Speech by President of the Government in European Parliament

2019.1.16

European Parliament, Strasbourg (France)

Mr President of the European Parliament.

Mr Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Commissioner.

Honourable Members.

It is an honour, a real honour, for me to be addressing you all and provide Spain's contribution of its vision to this exciting debate on the future of Europe.

I say it's exciting with every conviction and on the basis of my own experience. In 1985, when Spain signed the Accession Treaty to what was then the European Economic Community, I was 13 years old. Despite all the time that's gone by I still remember that day clearly.

I recall the feelings of those of us who had suffered from a lack of democracy and freedom in my country, in Spain, for decades.

I remember how moved a whole generation of Spaniards were, my parents' generation, men and women for whom Europe during those many years of dictatorship meant freedom and the rule of law, progress and cohesion.

That point in time as far as Spain was concerned represented many things, above all, a guarantee that there would be no going back. That at last we would be at peace with our history and that at last no-one would ever again tear down democracy in our country.

Since then, subsequent generations of Spaniards, including my own, have seen the internal borders become mere relics of history and we've built up solidarity and affection with distant peoples from days gone by.

This has always been done on the basis of respect for the values that we now identify as European values: legal certainty, respect for the social and democratic rule of law, dialogue and tolerance, feminism and equal opportunities, fraternity and coexistence and an ecological approach and solidarity between generations.

And so I think I'm in a position to say that I am enthusiastically pro-European and I'm proud to be so particularly now when some are wielding anti-Europeanism as a supposed electoral asset.

Thank you President Tajani for giving me this opportunity to address this Parliament. Placing this House at the heart of this debate seems to me particularly appropriate as we're on the point of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first direct elections to the European Parliament. The EU would make no sense without the primacy of democratic values.

Honourable Members,

First of all, I would like to mention yesterday's vote in the British House of Commons.

I respect, as is only right, as the President of the Government of a Member State, the vote of the House of Commons, but I can only regret its rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement of the United Kingdom from the European Union. This agreement was negotiated over more than a year and a half, and I'd like to pay tribute to the Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, for the huge efforts he's made to keep the 27 Member States united. As I was saying, that agreement was negotiated over a year and a half, and I believe it's the best possible agreement. It is the option that provides the best protection for the interests of the United Kingdom and also for the rest of the Member States of the EU, and hence, for European society.

It is the option that provides the greatest protection not just of our citizens' rights but also the rights of the main economic operators. It is an agreement which contains a balance of concessions that are very hard to attain and which first and foremost seek to ensure an orderly withdrawal.

It therefore falls to the British Government to adopt the decisions it deems opportune regarding the next steps to be taken. We, as Member States and EU institutions, are doing our jobs, with both the Member States and the Commission adopting the measures we need to minimise the impact of a potential Brexit without an agreement.

Honourable Members, I've always expressed my view both in the Spanish Parliament and in a range of interviews with the media that Brexit is a disaster for the British people and for the EU as a whole. No-one comes out on top. We will all lose. Particularly the British people and in particular those who critically need support from the government, the most vulnerable. But it's a sovereign decision which we can only respect. That is why I hope that the United Kingdom will choose to maintain the closest possible relations with the European Union as a whole.

It is their decision to take. But our principles are clear. The integrity of the internal market, the indivisibility of the four freedoms and the autonomy of the EU to take decisions. You will always find us operating within the framework of these three points.

Honourable Members, I would like to talk to you about the need to mobilise Europe. I want to talk about the need to provide some fresh legitimacy for Europe in the face of the new challenges before us and also to combat those who want to destroy the EU, let's be clear about that. There are some major players both within and beyond Europe who want to destroy the EU.

As a leader of the social democratic family I know that people expect me to talk about a social Europe, about a Europe that protects. And I will do so because I feel that this social Europe is one of convictions.

And because of this moral conviction - and because it is necessary to reconcile the idea of Europe with the expectations of our citizens - if you ask me what the core idea of my speech is, it is a much wider appeal. To put it in a nutshell, if Europe is to protect us at this historic juncture we need to protect Europe.

