Speech by acting President of the Government at investiture debate for Presidency of the Government in Lower House of Parliament


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Lower House of Parliament, Madrid

Madam Speaker, Members of Parliament,

I have three reasons for accepting the commission from His Majesty and therefore request a vote of confidence for my investiture: firstly, Spain urgently needs a government; secondly, the Spanish people have clearly shown their preference for the People's Party; and thirdly, no reasonable alternative exists.

Firstly, as I said, Spain needs an effective government, and this is urgent. Following two rounds of elections and eight months with a caretaker government, the phrase "Spain needs a government" has now become a familiar slogan.

I will not repeat this, as you all use this and we listen to this every day at every level: in the media, in companies, in the local and regional authorities, with our neighbours and our European partners, etc. It is used everywhere, by everyone and all the time. In fact, on 1 March this year, when Mr Sánchez stood for a vote of confidence in this Parliamentary chamber, he argued on several occasions that "Spain urgently needs a government". Almost six months have gone by since then.

Fortunately, we had the foresight to approve the Budget for this year and, also fortunately, the measures adopted during the last term of office have allowed economic growth and job creation to continue in 2016. Of the major economies in the European Union, Spain is currently the country to enjoy the greatest economic growth. We are growing at a rate that is exactly double that of the Eurozone economies as a whole and, more importantly, thanks to this growth of the economy, jobs continue to be created in Spain at a rate of half a million people a year. This has been confirmed by the latest figures published: we are the European country to create the most jobs.

It seems clear that, despite the limitations on a caretaker government, we have managed to ensure that confidence in the Spanish economy exceeds the political uncertainty that has affected us for some months now. However, Honourable Members, everything has a limit and this can change. In fact, we have already received numerous warnings, both from within Spain and abroad, regarding the need to have a fully operational government as soon as possible. Should we not do this, then things may well turn for the worse.

And that is something we should not allow to happen in any way whatsoever. The Spanish people have done an extraordinary job over recent years to overcome extreme economic difficulties and have played out a success story that is acknowledged and admired beyond our borders; they have started to see a bright future after the worst economic crisis we have gone through in decades, and hence it would not be fair to cloud their horizon of prosperity or spoil the recovery under way due to political paralysis.

Moreover, there are urgent reasons that also require us to swiftly form a government. As you know, Spain has recently negotiated a significant degree of flexibility with the European authorities to continue the process of reducing the public deficit, delaying until 2018 the time when we are obliged to lower it to below 3% of GDP. Consequently, we cannot put off the measures that are necessary to achieve this goal. To do this, it is essential that we strictly comply with the terms of the agreement with Europe before 15 October.

Honourable Members,

As I have pointed out, this is the most pressing task. The consequences of failing to ensure this would be extremely serious; among other things, this would involve the imposition of sanctions on our country and the loss of important sources of European funding, without mentioning the serious loss of the credibility that we have gained over recent years, as a result of significant efforts.

I want to place particular emphasis on the need to present Parliament with the Draft General State Budget for 2017, not only because this constitutes the core element of our commitment to Europe, but also because this affects millions of people. I would remind you that every month some 14 million Spaniards receive some form of public benefit in our country. These benefits rely on the Budget being approved, as does the financing of the regional governments and local authorities, and hence, the social services they provide. Investments, public employment offers and so many other issues that are essential for the life of a country also rely on the Budget.

For all these reasons, I tell you that it is urgent for Spain to have a government capable of acting and responding as soon as possible. So for that reason, and to bring to an end the democratic anomaly of the existence of a caretaker government which has now existed for more than eight months following two election processes; a government that, precisely because it is a caretaker government, is limited in the decisions it can take that affect general interests.

I could give you more arguments, but I think that those I have just mentioned will suffice to justify the first reason I am here - the urgent need to form a government.

That is the first, but not the only reason. The second reason, Honourable Members, is that this is what the Spanish people want by clearly asking the People's Party to govern. I am not only referring to those who, with their votes, have helped increase our party's weight in Spanish life; I am also referring to the rest of the voters who, when asked in polls, respond in the majority that the People's Party should govern. So, it is also the people of Spain who have put me up on this podium. It has not only been the People's Party that has been chosen as the preferred electoral option in two successive elections, but it has also been the only party that has seen its support base grow, while all of the potential alternatives lost seats at the last election.

The election results from June were unequivocal. There has never before, except in the case of an absolute majority, been such a distance between the first two parties in the number of votes.

Honourable Members,

It is always useful to know in what areas voters do not agree with you but, above all, it is important to know what they advocate. Well, during the last two election campaigns, some of our adversaries did not want to acknowledge anything positive in regard to the work carried out by my government. If we take into account that our work, our efforts and our results were written off time and time again, we must acknowledge that the voters have trusted more in what they have seen with their own eyes than in what some people have been telling them. That is why they have backed what the People's Party is doing, while they have refused to listen to those people who sought to tear down a work which merit is worthier than they claim. You only have to look at Spain at the end of 2011 and compare it with today's Spain in terms of economic growth, job creation and lower unemployment.

The Spanish people have highly valued, as has the rest of Europe, the strength of a government which in very tough circumstances, and in a surprisingly short period of time, has managed to turn the situation around, rescue the country from the brink of disaster, place Spain at the head of Europe in terms of growth and open up a bright future of well-being and employment such as most people seek.

In other words, Honourable Members, I am also here because that is what the Spanish people want, because the tasks ahead in Spain seem very important to them and because they don't feel that others can, wish to, or know how to, continue this task in the best manner for our citizens.

And thirdly, I am here because the alternative that I am proposing, as well as being the most respectful of the will of the Spanish people, is the most appropriate and reasonable. Unless some intend to once again play with the interests and patience of the Spanish people, or prefer to hold fresh elections, the option I bring to this Parliamentary chamber is the only option that seems viable.

