet and hence, neither is our reformist agenda. Our task in this last year in office is to take maximum advantage of growth, consolidate the recovery and extend its effects to all levels. To do so, it is not necessary to change policy, but rather to continue creating policies for change, firstly to foster job creation and the quality of these jobs; secondly, and consequently, to improve social well-being; thirdly, and necessarily, to shore up growth and competitiveness; and fourthly, to ensure the institutional stability necessary to successfully carry out these tasks. That will be our agenda from now to the end of the legislature.

Honourable Members,

I mentioned employment first, because it remains our greatest concern and our essential priority.

We will continue working to foster the creation of stable and quality jobs, and the return to the job market of those groups with the greatest difficulties in finding a job. To do this, once the term of the flat rate for hiring is over, we will implement a reduced rate for new permanent employment contracts. The first 500 euros of salary will be exempt from National Insurance contributions.

Honourable Members,

Taxes can now be lowered and, to that end, we have undertaken a tax reform. We can, and indeed, we should reduce social contributions, particularly because, as we designed it to, this will foster the incorporation of the most vulnerable workers - those suffering the most from unemployment and from only finding temporary employment, because they lack the experience or training, or because they have been unemployed for a long time.

Honourable Members,

During the course of this legislature, we have concerned ourselves with fostering the incorporation of those groups with the greatest difficulties in finding work. Proof of that is the agreement with the social stakeholders to introduce the Extraordinary Activation Programme that I mentioned this morning. But, in addition to these extraordinary measures, we will also push through new structural changes on this issue.

The government is talking with the social stakeholders with the aim of undertaking a reform of the system of vocational training. We want to improve the employability of workers, particularly of the most vulnerable groups, and foster the productivity and competitiveness of companies. This is a new model of training, based on transparency, Honourable Members - which is necessary - and on quality and effectiveness when ensuring insertion in the labour market and career development.

Honourable Members,

My government's second priority for the rest of this legislature is to improve social well-being. To that end, in addition to continuing to work to create job positions, this Friday we have submitted to Parliament the Draft Law on Childhood Protection and in the coming weeks we will submit the Draft Laws on the Third Sector, on Social Action and on Voluntary Work. We will also approve the Comprehensive Family Support Plan and the Framework of Action for the Elderly.

Honourable Members,

As I have already mentioned, one of the main social measures of this government has been the tax reform that came into force at the start of this year. This reform includes various "family cheques" - aid for large families and for people with ascendants or descendents with a disability. These cheques amount to 1,200 euros per annum for each individual case; they are accumulative and in addition to the 100 euros a month for working mothers with children under the age of three which has been in force, as you know, since 2002.

Now I want to extend these "family cheques" to single-parent families comprising one parent and two children. With this extension, among others, the total number of beneficiaries of these "family cheques" under the tax reform could exceed one million people.

Honourable Members,

It is only fair to acknowledge the role of families and the dedication of parents because they are building the country and guaranteeing our future.

I would also like to recall that we will continue to work towards full equality of opportunities, with measures such as the Special Plan for Equality between Men and Women at Work, equal wages and the promotion of women in the countryside. And we will continue to implement specific measures.

Within the framework of the reform of the Statute on Self-Employment, which we plan to take to the Council of Ministers shortly, we will establish a special discount for reconciliation aimed at self-employed workers. The aim is to facilitate them hiring a worker in the event of having to devote their time caring for children under the age of seven or other family members in a situation of dependence. In short, it is a question of them having the same facilities as salaried-employees currently enjoy.

On this point, Honourable Members, I would like to insist on one issue. Spanish families, such as the self-employed and entrepreneurs, have been particularly hard hit by the crisis, which has had knock-on effects, particularly when accompanied by heavy debt. And what this government will do is promote reforms to enable our citizens to have a "second chance".

We will approve a royal decree law with immediate effect that will offer greater facilities for tackling these difficulties. Families will be able, henceforth, to re-structure their debts through an out-of-court payment agreement; a coordinated, transparent and regulated procedure that will allow them to negotiate, in a unified and supervised manner, with their creditors. This procedure will be particularly straight-forward for individuals, such that, within very short time periods and with very few administrative costs, they can reach agreements on debt releases, postponements and other ways to reduce debts.