We need to build a Europe of rights that will respect the most vulnerable. Protecting Europe means providing impetus in Europe for opportunities for our young people and also for the long-term unemployed. This doesn't necessarily mean people in their 60s. We have people in Spain, as in other countries, who are only 45 years old but are also long-term unemployed. We have to press ahead with a social Europe that will strengthen our business and industrial fabric while also safeguarding labour rights from the job insecurity that prevails in the labour markets of each and every EU Member State.

Protecting Europe also means guaranteeing the security and defence of our citizens, through the resources that make the EU a global player capable of defending its values and ideals.

Protecting Europe means reasserting our commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change. It also means completing the Economic and Monetary Union once and for all.

This is the only way that we'll have a Europe that can be reconciled with its citizens. A Europe which has a free hand to defend its Welfare State and a Europe which can complete the architecture of Economic and Monetary Union. Only with all this will we be able to address the challenges that will affect the next decade with sufficient guarantees.

Now is not the time to waver. To the enemies of Europe I would say that our conviction and determination can overcome authoritarianism; however tough the exclusionary rhetoric of some; however questionable their methods and lies may be. The time has come to show our conviction and determination in defending our common project, which is Europe.

There is a real battle being waged now; a battle of ideas. This is a stage on which this battle is certainly being waged, as it is in each of our own national Parliaments: a backlash versus progress. We know that you can never build the future by moving backwards which is why we must not backpedal on defending the European model. Europe can protect if each and every one of us, not just the Member States, not just the European Parliament and national Parliaments, not just civil society, but all of our citizens, protect Europe.

To those who are putting out these messages in this chamber as well, I would also say that Europe is not and will never be a threat to the extraordinary diversity of our countries, our languages and our cultures. Europe is quite the opposite: Europe is a multiplier, rather than a divider of identities. You are no less Spanish for being European, quite the opposite.

The European Union was never and never will be just a geographic expression. That is quite simply what unites us. It was, is and will always be a community of values.

The values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity, whereby the latter is so important today.

Values which belong to open and optimistic societies; innovative and creative societies that see the future as an opportunity and never as a threat.

Societies that tie in necessary competitiveness with economic development, with the fundamental value of social cohesion and our Welfare State that define us as Europeans. This commitment, which unites us behind the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, which is a genuine global social contract for the coming decade which has Europe as its main proponent and ambassador.

Honourable Members, globalisation has led to a certain social disenchantment. We see this is in our streets, in the squares of our cities throughout the continent. A disenchantment that fuels extreme rhetoric and which is born out of a paradox:

On the one hand, globalisation has redistributed wealth among the regions of the planet, and consequently has reduced global inequalities.

But, on the other hand, globalisation has increased inequalities in our own societies.

And, in short, if we think about it, the rise in anti-European messages has many of its origins in this phenomenon. And yet globalisation is not a natural disaster that we are defenceless against.

Goethe said that parents need to give children "roots and wings". Well, in the same way, the European Union needs to provide its citizens with "roots"; that is, an anchor, protection, a refuge and "wings". In short, empower them, so that they can prosper based on the opportunities present in a globalised world.

Honourable Members, we are moving into a new era, and on 26 May a new political cycle will begin in Europe, in which the priority must be to regulate globalisation so as to prioritise the validity of the European social model. We must bed down the foundations of the Economic and Monetary Union, completing it with the essential foundations of a social and political union, and I would like to add, an environmental union.

A decade after it began, many of our citizens are still suffering from the consequences of the crisis in terms of wage inequality, social exclusion, job inequality and low wages. A crisis that unfairly associated the idea of Europe with austerity. The austerity, by the way, of those who were always austere out of need, compared with those who were never austere and actually caused the financial crisis that ravaged European societies as a whole. The result was inequality, particularly inter-generational inequality - the inequality suffered by young people on our continent - and, of course, gender inequality, because women are suffering the worst impact of inequality in the working environment. So, clearly inequality and a weakened Welfare State.

This tale, it should be acknowledged, divided societies, but it also divided the EU: it divided countries between north and south, between east and west, between those countries that are creditors and debtors. Hence, now is the time to close off this period and offer Europe legitimacy one again where it most needs it, which is among its citizens.