The reasons are clear and I don't need to go into them in detail. My proposal is the only real possibility for Spain to be able to enjoy a moderate government, one that is not an adventure into radicalism, inefficiency and uncertainty; a government that continues with the work undertaken, that drives economic activity, that encourages investment, that creates jobs and extends, both within Spain and abroad, the climate of political and economic confidence that we need; a government that can work right from the outset, right from the word go, without having to lose another year, like others would, in getting up-to-date and in resolving their own internal contradictions, before starting to govern. This, which is always recommendable, is particularly important when there is certain haste in effectively responding to the fixed-term obligations looming up in the coming weeks.

In short, Honourable Members, there is no alternative that responds to the wishes of the Spanish people, that attends to their interests, that covers their needs, that boosts confidence and that is in a position to get to work immediately. And if it did exist, it would be for some other purpose; it would be to conform to a multi-coloured, radical and ineffective model of government that is not in the interests of Spain or of the Spanish people; a government which, moreover, would be burdened with the demands of parties whose main goal is to challenge our democratic institutions and break up our territorial unity.

In short, Honourable Members, as I pointed out at the start of my speech, the reasons I ask for this Parliamentary chamber to give me a vote of confidence are threefold: Spain urgently needs an effective government; the Spanish people have clearly shown their preference for the People's Party and, thirdly, there is no other viable option.

For all these reasons, I accepted the commission from His Majesty and appear here today to ask for the vote of confidence of this Lower House. I thus meet my obligation of doing whatever is in my hands to ensure that Spain can have a government in place as soon as possible rather than once again being subject to a new electoral process. I repeat, this is demanded of me by our citizens, who have positioned the People's Party as their first choice on two consecutive occasions. And that is demanded of me because our proposal is the only reasonable one under the current circumstances.

Honourable Members,

It is important for Spain to have a government, but that is not enough by itself, because it is clear that not just any government will be good for Spain. We would be kidding ourselves; worse still, we would be kidding the Spanish people if we allowed them to think that it is enough to choose any government, however it may be comprised, to resolve the situation or, as some people are saying, "to unblock the stalemate".

What Spain obviously needs is a government that can govern, that efficiently attends to problems, and this requires a stable, lasting, sound and reassuring government. A stable government is one which is not subject to constant fluctuations because everyone is loyally meeting their commitments.

Moreover, it is no use Spain having a government for just one year, or even for two. Its problems require a government for a longer period of time. However much we may make the best use of time, we have some extraordinary tasks ahead of us, which I will talk about later, such as reaching the figure of 20 million Spaniards in work, ensuring we attain full economic recovery and protecting our territorial unity. All of these tasks, and others I will refer to later, require sustained and ongoing work.

I wish to insist on this: Either we are capable of making a consistent effort, or it will be impossible to achieve what we all want to see; either we act responsibly or we will be deceiving the people of Spain by making them think that we can get by in Spain with a fleeting government.

Moreover, this stable and lasting government must be in a position to govern, which means that it is able to take decisions and that its decisions can be applied. This means a truism such as that Spain needs a strong government, without any burdens holding it back, that can develop its own plans unencumbered, take decisions with the speed required by circumstances and, in short, effectively respond to any threat to security or to the unity of the Spanish people.

It is not just a case of approving just any government, or of imposing on it the need to adapt its actions to its own political strengths, and much less restricting its programme to what its weaknesses allow. That would be doing a disservice to the Spanish people!

The government, Honourable Members, is not an end unto itself, far from it. The government is an instrument to provide a response to Spain's problems. That is why we want a government, to do what the Spanish people need, and that is why we are looking for an instrument that is up for the task.

It must hence be stable, it must be capable of governing and, moreover, Honourable Members, it must inspire confidence and do so in all directions, because we must reassure everyone: parents, job-seekers, business owners, investors, pensioners, the European Union…, everyone. Because this confidence is what marks the ceiling and the limits on our development: the higher we know how to place this bar, the faster the rate of our recovery and, in contrast, the weaker or less reliable the new government, the worse things will go for Spain.

We need a reliable government that takes foreseeable decisions, which does not arouse uncertainty or mistrust, but rather, on the contrary, a government where everyone knows what it has in store for them. It is pressing to close the door on any shadow of a doubt or suspicion on the politics, the credibility or the responsibility of the Spanish nation.

There are too many decisions pending that require a careful response, that are dependent on the course we take, and consequently, many other capital investments, business initiatives and employment offers that will not be taken because of the risks involved until it can be seen what will happen in Spain. We have a great outlook for growth, but we all know that this is tied into the current course of the Spanish economy and that this is incompatible with any form of economic gamble.

It is important for us to let the world know that Spain is not only an attractive country - they already know that - but that it is also trustworthy, which is what they want to hear.

Finally, Honourable Members, Spain needs a government based on agreements, because that is what the election results have told us and because we are facing challenges that no political party can respond to by itself. This, when you do not have a Parliamentary majority, requires either a coalition government or at least some kind of agreement that avoids playing out a futile term of office.

Honourable Members,

That was the proposal I made, both on 21 December and on 27 June: a government with a broad Parliamentary base that is capable of undertaking the major reforms that Spain needs by consensus and with the intention of ensuring that they are here to stay; a government such as those that have been governing in many other countries in Europe for many years now. I proposed a similar agreement to that which governs the EU institutions, under which they are tackling the anti-European populism of recent times. I firmly proposed from the very beginning this government born out of broad agreements because, among other reasons, I believe that this is the best way of interpreting the will of the Spanish people as expressed through the ballot box.