When these agreements are not possible, the Insolvency Act will take effect whereby individuals can be released from debts that are unpaid following the enforcement of guarantees and assets.

Honourable Members,

Until now, even those who had been forced to sell their assets in order to pay their debts continued to be responsible for paying any outstanding amounts. This condemned households and entrepreneurs to live under the shackles of previous debt, even after having renounced their assets. Under this reform, within the framework of a procedure under judicial control and with all guarantees in place, it will be possible to now shake off these shackles. This is a very important reform.

Honourable Members,

This has been done in other European countries, and furthermore, as has also been done in other European countries, we will undertake a complete review of the prescription periods for claiming unpaid debts, which in general will be set at 5 years instead of the current period of 15 years. It makes no sense for a family or a professional to have to live thinking about a debt that has not been claimed in 15 years, nor that this period has not been changed since the 1889 Civil Code, Honourable Members.

Honourable Members,

We will strengthen the Code of Good Banking Practices so that more families can benefit from these measures. To date this code has resulted in some 12,000 viable re-structurings of debt and 3,500 dations in payment. Henceforth, it will include a clause so that those people that fall thereunder can also benefit from the definitive non-application of 'floor clauses'. This will enable them to enjoy better conditions to continue paying off their mortgage.

Honourable Members,

This new "second chance" legislation will complement other measures to support financing and liquidity of entrepreneurial and business initiatives, and in the month of April the new Insolvency Act will be definitively approved by Parliament, which directly enshrines this spirit in order to extend the possibilities of companies to meet their debts; and the new Law to Promote Business Finance to facilitate access to credit and other financial mechanisms for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

I would like to highlight that the government will continue to foster measures to facilitate economic activity, and adapt the legal framework to the potential for recovery and to improve the capacity to grow, compete and create jobs.

This will mean that we continue to undertake structural reforms and consolidate those already under way; reforms that mean a profound change in the image of our country, our economy and our public sector. I am referring to issues such as the approval of the Law to De-Index the Economy, which will help underpin the control of prices and maintain competitiveness. Or the full operability of market unity, speeding up the regulatory adaptation necessary to ensure its full effect, tackling the reform of 35 priority State laws which cover measures of flexibility and streamlining in such diverse sectors as the return to the labour market, transport, the technical inspection of vehicles and telecommunications.

This complete overhaul is directly in line with the aim of the reform of the public administration; a reform on which we continue to work and which we wish to consolidate with a vocation of permanence so that streamlining, efficiency and transparency are irrevocable principles in the public sector. To achieve this, we will submit to Parliament a new legal framework for the public sector, which distinguishes between its legal system and administrative procedures, and which incorporates certain measures such as the strict regulation of the institutional administration, in order to avoid the inflation of subsidiary bodies that this government has had to cut back on - with the liquidation, Honourable Members, of more than 2,000 bodies - and the definitive incorporation of e-government, not as a philosophy of the future, but rather as the standard practice of public service in the present.

And, together with the reform of the public administration, steps will be taken to speed up the administration of justice, through an amendment to the Civil Procedure Act and the revision of the system of court fees.

In another scheme of things, Honourable Members, as I mentioned before, one of the main objectives of this legislature has been democratic regeneration. On this issue, as I mentioned earlier, this government has been working from the outset to make resources available to those that go after fraud and corruption, and we have adopted measures to prevent this from every perspective.

As a continuation of this task, in the coming weeks we will submit the Draft Law on Criminal Procedures to Parliament, which I announced previously on this very stage. For this reason, the law proposes key measures to help speed up procedures, setting a maximum term for the investigation phases of criminal proceedings and better regulating related cases in order to avoid large processes, macro-processes, resulting in delays in determining real responsibilities; to make trials swifter, to hand down sentences more effectively and also to more quickly recover that which has been stolen.