And to achieve this, we must call for a social Europe, a Europe with rights. Social and territorial cohesion is a fundamental pillar, one I would say that is unique in the world, that of European societies.

In order to recover legitimacy, the EU must foster a new social contract, and make globalisation, under the protection of Europe, a source of opportunities and not only a source of threats.

It is essential to strengthen social cohesion, with clear goals that can be measured for employment, for social justice and also for the sustainability of our Welfare State. We must strengthen this perspective in European procedures for economic coordination, and also in the cohesion policy.

That, and none other, Honourable Members, is the philosophy of the proposal that the Government of Spain has advocated in the European Council, such as the creation of a European Unemployment Insurance Scheme, a genuine backstop for people, through which we can provide content to such important concepts - for those who believe in the EU - as solidarity and the essence of European citizenship. A path that we must actively promote in parallel to the culmination of the Economic and Monetary Union.

And along the same lines, it is imperative to culminate the task we have been commissioned with by the European trade unions: the directive on the reconciliation of home life and work; also relating to transparent and foreseeable working conditions throughout the European Union. And ensure ourselves that all people, regardless of their race, sex or age, have access to a decent job on our continent.

The EU must be present in the fight against labour inequality. Labour uncertainty implies life uncertainty, and we cannot allow the idea to prosper of young people on our continent being destined to live worse off than the previous generation. It is essential - on this point, and this is the position of the Government of Spain - to commit to the Youth Guarantee.

Honourable Members, seven months ago, Spain formed the government with the most women of any OECD country. This is a milestone in real and effective terms between men and women, which still has a long way to go. We would never have been able to take this path without the boost from Europe, and without the example and inspiration of Europe.

So today, in this House, I particularly want to thank the commitment made by women, by MPs from throughout the continent, who have backed the ideal, than now forms part of the European acquis, of feminism.

In the cause of gender equality, I can guarantee that Spain will not take a step backwards. We will continue to take steps forward, but we also need agreement on this in Europe.

That is why today I want to propose the adoption of a European Union Gender Equality Strategy with a binding nature; a strategy to combat the gender gap, the higher level of unemployment that women suffer from and insecurity, which women also particularly suffer from. The voice of Europe must head up this fight in this 21st Century, which is the century of women.

We must, Honourable Members, make progress on this obligation of implementing the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights; on equal opportunities in access to the labour market and on just working conditions, as well as on protection and social inclusion. I reiterate, to that end, my support for the Regulation of the European Labour Authority, to guarantee the rights of workers in the labour market.

Europe must find a way to extend equal opportunities and guarantee them in access to all studies, including those at a very high level. As regards culture, science and research, we all agree that we have a strong enough foundation to withstand those who wish to destroy the European dream.

Ladies and gentlemen, in order to guarantee the security of our citizens and strengthen our role throughout the world, as a genuine global player, it is necessary to make decisive progress on the security and defence of Europe.

A little more than a year ago, we launched the Structured Permanent Cooperation. We are taking the first steps in the creation of our own capabilities in the field of defence after 30 years of paralysis.

And now is the time to take this decision. To progress openly in the creation of a genuine European Army.

The EU, Honourable Members, must show the world that it is a 'soft power', if you will allow me to use the expression, through its own choice, and not through weakness, but by conviction. The ability to form joint forces beyond our borders and the political will to do so are fundamental conditions for being a credible power on the international stage.

The EU is undoubtedly an attractive model for the world in many respects. We often forget this but it is true. It is precisely the EU that allows us to aspire to a leading role internationally. We represent the possibilities of a multilateral order, which is currently being questioned by very important international players; a multilateral order based on the law and on widely accepted rules.

Spain, I wish to say, is willing to contribute to this leading role, through its contributions, which are decisive thanks to our privileged relationships with Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East.

However, when facing up to these major global challenges, the weight of Europe is much less than in other areas, in which the EU has exclusive jurisdiction. And in this regard, I would like to leave you with a thought.