Honourable Members,

I have mentioned agreements at the end, but I could just as well have begun with them. They are so important that I don't believe a government would be an option without them, because it would not be stable, nor would it be able to govern or inspire confidence. Without agreements, it would not even be possible to avoid renewed elections.

In short, Honourable Members, if we want to offer the Spanish people a government that is in a position to tackle the tasks pending, then it falls to this Parliamentary chamber to give them a stable, capable and reassuring government that would necessarily be based on a broad agreement.

Honourable Members,

Part of this agreement has already been reached. The People's Party stood at these elections in a coalition with Forum Asturias, the Navarre People's Union, who are here in this chamber, and the Party of Aragon, with a programme to govern that we presented jointly to the Spanish people. I wish to thank the representatives of these three formations for the support and loyalty they have shown throughout this time.

Following 26 June, we have made a great deal of progress in the right direction with Ciudadanos and the Canary Island Coalition. I would also thank them for their efforts. In all honesty, I believe that they are doing what is best for the Spanish people at this time.

So, Honourable Members, after having agreed on our different approaches and having found a common position on the future of our country, I am in a position to subject the following proposal for Spain for the consideration of this chamber.

Our project contains one key goal: jobs creation. I believe that we all agree on that point. No-one should have any doubts at this time surrounding the fact that job creation is the goal for all our economic policies and which then provides the funding necessary for any social policies. Employment has always been my prime concern and my top priority. When I took on, for the first time, the responsibilities of the President of the Government of Spain back in 2011, 1,400 jobs were being shed each day in our country. At present, almost 1,600 Spaniards are finding a job each day.

Quite simply, Honourable Members, the situation has been turned around, the trend has been completely reversed; we have gone from being the European Union country where most jobs were being shed to heading up the job creation table in the Eurozone. As I said, we have reversed this trend, but we shall not change our goal. There are still millions of people in Spain who are looking for an opportunity and they now have more hope of finding a job. So we still have work ahead of us in this regard.

We can aspire to reach 20 million people in work in Spain by 2020. This simply means maintaining the current rate of job creation of half a million per year, as well as ensuring that jobs are increasingly stable and of a higher quality.

This goal not only depends on us having good employment policies; it particularly depends on us maintaining our economic growth and bedding down the recovery. Consequently, it depends on maintaining and improving those economic policies that have opened up this phase and have thus improved our outlook.

This is our fundamental challenge for the coming years. At least it is how I see it, Honourable Members, because, thanks to these policies we have started to exit the worst crisis that has struck Spain in several generations; a country that was on the brink of collapse. 3.8 million people lost their job - some of them during the period of the government that I headed up -, companies were being shut down one after another, investment dried up, public revenue plummeted - 70 billion euros, which might sound easy to say - and obtaining financing, which you will assuredly remember, was an impossible mission for companies, households and public authorities.

Things were so bad that a sovereign bailout seemed to be the only solution to a desperate situation. I don't even want to think about what the economic consequences or, worse still, the social consequences of that decision would have been. The point is that we didn't ask for a bailout, we trusted in Spain and in the ability of the Spanish people. We took measures as a sovereign country that refused not to be the master of its own destiny and we adopted decisions to overcome the serious imbalances of our economy, without leaving the Spanish people with fewer resources to ride out this situation.

Despite all the difficulties, and through the efforts made by the Spanish people and the right reforms, we managed to recover confidence, credibility and, above all, create jobs. Allow me to give you a few figures to illustrate my point. It is not my intention to revel in the great change that has taken place in our country over recent years but rather to establish the starting point for an exciting future that we should not squander.

Honourable Members,

We have gone from a recession to growth and, as I said before, we grew in the last quarter by almost three times the Eurozone average. We have gone from the mass shedding of jobs to creating half a million jobs a year; from the a total credit drought to a current credit growth rate of 33% per annum for the purchase of real estate and I would also remind you that credit for SMEs increased last year by 13%; from a runaway risk premium - which I am sure you will remember - to minimum interest rates, and we are even being paid for some tranches of our public debt, and from price rises of above 3% to today's negative inflation, which maintains the purchasing power of households and improves our competitiveness.

In short, we have gone from a virtual shutdown in economic activity to installing a new, sounder and more sustainable pattern of development. For the first time, we have come out of a crisis without devaluing our currency and, for the first time, Spain is growing and creating jobs without having to resort to external borrowing. For the last four years we have had a surplus in our balance of payments, something which clearly shows the transformation that has taken place in the Spanish economy.

So, the balance of what we have achieved allows us to reassert our commitment to this country and our conviction on the way to govern it, and to also assert that, if we do not allow political instability to prejudice confidence and if we recover the democratic normality of a fully operational government, Spain can maintain the rate of job creation that will lead us to this figure of 20 million people in work by the year 2020. We now know that we can do this and no-one can doubt that. We have shown this with our policies and the facts have backed this up.

Honourable Members,

In the same way as I say this, I have always argued that there is still a lot to do, that problems remain that need to be tackled and that we can do this in the most effective manner if we have broad-based support, if we are capable of sharing priorities and concerns.

I believe that the agreement we have reached regarding the investiture with Ciudadanos and with the Canary Island Coalition responds to this goal and allows us to harness all our potential as a nation to bed us down as a leading economic power. To do this, we must continue to reform those factors on which competitiveness is based in the global economy. I am referring to such issues as efficiency, sustainability, entrepreneurship and innovation; efficiency in the functioning of the goods and services markets to ensure the competitiveness of the economy and the unity of our internal market, as well as efficiency in the use of our resources, in order to ensure sustainable growth.

