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Speech by President of the Government at event to award New Economy Forum Prize to President of the Republic of Colombia

Madrid, Wednesday 14 December 2016

Mr President of the Republic of Colombia, Madam Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Mr Minister for Justice, Mr Chairman of New Economy Forum, Madam Secretary-General of Ibero-America, Mr Ambassador of Colombia, Mr Chief Public Prosecutor, Madam Ombudsman, Mr Chairman of the Council of State, Madam Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia; public officials, ladies and gentleman, dear friends,

The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, is my colleague but, above all, he is a person I appreciate. That is why it is a true honour for me to present him today with the New Economy Forum Prize. This award is recognition of all the people of Colombia and the closeness that exists between our two countries. Our bilateral relations are wonderful. They are based on historic ties, on daily work and on a shared future. A key element of our splendid personal relationship is our frankness. Thanks to that we can talk when we are in agreement and, above all, when differences exist; but don't be alarmed, that is rarely the case.

I also wish to congratulate New Economy Forum and its Chairman on getting things right once again. Last year, I awarded this prize to the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and today to the President of the Republic of Colombia. This is a good sign of Spain's dual vocation - European and American - key to understanding our country and what we represent in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The cooperation between Colombia and Spain has a great many scopes of action: bilateral, the European Union, the United Nations, the Ibero-American Summits, Latin America, and even NATO. I believe this is the right time to highlight certain milestones of recent years and the challenges that lie ahead.

As I said before, Spain is both a European and an Ibero-American country. We have always said that we are the best advocate for Latin America in Brussels, and it is true, we are, and the countries of Latin America know this. I believe that recent achievements show that Spain meets its commitments and it does so satisfactorily. We do this to our mutual interest, because business is good when all sides win.

In 2013, the so-called Multiparty Agreement with Colombia and Peru came into force. Spain's strong support was decisive in designing a modern framework for relations, including trade relations, which is very important in itself, but we also achieved other goals: firstly, a generic goal, for the European Union and Latin America to continue looking to each other and improving their relations; and secondly, a specific goal, through the successful example of its two neighbours, we are helping contribute to Ecuador resuming negotiations. In November, an agreement was signed and it is due to be approved by the European Parliament today or tomorrow.

By starting to provisionally apply this agreement on 1 August 2013, we initiated one of the best operations of our Latin American policy in recent years: the removal of the visa requirement for Colombians and Peruvians for short-term stays in the Schengen Area. While I say that this is one of the best operations I should also say that it was one of the most complex. Let me just give you one fact: at the first technical meeting of the 28 Member States of the European Union, we only had the support of … Portugal, the other good advocate of Latin America in the European Union. Since about a year ago this risky idea has now become a reality. Curiously, I called President Santos to announce my intentions on 10 August 2013. My collaborators told me that everything was carefully planned but I believe it was by chance that it was also his birthday.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, President Santos attended the signing of the Constitutive Agreement of the European Trust Fund for the Colombia Post-Conflict in Brussels on Monday, which Spain backed. This event included the presence of our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Spain made the first contribution and there are now 19 countries that contribute to this fund, which will help finance projects for the rural development of Colombia in the post-conflict era.

Spain, ladies and gentlemen, has been present, in one way or another, in all of the peace processes in Latin America. Over the last 20 years, Spain has supported the different Presidents of Colombia - Pastrana, Uribe and now Santos - in their attempts to do away with the violence of the FARC and the ELN. And I say Spain because this has not been an exclusive commitment from the government I head up, not in the past or now; there is a broad political consensus in Spanish society on the importance of supporting peace in Colombia. This was made clear, as we were reminded of just a few moments ago by the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, on 2 September, when the Lower House of Parliament unanimously approved an institutional declaration to support the peace process. And believe me, and I am speaking as someone who is well-informed, that it is not easy to pass unanimous decisions in the Lower House of Parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Peace Agreement, initially rejected in a referendum with the difference that President Santos mentioned in his speech, was swiftly renegotiated and approved not long ago by the Colombian legislative power. Peacebuilding had now commenced and its definitive success depends on it constituting peace for everyone, a solid peace that should never forget the victims and their suffering, as President Santos said to us in his speech here.

To achieve that, Colombia has the unequivocal and decisive backing of Spain, as we have demonstrated in many forums, including on the United Nations Security Council. We actively participated there to approve Resolutions 2261 and 2307, which established the United Nations Political Mission tasked with verifying the ceasefire and the laying down of weapons. Spain has already sent observers to Colombia and is prepared to increase their number.

I also hope that the ELN appreciates that violence has no place in the future of Colombia, which deserves to enjoy total peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In recent years, Colombia has enjoyed a positive transformation. The path has been long and arduous and the sacrifices many. And, as always, there is still a long way to go and reforms to undertake. Colombia has wonderful natural and human resources. These foundations, linked to the right policies to open up its economy, respect for legal security and redistribution, create a sound basis for achieving the goal of any sensible governor: the economic prosperity and well-being of its citizens, however much populism proposes shortcuts that go nowhere.

The level of development achieved by Colombia makes its interest in joining the OECD logical. This is a process already under way that Spain firmly supports and we hope that this will soon be achieved.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will draw to a close now. Since I became President of the Government I have visited Colombia twice and President Santos has been in Spain on many occasions. I believe I am not wrong in saying that he is the Latin American president I have met up with on the most occasions; we even bumped into each other walking down the street in New York one evening.

I fondly remember the two visits I have made to Colombia, in April 2012, on my first trip to Latin America as President of the Government, and in May 2013, to attend a Summit of the Pacific Alliance in Cali. This very pragmatic regional integration initiative is an example to follow and has the full support of Spain, which had the honour of being the first European country to achieve Observer State status.

Dear President,

I reiterate my warm congratulations, both to you and to the people of Colombia, on this New Economy Forum Prize, which is another achievement to spur us on to continue working together for the good of all the people of both Colombia and Spain.

Thank you very much.