We must become a genuine global player, which we are not at present. And to do that, it is necessary to abolish the rule of unanimity; not only on foreign affairs issues, but also on such important matters as taxation, the multiannual budget and the mechanisms to verify respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Protecting Europe means today, more than ever, providing it with instruments that must necessarily be fast in terms of decision-making. In short, committing to a new sovereignty, which is the sovereignty you represent, which is no more and no less than European sovereignty.

And thirdly, Honourable Members, we must complete the architecture of the single currency and further develop the Multiannual Financial Framework.

50 years ago in The Hague, the Heads of State and Government of the then European Economic Community paved the way for the Economic and Monetary Union.

And paradoxically the last year of each decade has always been marked by significant progress in this field. Just think about it: in 1969, The Hague Summit, that I just mentioned. In 1979, the adoption of the European Monetary System. In 1989, the Delors Plan to create the Economic and Monetary Union. And in 1999, the official introduction of the Euro.

Between this last date, 1999, and the year we are just beginning, 2019, there is a striking vacuum in this sequence, which was almost perfect, in relation to the year 2009, when the international financial crisis revealed the deficiencies in our architecture of the single currency.

So, nothing is more enlightening than the impact of the crisis, which has broken this rhythm. Hence, let's make this year, 2019, a defining year in making progress.

The Euro, in my opinion, despite the difficulties which this clearly entailed, above all in such difficult times as those of the decade of the crisis, is a success story which offers economic, but also political, benefits to the European project.

But without the reforms necessary to strengthen our single currency, the Economic Union will continue to be incomplete and exposed to instability.

It is not a question of just strengthening the financial system, through a Banking Union on the three fundamental and mutualised pillars. That is clear, you are all aware of that, and you have advocated, although not yet undertaken, much closer fiscal integration in the medium term. With stabilisation tools to attenuate the adverse effects of potential crises in the future on economic activity and job creation.

Relegitimising Europe in this area is key in my opinion. It is fundamental, and to achieve that, citizens must play a leading role in these reforms. They must feel at the heart of these reforms, protect their savings, protect themselves from inflation and protect themselves when there is an economic crisis and unemployment.

A single currency is a key pillar of a shared political project such as the European Union. The reform of the Economic and Monetary Union must ensure that social protection and inclusion are present in the same conception of our common economic policies.

And the time to do this is now, while economic conditions remain favourable.

Let's make sure politics, for once, get ahead of the events, and not allow events to once again set the agenda of the European Union. We must complete the structure of the Euro before the next crisis weakens our currency and hence the EU. Let's learn from our recent experience and make decisive progress; we cannot allow ourselves to pay the price of inaction. For the institutions, but, above all, for the people they represent, at this forum and in many other national institutions.

And look, in relation to the new Multiannual Financial Framework, we are facing new challenges we need to deal with. But we must also consolidate strategic initiatives, such as the Common Agricultural Policy and the Cohesion Policies, which are so important for such countries as Spain. Urban Europe cannot be understood without rural Europe, if you allow me to make this brief reflection.

Reducing the budget means accepting the idea Europe is taking a step backwards, a Europe in decline. So, let's also think about who benefits from this kind of message.

The European Commission's proposal, in the opinion of the Government of Spain, contains some very positive elements on the level of spending, on the foreign dimension of migratory policy - which I will refer to later - and on strengthening innovation and technological development programmes.

Europe must be sovereign on innovation, on reducing its dependency on artificial intelligence, on quantum computing, on cyber security and on atomisation. Only by uniting our capabilities and resources can we guarantee our competition. And that is why the proposal to double the funding for the Erasmus Programme is particularly opportune, and the Government of Spain clearly backs this.

But it is also necessary to make progress in other areas.

There must be a European response to phenomena that we felt had been banished from our societies, and which are growing at a cost to improvements in eliminating inequalities, as is the case of child poverty.

A Europe of opportunities begins, Honourable Members, in childhood. That is why I want to expressly support - as President of the Government of Spain - the need to boost the Childhood Guarantee to tackle social exclusion at an early age.

Honourable Members, the proposal we have - albeit with deficiencies in this regard - is a starting point, and now is the time to take a leap forward.