In this regard, it is necessary for energy policy to not only contribute to competitiveness, but also to the fight against climate change. This must be the goal of the Energy Pact that forms part of the agreement we have reached with Ciudadanos and which is open to the rest of the formations in this Parliamentary chamber. This Pact will have to provide for the special needs of the Canary Islands along the lines of work that we have been carrying out with the Canary Island Coalition and with the Regional Government of the Canary Islands over the last year, and which is an important item on the agenda of the Canary Islands, an agenda which, as you are aware, has its main basis in the Economic and Fiscal Regime of the Canary Islands, and which seeks to cater for its special needs as an outermost region, in order to help step up its growth and social development.

Honourable Members,

A commitment to quality growth requires support for cutting-edge, priority sectors, such as agri-food, industry and tourism, and also support for entrepreneurial initiatives, as a true driver of economic activity and job creation. We believe that it is both possible and positive to stimulate entrepreneurship in order for it to be cheaper to start a business activity, and also so that it is easier to maintain and extend this, because the self-employed, entrepreneurs and small business owners have suffered the worst of the crisis and must be the leading players in its recovery. Their efforts deserve our recognition and demand our attention. That is why we want to foster new measures to support the self-employed and to that end we have agreed the following: to tackle a reform in this Lower House of the system for contributions from the self-employed with the aim of making them more flexible and better suited to the specific needs of each activity; also to allow them to compute their pension under the best conditions or to make employment and pensions fully compatible, and to extend the 50-euro flat-rate from the present six months to one year.

But we want to go further; we don't want to limit ourselves to supporting the start of an activity, we also want to support the growth of businesses, because that leads to growth of the economy. That is why it is necessary to propose new measures that contribute to business development, remove regulatory obstacles and avoid regulatory burdens that limit the growth of SMEs. We also want to reduce the tax burden to those that invest in their development, as well as ensure their financing and liquidity with special control over late payments.

Honourable Members,

Today's economy operates in digital terms and it is necessary to adapt to its conditions and harness its opportunities. I propose moving towards a Digital Agenda in our country to cover both the development of our communication infrastructures, which are already among the best in Europe, and improve training in digital knowledge. It is necessary to boost the presence of SMEs in electronic commerce and the digital transformation of our industry, but we must also think of the digital economy as a sector in its own right and facilitate initiatives of entrepreneurs in this field. We must boost all industries and services with a digital content, which will be critical in the future.

We must adapt to technological change, but we must also be capable of heading this up, because innovation and research are crucial, in short, for sound and credible growth. That is why, Honourable Members, we propose a National R&D+i Pact, in order to achieve the goal, by 2020, of public investment amounting to 2% of GDP in the activities as a whole that make up this sector. This "National Pact for Science and Innovation" must be accompanied by the stimulus of private financing, with the improvement of the current system of tax breaks and the recognition of the work of researchers.

Honourable Members,

It is thus good to increase the physical capital of our economy through investment in technology, in capital goods, in infrastructure and in innovation, but this is all to no avail if we do not attend to the education of our young people and the training of our workers. Training is essential for economic growth to truly translate into quality jobs. That is why we have devised an Action Plan to Combat Unemployment, which seeks to offer greater effectiveness to active employment policies and which pushes through an extensive training plan for the unemployed, using, to that end, the modality of the 'training cheque', which allows each user to take the courses that best suit their needs.

Furthermore, the fight against unemployment which, I repeat, must be our main priority for the coming years, obliges us to continue making progress on the efficiency and competitiveness of our labour market; to commit to flexi-security; to drive the creation of stable, quality jobs, and to facilitate their adaptation to the new technological framework and to the new labour market realities.

Without renouncing the reforms that have allowed us to change the trend in job creation, we propose the following: to reduce the number of employment contract modalities to only three; to introduce mechanisms to reduce the dualism of the labour market and boost permanent employment, such as through extending the exemption from contributions for the first 500 euros of salary for a four-year period, and through the creation of a capitalisation fund for workers through a similar scheme to that which prevails in countries such as Austria.

Honourable Members,

I have explained my proposals to you to improve the functioning of the markets, including the labour market, support for entrepreneurs and to boost training and innovation, but more elements exist that determine the competitiveness of a country and an increase in quality. I refer, for example, to the public sector.

Management of spending and public revenue must aspire to be as efficient as possible in order to share out the benefits and the burdens of fiscal policy in the fairest way possible while supporting growth. That has always been my position and my policy.

Honourable Members,

When we talk about public spending, we must always be well aware of our commitment to reduce the public deficit below 3%, in accordance with the Stability and Growth Pact of the European Union. This is both a European and a constitutional obligation, an essential condition for us to remain in the Euro, but, above all, it is a conviction because you can't spend what you haven't got. Unfortunately, we have already seen the consequences in Spain of ignoring this principle.

And since you cannot spend what you haven't got, you should not misspend the resources that are available to you. That is why during the last term of office, we set up the Commission for the Reform of the Public Administration Services, which has already tackled some important changes in their operation. It is my government's intention to continue with this work, with a comprehensive revision of spending in order to help identify potential duplications and thus reduce superfluous spending.

As far as the public revenue is concerned, I maintain my commitment to continuing to reduce taxes for the Spanish people and, in particular, Personal Income Tax, as economic growth is stepped up and we meet our commitments regarding fiscal consolidation. As soon as we reach our target to reduce the public deficit to below 3%, we will approve a two-point reduction in the Personal Income Tax rate, so that it stands between 18% at its lowest rate and 43.5% at his highest rate.

We will also push through the revision of other taxes in order to foster investment and avoid fraud and tax evasion. Moreover, within the framework of the reform of the regional financing system, we will have to analyse the tax revenue that corresponds to the regions.