That is why this law will also include efficient measures for the seizure of assets obtained from criminal activities and the Office for the Management and Recovery of Assets obtained in the commission of an offence will be set up, based on the French model, which will be started up before the end of 2015, in order to recover those assets with all the efficiency necessary and to obtain the maximum return possible from them such that this reverts to the benefit of society and to help offset the damage caused.

Finally, Honourable Members, I would also like to tell you that another of our targets, before the end of this term of office, is to continue making progress on controlling fraud, whether of a fiscal or tax nature, or against the Public Treasury or the Social Security system. We will present a reform of the General Tax Act, which will help prevent fraud through publishing those with the largest debts and those that deserve criminal reproach, among other measures. And we will also reform the Law Organising the System of Labour, Social Security and Health and Safety at Work Inspections, which will help heighten coordination in the fight against fraud.

Honourable Members,

I will now move on to the final part of my speech. To summarise everything, without making an evaluation:

- We have turned the situation around, which is what we were entrusted to do three years ago. We were in a trough but now we are growing, and we will continue to do so. It took us two years to recover our dynamism. And, in the third year, the first results started to filter through in the form of growth and, above all, in the form of employment. Together with these objective figures, there are others that are more difficult to weigh up, but which are undeniable, such as the growing confidence of investors, business leaders and consumers.

- In second place, Spain has shown that it can pull itself out of the worst crisis seen without prejudicing the structure of our society, without falling into inequalities and without putting our Welfare State at risk.

- And one more important fact for you. We cannot forget that nothing that we have achieved, nothing, is irreversible. Everything that we have recently built up can fall down like a house of cards, which, as I said earlier, depends on us and us alone. I want to talk to you about this now.

Honourable Members,

What we have achieved is very important, this has required a great deal of work and we should take this very seriously, because we have only started. We are taking the initial steps. That is why it is very important to maintain this same course with perseverance. Should we not do this, everything we have achieved in three years can be lost in just a few months.

We are inaugurating an expansive phase in our economy with many opportunities to consolidate the recovery of growth and jobs, but which is still fragile and exposed to changes in the international situation, to economic difficulties and also to ideological whirlwinds - or actual whirlwinds - such as we have seen certain examples of.

We have not reached this point by chance, as some think, nor is the improved situation the result of a change in the economic climate, as those who don't dare deny it are saying. The climate has been the same for everyone, but Spain is the country that has grown most in Europe and that has created the most jobs. Before, with the same climate as everyone else, Spain was the country suffering the biggest decline and creating the longest unemployment queue in Europe. It is not a question of climate, Honourable Members, but rather of well guided efforts that marks the difference through good policies.

It is true that today's circumstances (the fall in petrol prices, the weakening of the Euro and the EBC buying up debt) are favourable for us, but this is the case because we had already placed ourselves in a position to take greater advantage than others.

It is no good fostering this idea that we have come out on top, Honourable Members, for circumstantial reasons, despite ourselves and despite the government. That is not good. It is one thing to refuse to recognise the merits of the government, because one is entitled to do so, but it is another to deny the merits of the Spanish people. These two ideas should not be confused.

To say that the current improvement has come about by itself, that the efforts of our citizens have not been worthwhile and could have been avoided, as well as being untrue, is the best way to prepare the terrain for demagogues to successfully sow the land and reap the rewards; the best way.

Honourable Members,

The truth is very different; in Spain, we are coming out of the worst crisis ever seen, because we have applied a policy that has made this possible and one that was different to that of the previous government - it doesn't matter; quite simply this has made it possible - and because the Spanish people have accepted sacrifices that were inevitable. And these efforts have not been in vain, nor could the results have been obtained in any other way. What was done is what needed to be done. That is the truth.

Honourable Members,

Good results are testimony to good procedures; that is true in the same way as the awful results before are testimony to the quality of the procedures that sunk our country and that could sink us again into unemployment and economic ruin. It's a textbook case.

Honourable Members,

I could also say to the Spanish people, as others do - I could say this - that we will double the minimum wage this afternoon, that we will raise pensions by 10% tomorrow morning, that everyone will have a subsidised home the next day, that every newborn will receive 1,000 euros… until I'm worn out. It is said, and rightly so, that anyone can talk. But of course if, in addition to making promises, I intended to keep my word, it would only take us six months, perhaps even less, to return to ruin once again.

Honourable Members,

It is clear that, if I did this, it would be a rash and thoughtless gesture but, if others do it, what is it? The Spanish people must be told the truth; that their well-being, their Welfare State, their Social Security system, their pensions, their healthcare and their education are not a gift from anyone and they are inseparable from our economic capacity. That is why we need to adopt sensible and reasonable policies, and not demagogy. Demagogy does not maintain our Welfare State; rather, it tears it down.

Honourable Members,

We are recovering - for the time being, only recovering - well-being, because we have applied an economic policy that has found a way to create the right conditions for us to enjoy an enormous amount of breathing space in servicing our debt and thus attend to our social costs. It is good for this to be known so that others don't come up with magic wands to wave and so that no attention is paid to those who want to sell these magic wands. Honourable Members, if we had not managed to reduce the payments to service our debt by half, we would have had to reduce some of our social benefits by half. That is how things are. Instead of allocating 30 billion euros to unemployment, which meant that we could help out many Spaniards, we would not have been able to exceed 15 billion. And that is the truth, because that is what we have saved in servicing our debt.

It is very dangerous to think, very dangerous indeed, and I believe that it is good to say this in a debate of these characteristics, that you can employ a social policy that is not protected by a sound economic policy, and it is very dangerous to think, Honourable Members, that the Welfare State can be borne by mortgages or, worse still, that you can find a way out through other people's money, because that has never been possible throughout time, and we are not going to suddenly change centuries of history.

When the well-being of us all is at stake, we should be prudent in what we say. Whoever does not create jobs cannot guarantee the Welfare State and whoever sheds jobs, through their policies, is putting our Welfare State at risk because employment supports and maintains our Welfare State. It is the benefit generated by those who are in work, of those who sustain the Welfare State.

That is why in my investiture speech I said, "Employment is the cornerstone that can maintain the path of our recovery. Job creation means an increase in economic activity, it means that the State recovers lost revenue, that the Social Security system extends its affiliation base and its volume of contributions that help pensioners breathe peacefully, that can improve our education system and finance healthcare. It is impossible to straighten out the progress of the nation without starting by creating the right conditions that allow those Spaniards who are out of work to find a job".

That is what I said in the Investiture Debate. I reaffirm that and I believe that it is very positive that today this House can celebrate that last year more than 400,000 jobs were created and that this year more than 500,000 jobs will also be created.

Honourable Members,

Spain does not need magical wands, it needs jobs. And the question is, "How many?" Don't say for "everyone" because that is too obvious. What I am wondering is how many jobs Spain needs to consolidate its growth, to cease to be at risk and to be able to feel secure in light of possible scenarios or changes in the economic environment. Of course, we need to recover all those jobs that you lost and then some. Those we do need.

The response is very simple and it is also true. Honourable Members, Spain needs to reach an employment figure similar to those before the crisis; in other words, to have some 20 million people in work. That is the minimum figure that we should now work tirelessly towards.

Is this the end of the play? No, it is the end of another act. This means stability, relief, feeling calm, without shocks, without fears of vicissitudes or back-sliding. Because, with this number of jobs we will easily be able to free up the Social Security system, ensure sufficient revenue to calmly see to the needs of the welfare State and enjoy an image overseas that is as solid and reliable as any other.

How many more jobs do we need to create, Honourable Members, to reach this step up that represents stability? Three million net jobs. That, I repeat, must be our next objective and we can reach it, of course, if we don't slip up.

Now that we know the results for 2014 and we can see the outlook for 2015, we can face challenges that just a year ago would have seemed a pipedream. If we are able - just look, Honourable Members - to maintain a growth rate and if the forecasts are met whereby we can achieve this at a rate considerably above 2% per annum, we can easily say that the target of one million jobs between last year and this year is within our grasp. And we now know that, if we do not allow things to be distorted, we can aspire to create more than half a million jobs year on year.

I insist that this must be the next target for the people of Spain - not allow what we have built up to be torn down, but rather to complete the task and consolidate the exit from the crisis. Three million jobs to be safe from possible outcomes and to continue growing in well-being and in security. And this can be done, Honourable Members. Of course I believe that it can.

To that end, Honourable Members, my main aim during the final part of this legislature is to secure the right conditions to allow us to take this next step successfully because, when this legislature if over, this aim will not be utopian, nor will it be a dream; it will be an economic, political and social target within the grasp of the people of Spain. And that is almost tantamount to saying that we are obliged to try to achieve it.

Two years ago we said, when we successfully took the first steps to break the impasse, that Spain had recovered its right to have a future, which it had lost. Now that Spain is on the right path and has already reaped the first rewards from its efforts, it has the right for this future of growth and job creation to be laid on solid foundations. It is entitled to protect its well-being and under a duty to ensure this.

I will draw to a close now, Honourable Members.

I see Spain as a country which three years ago was clearly stuck in a rut in Europe which was full of problems, concerns and uncertainty. It is a country that has found a way to come out of this under its own steam in such a manner that some consider to be exemplary, and it has been able to turn itself into a trustworthy nation, which is starting to pick up speed and which, if it perseveres with its aims, has a bright future.

It is only right to highlight that our nation has managed to recover its dynamic nature without social or regional breakdowns; it has been able to support its own Welfare State - we are capable - and it has been able to protect the unity and equality of all Spaniards.

We are also, and this is negative, a country that is very heavily in debt and has an unacceptable unemployment rate, without forgetting that a large part of the population is still not enjoying the benefits of economic recovery. To this we must add a certain and serious risk that, either through changes in the international economy or because the people of Spain allow this to happen, a decline could take place which means that we lose everything we have achieved and we once again find ourselves at the same place as we were when this legislature started, or even worse.

There are many things, Honourable Members, to still improve in Spain and, at the same time, it is necessary for us to find a way to consolidate what we have already achieved.

Hence, there are many reasons for not interrupting the efforts and eluding the risks, and ensuring that the work continues in the right direction until such time as we ensure that the economic recovery filters down to all families, and work for those that seek it and the economic situation consolidates its strength.

Three years ago I spoke about recovering employment, because that meant turning the situation around that we were suffering from. Now, having achieved that, we can put figures on our targets. I have proposed a new level for the aspirations of our nation; a new target of three million net jobs, which can perfectly be reached in the coming years, and which, in contrast to the previous period, will not require sacrifices or constraints, but rather intent and perseverance.

I must acknowledge, Honourable Members, that over the last three years, the Spanish people, with the conviction that we were heading down the only path permitted by circumstance, have made a commendable effort, because that's the truth. It hasn't been necessary to explain to them that you cannot live from what you don't have and that, however thankless it might seem, it was necessary to temporarily reduce spending, except for the bare necessities. It has not been necessary because it is the same thing that each Spanish family does whenever it needs to adjust its household economy.

I must acknowledge that, without this sense of the reality that the Spanish people have shown in large, the government's task would have been much more complicated, because at no time have there been a lack of voices clamouring for the Spanish people to reject making an effort, condemning prudence in spending, and sowing the idea that, who knows how, things could be better by going in the opposite direction.

There was no lack of voices. Nor are there now. I paid them no attention before and I am sure that I will pay them no attention now because, if it would have been reckless to do so when we set off it would be much more so now that we have gone down the rockiest part of the road, having already reaped the first rewards and with a clear horizon ahead of us.

That is, in short, the state of the nation we are debating today. If three year ago we were forced to dream of a future that did not exist, today we can say that this future has arrived and we are leaving the past behind.

It is now time to pick up the speed of our progress, complete the recovery, extend it to all Spanish households and forge new opportunities that involve our young people. Honourable Members, that is within our grasp and it depends on us and us alone.

Thank you very much.