Our EU is very valuable; it has more weighting than 1% of the European Gross Domestic Product. So, prudence in spending; rational use of spending and an ability to attend to the priorities deriving from the transnational challenges we are facing. We all win with a reasonable EU Budget that is foreseeable, creates synergies and economies of scale.

Protecting Europe means progress, as I said, on a social Europe, on European defence, and on the Economic and Monetary Union. A federal Europe, in short, that is relegitimised is it once again manages to conquer our citizens, that needs to confront the tale of distance with measures that make this a closer reality; and that finds its guiding pole and point in the values that identify it.

Honourable Members,

I want to recover this idea in the last part of my speech, which alludes to the challenges of climate change and migration.

In both areas, I want to call on some very clearly European values. And do this with the sincere desire to reach consensuses beyond ideological boundaries; consensus that unite to face down those who have the most to gain from the division of those present here.

These issues are the battlefield - if we think about it - for those who do not believe, and will never believe in Europe. They are the conceptual framework from which they try to undermine the foundations of liberal democracy.

It is here where, once again, I invoke the need to protect Europe. To preserve and defend our European model, but also our European values.

On the matter of climate change, recent international forums show that cynical, resigned and even belligerent positions are gaining ground.

Our perspective in this field must unite global commitment and opportunities for the future. The energy transition can and must be a vector of modernisation and create opportunities in our countries. But it must also be a vector of cohesion, boosting energy interconnections to improve our efficiency and reduce emissions.

The consequences of this challenge are devastating (I am sure you have debated this on a multitude of occasions at this forum). The very institution of this challenge reaffirms the validity of the Political Union, because neither authoritarianism, nor exclusionary nationalism can deny the evidence that borders are nothing against this challenge of climate change; that is why they militate irrational denialism.

Climate change will be combated through reason and science. And both are on our side. On the side of a Europe whose voice is essential given the withdrawal of some very important players on the international stage.

And in similar terms, I would also like to refer to the second area that I just mentioned, which is the question of migration.

We are talking about an issue, Honourable Members, in which joint and coordinated action, in collaboration with the countries of origin, of transit and of destination is fundamental. This perspective is crucial for Spain, especially as our country has external EU borders. From this point of view, we are well aware of the key role played by very important countries for the whole of the European continent, including Spain, such as the Kingdom of Morocco in this field, in terms of cooperation and control. A role that I would like to expressly underline in this House.

We need to boost a parallel global focus on this matter. The Marrakesh Conference represents, or represented a first step in achieving multilateral management of the issue of migration and Spain is, together with an unfortunate lack of European countries, one of the signatories of this Global Compact

I am well aware, as you all are, of the potential divisions caused by this debate in our societies. But we cannot begin from a negative approach to the question of migration, exclusively focusing on illegal migration. Legal migration has positive implications for our economic development; it plays a key role in those sectors with a lack of workers, and contributes to alleviate one of the challenges on our continent, which is an ageing population.

But there is no possible response to this challenge without a commitment from our continent to Africa, which needs a far-reaching socio-economic transformation. This medium- and long-term policy must operate in parallel to border control, which is an obligation incumbent on each and every Member State,

A single space, without external borders, requires a joint migratory policy, in which the reform of the Common European Asylum System plays a central role. We need rules adapted to the current reality. And two principles must serve to guide this reform, which are responsibility and solidarity.

The complexities of negotiations must not let us lose sight of the original sense of this reform when it was proposed, which is to meet our obligations deriving from international conventions on the protection of human rights towards those people fleeing from persecution, war and conflict.

Europe's prestige, Honourable Members, is questioned when attitudes contrary to the most essential humanity emerge at the heart of our organisation. Being supportive and empathising with others helps us to also do this with ourselves. Europe does not follow fashions, Honourable Members; Europe, with its democratic acquis, creates trends. Therein lies our fortitude.

Honourable Members, our division here, in the EU, is our greatest weakness. This only benefits those who, as I said at the start of my speech, seek failure, a breakdown, the defeat of our model; a model that crystallises a virtuous circle, in my opinion, and one that is unique in the world: democracy, economic progress and the Welfare States.