Honourable Members,

This question of regional financing is undoubtedly of vital importance when we are talking about the efficiency of the public sector and is broadly justified when we take into consideration the weight of the services provided by the regional governments: education, health, care and other social services that you are as aware, or indeed more aware, of than I am.

It is necessary to have a broad consensus in order to achieve two things that all our citizens are demanding: firstly, to access the same level of quality in basic public services under equal conditions; and secondly, to guarantee stable and sufficient financing of these services, which protect them from such contingencies as electoral cycles, boom periods and economic recession.

That is why I am offering all the parties in this house, and particularly the Socialist Party which, in the same way as the People's Party, governs is a good number of the autonomous regions, to open up negotiations to jointly design a stable model that preserves equality and the solidarity of all the people of Spain in terms of receiving public services.

Honourable Members,

In order to avoid misunderstandings, we should remember how public spending is broken down in Spain: of every 100 euros that the State spends, 63 go on social spending, I repeat, 63; 26 of every 100 euros go on pensions, 14 of every 100 euros go on healthcare, 9 on education, 8 on other social spending and 6 on unemployment benefits. That is the reality of our public accounts and the reality of the Spanish welfare system, which is one of the best in the world and those of us present here today, Honourable Members, are under an obligation to preserve and improve that.

Let us think, in particular, about the pension system. We have already made efforts in previous terms of office, and through different governments, to improve its sustainability, and we have had to face, particularly in recent years, the consequences of the loss of more than 3.5 million jobs, with their corresponding social contributions, at the worst time of the crisis. Meanwhile, the number of pensioners has hit record levels of close on 9.5 million, and the amount of these pensions as well. We have guaranteed their upward revision and we have improved them, with an additional maternity benefit. Never before in the history of Spain has the budget for pensions gone above 130 billion euros.

Honourable Members,

I propose to you opening up a period of dialogue to discuss the most important issue at hand - strengthening the public pension system with the aim of reassuring both present and future pensioners. And I can announce to you that, if you place your trust in me as President of the Government, I will immediately propose invoking the Toledo Pact to undertake this task.

Honourable Members,

There are fundamental issues for the Spanish people that go beyond a period of sessions or a term of office. Pensions constitute one of these issues, it is one of the major State issues, and consequently, we should tackle it as such, with responsibility and with our sights set high.

The same can be said of education. It will be my intention as President of the Government to open up a dialogue with all of the political forces in order to agree on a National Education Pact, an agreement that can and must extend to all levels, from primary education through to university education. I am proposing a pact that will provide the education system with the necessary stability and one that focuses on acquiring the necessary skills and improving results in order to offer better opportunities which everyone can access under equal conditions; nothing more.

I am convinced that this intention is shared by many of you here today. I believe that we all advocate the right to education and we all defend the right of parents to choose how they wish to educate their children. It is our duty, through the public authorities, to guarantee these rights and to work towards an education system based on freedom, equality and quality. That duty demands that we guarantee access to the education system, strengthening the policy on grants, ensuring the special needs of pupils are covered, battling the school drop-out rate and fostering co-existence in the classroom.

Honourable Members,

I am well aware that it is not possible to propose improving our education system without counting on a key element of this, namely our teachers. In relation to them, we want to approve the Statute on Teaching Staff to improve access to and the development of their professional careers. We are not starting from scratch in this task, since in the last phase of government we have drawn up the White Book on Teaching, which will serve as the basis for improving the regulation of teachers' rights.

Similarly, we have made a decisive commitment to improving and making vocational training more dignified through the implementation in Spain of Dual Vocational Training, which allows young people to combine learning with employment. Our goal in the coming years must be to make 100,000 places available under this system.

We must also agree, at a national level, on the measures necessary to strengthen Spanish universities, and improve their governance, their financing and their dynamism. The aim is to have a modern, quality university system of excellence, which is both fair and caters for the efforts made by students, and offers a framework that is appropriate for developing a teaching career and for research.

I could speak, Honourable Members, about many other issues, all of them important, when we talk about the well-being of the Spanish people and our system of social protection, but I would like to highlight from among them the fight against the worst form of inequality, which is gender-based violence. I propose to you that we should forge a major pact to combat this form of violence exerted against women; an agreement that involves all parties, all public authorities and all affected entities, and indeed the whole of society, so that together we can offer a way out and an opportunity to the victims.

The sensitivity and commitment of all governments and all institutions against this blight is something that makes us noble as a country, but we will always be obliged to go the extra mile until such time as not a single woman is a victim of this situation. Nowadays, for example, women have free legal aid during the whole legal process that commences from the very first instance when they ask for it, and they can also rest assured that not one abuser has received a pardon from my government; however we still have a long way to go.

Honourable Members,

Another of the main pillars of the government programme that I present to this House today is to strengthen our institutions. We are here thanks to the votes of the Spanish people and we are under an obligation to strengthen the ties that bind our citizens to their representatives.

Allow me, before tackling this issue, to make an initial observation: the best way to maintain the confidence of our citizens in our democratic system - the best way, I repeat - is to comply with their will, with the will of the Spanish people. And I am not only talking about respecting the option most voted for in the ballot box; I am talking, above all, about a previous principle: when the Spanish people vote, they do so to have a government and the obligation and responsibility to fulfil this mandate and not let them down again falls to those chosen, which in this case is us.

Honourable Members,

It is hard to find something that could harm Spanish democracy more than saying to our citizens that their vote has been futile on two occasions and that general elections will need to be held for a third time.

Respecting democracy is the first measure for strengthening it. Aside from that, all those initiatives that can be taken that truly increase the confidence of the Spanish people in our institutions will have our backing and support.

Now corruption is prosecuted more than ever before and punishments are harsher than ever before. Our country is more transparent, we have stricter controls over the financing of political parties, new requirements on senior officials and we have implemented new mechanisms to recover every last cent of what is stolen by the corrupt.

All that has already been done, but in this area the task can never be said to be done. That is why we have incorporated in the investiture agreement with Ciudadanos a raft of measures to further help strengthen demands on public office and make its officers more exemplary.

The struggle for regeneration must be a goal that binds us all and contains specific commitments, such as a refusal to pardon those sentenced for corruption, in the same way as those sentenced for gender-based violence or terrorism cannot be pardoned. I also propose a regulation on lobbies that safeguards the defence of public interest at all times, over and above any other consideration; strengthening the prevention of corruption in public procurement and in granting subsidies; and a greater control and transparency requirements in political parties. However, Honourable Members, I am sure it won't have escaped your notice that these proposals can only be truly useful and effective if they receive the support of all of the political forces.

On another note, the People's Party and Ciudadanos have also agreed on an ambitious agenda of institutional reforms. We are aware that, in order to be pushed through, the majority of them require much greater support, numerically speaking, than the figures that our two parties represent, and, even should our MPs be sufficient to approve them, I must remain true to my conviction that these affairs of State that affect the minimum foundations of our democratic co-existence are far more lofty than investiture agreements and require major State agreements.

Honourable Members,

We live in a world that is increasingly demanding, a world that does not wait for those who decide to contemplate the future instead of taking it by the horns. The Spanish people cannot allow their representatives, whatever their political tendencies, to conform to being mere spectators of those events that shape their lives. We have a responsibility to those whom we represent, of course; but also at an international level, where our country also has a voice that we must use.

Honourable Members,

Allow me to reassert today the commitment made by this Parliament and by this nation it represents to the European project and my firm intention - I hope that is shared by the vast majority of you - to continue participating in its consolidation. European politics is one area in which I once again want to propose a broad agreement to channel the action of the Government of Spain during the next term of office.

Europe today is facing several key challenges: the first is undoubtedly to overcome the crisis deriving from the decision by the UK to leave that European Union; secondly, to ensure economic growth that leads to job creation; the need to reach a common, sustainable and supportive migratory policy; and, lastly, to strengthen our cooperation to combat those that threaten our liberties, particularly Jihadi terrorism.

On all of these questions, all of them, Spain can and must offer its wholehearted pro-European vocation and its successful stories. Spain, I repeat, has a great deal to contribute to the future of the EU and it would be regrettable if, due to a lack of a government with broad support, it could not assume a leading position on these matters.

Honourable Members,

Our full integration in Europe has been an undisputed factor of wealth and prosperity. I would remind you that Spain is the fourth-ranked leading country in the world to have enjoyed the most per capita income rise over the last 40 years. Europe has decisively contributed to improving our infrastructures, to raising the levels of income of our farmers, to facilitating educational and cultural exchanges among our young people, and so many other benefits that I don't feel it is necessary to list them all, because they are already so well known and highly valued by our compatriots.

But Spain has also contributed to the design of the modern-day European Union. Spain has been an active, diligent partner that has always been willing to offer solutions to improve the European project. Many proposals that are nowadays European realities that we are all used to were made by Spain. I would refer, for example, to the principle of economic and social cohesion, to the concept of European citizenship, to the European Arrest Warrant that I had the honour of pushing through when I was the Minister for Home Affairs during the Spanish Rotating Presidency of the European Union in 2002, and the Statute of the Outermost Regions, which we want to continue developing here, in collaboration with the Regional Government of the Canary Islands.

More recently we have also made important contributions to the design of the Banking Union and to the new integration targets, such as the Single Market for Energy, and to the field of digital economy and services, as well as the drafting of bills on the Economic, Fiscal and Political Union.

So, Honourable Members, with this desire, with this experience and with the consensus of the vast majority of the Spanish society, we must actively take part in the process that is now commencing to give a new political boost to the EU of the 27. Europe has overcome all its crises with greater integration and in this case this should also happen.

The 'Brexit' crisis can only be overcome with the firm determination to remain united and to push on with building the European project. We must re-conquer the vigour of the founding spirit of the European Union which, despite all its contretemps, is the largest space for peace, liberty and prosperity in the history of Humanity.

We must respond to the expectations of our citizens, who must find the guarantee for their security, their prosperity and their hopes for a better future in the EU. Above all, to the benefit of our young people. I believe that this goal is broadly shared by this Lower House and that is why I undertake to make the necessary efforts to maintain and strengthen the consensus that has also prevailed in European policy regardless of the political hue of different governments.

In the same way, Honourable Members, I have no doubts that foreign policy requires a necessary State vision and a sincere consensus to develop it. I believe that no major efforts need to be made in order to agree on the pillars of our foreign policy: our historical relations with Ibero-America and our renewed transatlantic ties with the United States; collaboration on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, in particular with Morocco, on many issues, especially some crucial issues such as security and migratory management; and our commitment to democratic, economic and social development on the African continent. All of these issues have played a central role and must continue to play a central role on our international agenda.

Honourable Members,

This constant agreement on foreign policy is also essential for tackling defence policy with a coordinated and consensual vision, as the basis for protecting our rights, our liberties and our human and democratic values. I propose to you to continue working on an effective response to the different risks and threats of a cross-cutting nature. To that end, I feel that it is essential to maintain Spain's active role as a member of NATO and to maintain our commitments to the Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union, by assuming our international responsibilities agreed with our partners and allies in order to guarantee security and foster peace and stability.

In this area, it is necessary to express our grateful pride to our compatriots who are deployed overseas, for their work towards ensuring safety, international peace and stability.

Terrorism is the main threat to democratic values, to respect for human rights and to the fundamental freedoms that prevail in the most democratic nations of the world. I propose to you to continue pushing through a comprehensive and global counter-terrorism strategy, persecuting terrorists and their accomplices wherever they may be; denouncing and prosecuting any act of glorification or tribute to terrorism, and preventing, with all the means available to be us, the propagation and spread of terrorist ideals and violent radicalisation. A global strategy that applies to us all, such as that contained in the Jihadi Counter-Terrorism Pact in force.

I undertake to make this pact a channel for communication between the government and the rest of the political forces, and a channel for information on the events and progress made in this area, and for it to be a forum for reflection on the future measures we should adopt, and, above all, the permanent reflection of the unity of democrats in defence of life and the security of our citizens, as a guarantee of the full development of the rights and liberties of the Spanish people.

The Jihadi Counter-Terrorism Pact and the moral benchmark of the victims of any attack, their memory, their dignity and their testimony must be our main weapon in achieving this goal of preserving and improving our defence of liberty and our commitment to democracy.

Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament,

I have just set out the fundamental cornerstones of the political project for Spain that I present at this investiture session and which as you are aware, already has extensive Parliamentary support. I would once again thank both Ciudadanos and the Canary Island Coalition for their collaboration and loyalty shown through their commitment to the governability of Spain, which I expressly wish to acknowledge once again. However, this project would not be complete if I did not mention the most serious challenge facing Spain at this time.

Honourable Members,

As everyone is aware, Spain is suffering from an explicit threat to its territorial unity, to the equality of the Spanish people and to its model of coexistence. That is why the People's Party and Ciudadanos, together with the rest of the parties that support us, have incorporated into our agreement the desire to form a pact for the unity of Spain and in defence of the Constitution.

Honourable Members,

The challenge which, paradoxically and abusively, comes from the regional institutions of Catalonia cannot, in any way, be attributed to the people of Catalonia as a whole. Fortunately, Catalonia is a highly heterogeneous and plural community. We simply have to remember the results there in the latest legislative elections on 26 June. Once again, we have seen an old truth - namely that Catalonia is much more than the pro-independence politicians and that the latter cannot push through their objectives without causing a major rift in the Catalan society.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we reject independence because it is only called for by a few; what I am saying is that its pretext, the strongest excuse to call for it, this alleged anxiety by a people who are dissatisfied and ignored, lacks any foundation whatsoever.

Nor is it true, as some would try to argue, that the autonomy of the Spanish regions involves a degree of sovereignty that allows each region to unilaterally decide on issues that also affect the rest of the people of Spain. Honourable Members, we must not be ambiguous about this. In political and constitutional terms, the only sovereign people are the Spanish people and no-one can encroach on this founding principle on which our democratic system is based. The people of Spain as a whole are the only sovereign people. That is why any of you Honourable Members, any of you, represent the people of Cadiz, just as you represent the people of Valencia. We are elected to represent our sovereign people as a whole.

What I am saying here and now has not been made up on the spot. This has been the case since Saint Joseph's Day back in 1812, over 200 years ago - and you are aware of this - when, for the first time in Spain, the supreme command, the power to legislate, in other words, sovereign power, which until such time had exclusively lain with the monarch, was assumed by the Spanish people, who ceased to be subjects and became citizens. And all of the Spanish Constitutions - when I say "all", I mean absolutely "all" - including the present one dating back to 1978, have done no more than ratify this democratic principle.

So, Honourable Members, what they are proposing is not a mere debate on the State model, or on its territorial structure. The appropriate channels and scenarios exist for these issues. What they are plotting here is to do away with national sovereignty and respect for the law, which is the democratic expression of this sovereign will. We are thus talking about the rights of the Spanish people, the first of which, Honourable Members, is the ability to decide on one's own nation.

No-one can deprive the Spanish people as a whole of the right to decide on their own future; not the government, not this Parliamentary chamber, nor any other State power or authority.

In short, Honourable Members, our first obligation, that of the government, of Parliament and of all of the Members of these two Houses of Parliament, is to preserve national sovereignty, thereby preserving the unity of Spain, the equality of the Spanish people and their fundamental rights. And it is not the government's place to interpret that unity; it falls to the government to defend it as understood by the Spanish people and enshrined in the Constitution.

Honourable Members,

We are talking about unity, not just anything. In all countries, unity is the leading value on which all others are based. And in Spain too, since we haven't just come up with unity in this last term of office. The Spanish people have formed part of this same nation, the oldest in Europe, for centuries now, over which time we have shared our history and our culture, our successes and our failures, by mixing our blood and our destinies.

Unity is thus our greatest historical asset, but also the soundest and safest basis on which our future is projected. It is the house we live in, it is our very strength which permits us to forge projects and carry them through, that paves the way for us in the world and the framework that plays host to our equality.

But moreover, Honourable Members, unity demands that we respect the will of the Spanish people as enshrined in the Constitution and, until this will changes, there it must stay. And I do not believe, Honourable Members, that we want, or that it would be good for us, to change this, because we are better off together and because unity also guarantees equality and solidarity among the people of Spain.

It is with this firm conviction that I have acted at all times and that is also why, as President of the Government, I have done everything in my hands so that no citizen of Catalonia should feel unprotected, ignored or forgotten by the Government of Spain. We have focused on attending to the real needs of the people of Catalonia and of elsewhere, and we have attended the needs of the people of Catalonia because this is our duty and because we care about them; and because the President of the Government of Spain - today me, we will see what happens in the future- is also the leader of the 7 million Spaniards who live in Catalonia.

Honourable Members,

During the last term of office, my government maintained its full interest in talking and cooperating with the Regional Government of Catalonia. There are many areas in which we have worked together, many benefits have derived from that and this collaboration has helped avoid serious harm to the citizens of Catalonia. We have managed to avoid a default in the public debt of the Regional Government of Catalonia, we have guaranteed that their suppliers got paid, and even their civil servants, and at present the Government of Spain continues to facilitate highly beneficial financial liquidity mechanisms for the regional authorities, because we are all equal and because the Spanish people are supportive of each other.

Honourable Members,

Catalonia has always been a welcoming land, a land that is fertile and warm; a land that many Spaniards who have been born elsewhere have made their home, because they have found opportunities there for a better life, to raise their children, to grow and to prosper. We want this to remain that way because this ability to take people in and this diversity has forged one of its hallmarks, and fed its great potential that has been evident over the years.

I have always been ready and willing to work with the people of Catalonia from the conviction that Spain welcomes its diversity as an element of the wealth from which we all benefit: its language, its culture and its entrepreneurial spirit. I have also always been willing to look for formulas to better accommodate necessary support between regions. A fairer and more balanced union is undoubtedly a sounder and longer-lasting union. But, I repeat, the first requirement, so that no-one is surprised, for any fair solution, is respect for the law and for the rights of all the people of Spain.

Honourable Members,

That is the united, prosperous and supportive Spain that I want to see and to which end I ask for the vote of confidence of this Parliamentary chamber. The question is that, as everyone knows, I alone cannot give the Spanish people what I believe they need. The electorate has given the People's Party victory in the elections, but they have not given it sufficient votes to be able to form a government on its own.

As you are aware, I come to this investiture session after having spoken with all of the groups that make up this House. I am aware of the opinion of all of them, in the same way as they are all aware of mine. I have offered an open project, which I believe is worth signing up to and which we could make better through agreement; a project in which there is room for all those who advocate the principles contained in our Constitution, the basic rule for our co-existence.

The results of my labours, Honourable Members, are well known. I come here today, not only with the support of the Navarre People's Union, the Party of Aragon and Forum Asturias, but also with the backing of the Parliamentary Group of Ciudadanos and the representation of the Canary Island Coalition. I would thank them for their gesture of responsibility, not only for facilitating the forming of what is a broad majority, but also for having established the agreements on which the government programme is based, the general broad strokes of which I have just set out for you.

It is clear, Honourable Members, that these agreements are not enough to lead to a sufficient majority. This is tantamount to saying that the immediate future of Spain depends on what is decided in this vote of confidence, which means that, in order to form a government, it is necessary to approve at least a simple majority in the second round of voting or an absolute majority in the first round, and hence we are faced with a shared responsibility, unavoidably shared, which no-one should be indifferent to.

Unless someone expresses the opposite in this debate, I would imagine that we all want to avoid holding fresh elections in Spain. Or is anyone here thinking about calling the Spanish people to the ballot box again? And how many times would you be prepared to do that? I have to believe, unless anyone says otherwise, that we agree that the Spanish people expect us today to respond, not from our own biased contradicting values, but from those values that we all share with the majority of our citizens, those who have voted for us -which in everyone's case is the minority--, or those who have not voted for us -which in everyone's case is the majority.

If that is how things are, Honourable Members, and I firmly believe that to be the case, then all of the groups represented here today are jointly responsible: we share the obligation to oversee the future of all the people of Spain, a shared responsibility that we should never avoid lightly, and even less so when it is not possible to look for an individual way out of this conflict.

This has nothing to do with the role that each one will play over the course of the next Legislature, whether in government or in the opposition. There must obviously be an opposition - I don't intend to be there, but there must be an opposition - because someone must supervise the government, but in order for there to be an opposition there must also be a government; if not, there cannot be an opposition. And, Honourable Members, as this government cannot emerge by itself, it is clear that we must either work together to create it, or we will end up with neither a government nor an opposition.

Spain, Honourable Members, has stood at many crossroads in its history, but this is one of the most serious ones in the last 40 years. That is the case because of the challenges we face, and because of how serious and urgent many of them are, because it is our economic recovery that is at stake and because, never before in our history, nor that of Europe, have elections had to be repeated because no agreement is reached between the political forces.

Honourable Members,

We are facing an exceptional situation, we all know that, and the important thing is for us to know how to face up to this responsibly and look to the general interests of the Spanish people, which all of us present today claim are so important to us.

I particularly call on those groups that defend the values proclaimed in our Constitution. I refer to unity, sovereignty, the equality of the Spanish people, strict respect for the principles of democracy, the defence of legality…, in one word, those values that form the fabric of the basic consensus of Spanish society, on which our co-existence since 1978 has been woven; because these basic agreements weigh more, are more important and impose on us more than the numerous differences that we could display at this time.

And it is not the differences that count today, but rather what we have in common. The time will come for differences once we have created the right conditions for them to come out.

Honourable Members,

I repeat, we are living through an exceptional situation. We must act accordingly and this responsibility particularly compromises those who, from the Government of Spain, have contributed, with different approaches, to make this a great country.

What the whole of Spain wants is for us to be able to form a government in accord with the magnitude of the situation. If we don't do this, given that we can do it and given that no viable alternative exists, it will exclusively be because we lack the will to do so. What circumstances dictate at this time is that we all work towards reaching a consensus, which is tantamount to saying working in the service of the Spanish people.

Honourable Members,

I will be delighted to listen to all of your opinions, to your interest in resolving a problem that affects us all and I hope that, at the end of the debate, we will show that we have been capable of putting the common interest ahead of any individual interests and, consequently, a government will emerge from here that the Spanish people are waiting for.

At any event, I want to thank you for your time and the respect with which you have listened. I am as grateful as I can be. It now falls on you to respond as the representatives of national sovereignty.

That is all, Madam Speaker. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.