Overcoming our divisions demands mutual comprehension and fighting stereotypes. And we are facing a crucial test this year. We are facing those who wield a well-known message on this continent, Honourable Members, a message that burnt this land down some decades ago, although not that far back. Some people felt that this rhetoric and its manifestations were inoffensive: peace, democracy and liberty can never be taken for granted.

I saw this with my own eyes at the end of the 90s in Bosnia, when I worked for the United Nations in a city devastated by civil war and hatred - Sarajevo. The barbarism, which we thought had been banished from the history of this continent, raised its head when no-one expected it. Fuelled by forces that always place hatred above reason and co-existence.

The strength of these forces not only threatens our integration project. It also subtly conditions, which I would also like to suggest, all of you, and the agenda of people whose ideals are contrary to theirs.

Today, I ask in this House for no pro-European to be swept away by these forces.

I address all of you to ask you to remain firm in defending European values and strength, in resisting the siren calls of authoritarianism which only seeks the goal of destroying Europe.

That is why I call today on the need to protect Europe, so that Europe can protect its citizens, the people of Europe.

Over the coming years, I am convinced that our common project, despite its difficulties, will continue to make progress. There will obviously be divergences and setbacks, but, without a doubt, on a global basis, there will be more progress than setbacks. Consensus that will not fulfil everyone's desires, but that is the burden we must naturally assume.

The EU is the synthesis of different ideas, and even of opposing ideas; ideas which peacefully clash to make progress on well-being and prosperity, preserving stability in an increasingly changing world.

Despite the difficulties, we have a sound foundation at any rate: solidarity that has not ceased to grow over the course of these years. We see this each time we suffer from the ravages of terrorism. This is the seed of a real and tangible European citizenship.

When a Spanish citizen covers his profile on the social media with a French flag in solidarity with a terrorist attack in Paris, he is embracing the European flag.

When a German citizen feels the attack in las Ramblas in Barcelona as his own, he is embracing the European flag.

And when, as today, we pay tribute to the victims that this very city of Strasbourg suffered in a terrible terrorist attack barely a month ago, what we are doing is embracing the European flag.

The enemies of Europe can do nothing against this growing sentiment of invisible, yet real, solidarity. May this take root with force, above all amongst our young people, amongst the young people of Europe.

They are the ones who wave the European flag as a symbol against injustice; against authoritarian wanings, against male violence and against racism; or simply to express their discontent at decisions that defy the logic of the times and their interests.

Ignoring history, Honourable Members, is a luxury we cannot afford. Being conservative when faced with uncertainty makes us more vulnerable. It is only through determination and the conviction of our ideas that will allow us to recover the lost impetus.

We are facing authoritarianism that feeds off of invented nostalgia.

And there is no worse nostalgia than longing for what never happened, as a great Spanish song-writer once wrote. To all those who live off such invented nostalgia, and I stress the word "invented", I would ask them, was peace firm when borders separated us?

Was there economic progress when customs restricted trade exchanges?

Did social rights and citizenship in each State make progress more than in these years under the European Union?

We have the answer in the battlefields of the First World War located very close to here.

That is why I want to say today, that we need progress to combat this backlash.

We need identities that unite rather than cancel each other out to combat the rhetoric of exclusionary identities.

A good colleague from the European Socialist Party and an extraordinary Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said to me, "The past will never be the future of our societies". The past in a place to learn from our mistakes and build on our successes.

Now is the time to mobilise to forge more Europe. Now is the time to protect and defend the values that make our project unique, even envied in the world. This is the only way that we can defeat those who from without, but also from within, wish to destroy our ideals. And that want to do this, and I would like to underline and recall this, for one reason, and for one reason alone, for the values that the EU advocated. Our response must lie in defending these values.

Down this path, Honourable Members, we need conviction and determination. Combining ideals with the search for pragmatism, as we have done over the last 60 or more years of our existence.

Our task, as the heirs and depositories of this great legacy, is to preserve and improve what we have received, and pass this on to the generations of Europeans to come.

If we have learned but one lesson it is that, at specific moments in our history, such as now, resisting means progressing.

Today, to those generations that you represent in this Parliament a unique but transcendental task falls to us: to protect Europe so that Europe can protect its citizens.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation