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Press conference by the Acting President of the Government after the European Council meeting on the new institutional cycle

Brussels (Belgium), Tuesday 2 July 2019

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, Acting President of the Government

President of the Government: I believe that this is very good news in two ways: first, from the point of view of the European Council; and second, from the point of view of the Government of Spain.

From the point of view of the European Council, because we have reached an agreement; an agreement that it's true it has been the result of some very difficult and very hard work, after 48 hours in which we have barely left this European Council building. But if we go back five years we will recall that the agreement was much more difficult then, and there were only two political families.

You have to remember that the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, the current President of the Council, Donald Tusk... the agreement in fact took time to be hammered out, and to be materialised, more than three months; I mean in the Council, not in the Parliament, in the Council.

So we're getting better. It's true that we concentrated it a great deal this time, that we reached an agreement after many hours without sleep, but I believe that this has been a good message that we can send to all the citizens of Europe: that there is normality, that we are not entering an institutional crisis because we cannot propose certain people to occupy important positions, very important positions in the European institutional architecture.

I believe that from the point of view of the Government of Spain the agreement is very balanced. In what sense? To start with, for the first time in the history of the European Union there will be a woman president, a woman of the main political group at European level, a woman with whom we have had some very fruitful, very positive coordination, institutional cooperation, as Minister for Defence of Germany. This is a woman whose record demonstrates that she has also been notable for defence of gender equality, a person who has for example supported marriage between people of the same gender in Germany. And so, I believe that this is great news for all of us who believe in gender equality, that for the first time in the history of the European Union a woman will head the Presidency of the European Commission, no less.

As well as this, we are going to recommend that the replacement of the current Governor of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, should also be a woman. For the first time in the history of the European Central Bank, which is shorter, but without a doubt very important, we are going to place, or going to nominate, a woman to direct its monetary policy. And for me this also appears to be extraordinary news for all of us who believe in gender equality. So that's the first thing.

The second is, you know that we have had to deal with, let's say, more complexity during the negotiations because five years ago, as I said, there were two political families; today there are three: the People's Party, the Social Democrats and the Liberals.

I believe that we have also achieved a balanced agreement between the different groups by which the European Council position will be for the acting Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, a person who is a friend of Spain.

The High Representative will be Pepe Borrell, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain. As you can imagine, I'm very happy. And I'll tell you later why in more detail, but in any case he is someone who represents the South of Europe, which has not felt represented for a long time in the, let's say, architecture of the main institutional positions of the European Union.

And finally, for the Presidency of the European Parliament we are also going to ensure, well, the first term; you now that according to the Treaties, the European Parliament has two terms; A term lasts two and a half years, and the two mandates together last five years.

As well as this, we have ensured that the Vice Presidency of the European Commission should go to our spitzenkandidat, the candidate we have proposed to be President of the European Commission who has all the backing of the Socialists, that is Frans Timmermans.

Well, this is the agreement we have achieved. We have the achieved unanimous approval of the Council as a whole, except for the abstention of Chancellor Merkel, as we did not reach an agreement within the coalition; but without a doubt, this agreement starts with legitimacy and legitimate backing to prosper in the European Parliament and I hope we can achieve it.

And second, for Spain. I believe that this agreement demonstrates that Spain is back. Spain is back. And Spain is back proposing a candidate with the right credentials, with experience for a position that is vital for the next five years of the European Union, affecting foreign policy and defence policy, with a budget of more than 14 billion euros, for the next five years, heading up an extraordinary team, which numbers more than 4,000 people, civil servants in the EU institutions; and who is president of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council, which also represents the Vice-Presidency of the European Commission, and who participates in the sessions of the European Council.

So, I repeat, Spain is back and I believe that it is back strongly, representing foreign policy and the common defence of the European Union. In addition to this, you have to add the fact that the capacities and competencies that the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pepe Borrell will be increased; in other words, the responsibility is already very significant, in a world such as that we are now in: defending foreign policy, constructing the common defence policy. To that will also be added something very important for the Government of Spain; and that is humanitarian assistance and all the resources that are going to be channelled to Africa. In other words, all the competencies that the High Representative already has will also be combined with everything that has to do with humanitarian aid and with the policy of resources, aid and development for Africa.

So I believe that from the point of view, from my twin position as main negotiator for the Socialists and Democrats group, and secondly, as President of the Government of Spain, this is extraordinary news. It is a very good agreement that makes for a more normal succession of appointments within the EU institutions. We hope that it will be validated by the European Parliament. And second, I believe that for Spain it is extraordinary news to have Pepe Borrell, Minister Borrell, as the next High Representative of the European Union.

So we are very proud of the work we have done here, and I would like to thank also all the team that has been assisting me here, both the sherpas and the current Ambassador; all the Embassy team, which has helped us and also has suffered in these interminable hours of negotiation, which without a doubt I would also like to thank publicly.

And having said that, I am available for questions.

Q: Jaume Masdeu, for La Vanguardia. I would like to ask you a question as negotiator for the European Socialists. In this respect, you have repeated the message that you wanted to change the political colour of the Commission and that Timmermans was your candidate; and when we see the results, at European level I repeat, the Socialists are in the same position as five years ago, after a Liberal offensive. Isn't this slim pickings for this offensive?

President of the Government: I'd say the reverse. Look, five years ago Social Democrats were in power in France, the government of Italy and there were more governments within the European Council. Today there are fewer, and the only great country that is led by social democracy is Spain.

Second, there were two political players that had to be overcome to achieve an absolute majority in the European Parliament: the People's Party and the Social-Democrats. Today, we not only need the People's Party and Social-Democrats, but we also need the group led by Macron, the Renew Europe Group, so there are three players. This has made negotiations much more complex.

Third, it is true that we have fought every hard. I can guarantee that, because Frans Timmermans would have been the next President of the European Commission, had it not been for a veto by the People's Party, not Merkel, but the People's Party. They considered that once the figure of Weber had been excluded as spitzenkandidat for the European Commission this meant that not only Frans Timmermans but also Vestager had to be invalidated as potential candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission.

That is like saying to the Liberal party, for example, that it has also failed because Vestager is not the President of the European Commission; no. I believe that you have to look at things as they really are. I believe it is a very balanced agreement because I believe we have also obtained a commitment in which the ECOFIN portfolio also goes to someone, to a representative, in a socialist government.

So I would like to say that with this we have a well considered and strongly balanced, broad agreement that really maintains us at the levels of power we had five years ago, but five years ago the circumstances and the political situation were not as they are now. Today there are many more players and as a result the agreement and the way out of this situation are more complex.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr President of the Government. I recall that five years ago you were in another period of leading the Socialist Party.

President of the Government: A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Q: Yes, a lot. A lot of water, upstream as well. And at that time you ordered the Members of Parliament to, let's say, with traumatic consequences for the group to vote against Juncker. What would you think now if, for example, the SPD which is also not very satisfied with what has been decided now, did what you did then and said that they will vote against the agreement taken now in the Council?

President of the Government: Well, I wouldn't have any choice but to respect it.

Q: You say that the news of the result is balanced, and, in particular, extraordinary. Have you sacrificed the system of spitzenkandidaten because of the Visegrad Group? Are you celebrating it as a success and a demonstration that you have achieved power? Social democracy has not achieved the Presidency of the European Commission, and in Parliament, Iratxe García in the name of European social democracy says it is profoundly disappointing. And in addition, the social democrats accept what the PP yesterday literary refused, they haven't managed even what the PP rejected, because they haven't managed even the full term of the European Parliament. Or rather, basically you say that the PP yesterday blocked the agreement and has won the day.

So why do you consider it to be extraordinary? And can you then explain why you haven't done like the People's Party and tried to block it, as they did yesterday when it was insufficient for them?

President of the Government: Well, there are more value judgments than questions there, aren't there? I believe that... let's see. First, it wasn't the Visegrad Group, it was the European People's Party and some individual countries, among which, except for Germany and Merkel - because Merkel complied with the agreement we had reached, which had agreed on the two spitzenkandidaten, Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber, to provide a solution that would safeguard the idea of the spitzenkandidaten. That's the way it was. And Merkel complied with the agreement, as did the liberals and as did the Socialist Party.

But obviously, you know that one of the main mechanisms for blocking a decision within the Council that could achieve an agreement by which Frans Timmermans would have been chosen President of the European Commission is not to have eight blocking countries or countries that reject this decision. And obviously with certain People's Party countries in the mix this is what happened. And we tried not once, but a number of times. Obviously we want to maintain the three spitzenkandidaten Frans Timmermans, Weber and Vestager. What solution could be given once rejected by the European People's Party? By the European People's Party, I repeat, not the Visegrad Group, the V4. The V4 does not have the capacity or veto, as the only solution we could have was one for the European People's party to guarantee a term of two and a half years heading up the European Presidency. And for Frans Timmermans and Vestager, to give them important positions within the European Commission.

The first Vice-Presidency of the European Commission will be for Frans Timmermans and the second for Vestager. In other words, Frans Timmermans will have the same level he had before the European elections.

So yes, we can say that the Presidency of the European Commission belongs to the People's Party. Yes, it's true. Would we have liked one of the spitzenkandidaten to have been President of the European Commission? Yes. But once the proposal by the different party groups in the European Parliament that Manfred Weber should be the candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission was rejected, well, obviously what the People's Party did was reject anyone else, and thus we had to look for an alternative solution. So we have been here without sleep for over 30 hours.

And that's why I say that this is balanced, at the level of social democracy, because we have achieved the same result with fewer countries that are not so important within the Council as those that we now have inside representing social democracy; with fewer, or rather, with more political players, because the Liberal Party has to be included and that is why I say it is balanced. And it is extraordinary, yes. For the Government of Spain and for Spain it is an extraordinary agreement, because we have achieved nothing less than that the High Representative of the European Union, the EU's foreign policy, defence policy, aid for Africa, humanitarian aid.

Well, some people can say that is not sufficient, the Vice-Presidency of the European Commission is not sufficient; that it's not enough to be President of the Foreign Affairs Council, it's not enough to sit in on the European Council sessions, it's not enough to have a budget of 14 billion euros and more with the extension of responsibilities. Well, it isn't enough. Perhaps there will always be people who consider that Spain has to aspire to more; and I certainly share that argument. Spain always has to aspire to the maximum, but this is an extraordinary result for Spain that has demonstrated that Spain has returned to European politics. What's more, I would remind you that the last time Spain had even a similar level of responsibilities - because without doubt this level is even higher - was no less than 15 years ago.

Q: Griselda Pastor. Cadena SER: Two questions, the first very short. With today's result, is the system of election of candidates to the European institutions by the political parties definitively dead? And the second: Can you explain to us how it is that the talks between you and Mr Macron started (suggesting that there is an agreement between socialists and liberals to change Europe) and we are arriving at a solution that involves a Franco-German agreement?

President of the Government: Well, with respect to the second question, the fact is that there was no Franco-German agreement because the numbers weren't there. I mean that if there had been a Franco-German agreement, well, as you know there are 28 members. So I don't see where the Franco-German agreement is. It must be a unanimous agreement of the 28 countries that are there.

But in any case, I would also like to say if that France and Germany come to an agreement, that is good news. And I mean that sincerely.

And with respect to the first question, no. I simply believe that we should reflect about what the spitzenkandidat system means. Because it's clear that one of the main problems that there have been when it comes to finding a solution to this problem, to this equation, has obviously been that there were some political parties and other political parties who had different ideas of what spitzenkandidat meant. I don't know if I'm making myself clear.

So, I believe that this is something we have to rethink and see precisely what the figure of spitzenkandidat means, and agree what it means for everyone, at least for all the parties that have presented spitzenkandidaten; because this would make a solution easier within five years, and even make it quicker and give us some more hours of sleep.

Q: The extension of competences that you have explained for the position of High Representative, which has gone to Spain, includes humanitarian aid and funds for Africa; but at some time there was talk of also including the supervision of trade policy. I believe that in the end this has not been the case.

And second, what does Spain expect from this position, what are the priorities in the matter of foreign policy that you would like to tackle?

President of the Government: Well, let's see. With respect to the first of the questions, well, there are many countries; it is a collegial body. The Commission, I think that is enough, Foreign Affairs, Defence policy, humanitarian aid, Africa... well, I don't know, there are only 24 hours in a day, even for Borrell, although he uses then very intensely and brilliantly.

And second, I believe that well, without a doubt, for us it means the defence of multilateralism, the construction of the common defence policy; I believe that from the point of view of the Government of Spain, without doubt the foreign dimension of migration policy (which will also be in his hands), and as a result everything that has to do with, well, with the commitment to the countries of origin and migrations.

Q: TVE: Hello, Mr President of the Government. I would like to shift a little to the domestic front. And with the date of the investiture debate already set, I believe that you have the intention of once more opening up a new round of meetings, and I would like to know when that will be.

What do you think about what Rivera said today, that he would not attend this round of meetings; and whether you have a new offer from Pablo Iglesias when you start this round of meetings?

President of the Government: Well, we'll have time to talk about the investiture, we have until 22 July. We've been here 48 hours immersed in another reality, which is also very complex.

I believe it is very important to explain to public opinion, because perhaps, of course, they don't have all the information and they consider it a little inexplicable that we've been almost 48 hours without sleep, 28 leaders from 28 Member States... but, well, things are difficult. You have to coordinate many different interests. There are political interests, there are, let's say, ideological interests, and there are also some personal interests with which we also have to deal. And all this, multiplied by 28. Well, that all requires many sleepless hours, doesn't it?

Five years ago it was months. And five years later it has been hours, and so I believe that from this point of view it also seems important to explain the complexity of reaching agreements to the Spanish general public. In European politics and in Spanish politics.

But at the end of the day, when we put responsibility and generosity first, I believe that we all reach agreements to the benefit of the majority and in the general interest. It's what I've done here with the People's Party and with the Liberal Party. With the Liberal Party and the People's Party. Nevertheless, it's striking that in Spain, the party that is said to be the biggest representative of this Liberal Party is not capable, not of reaching agreements with me, but not even of having the minimum institutional decorum with respect to the Presidency of the Government.

Look, I had some very difficult relations with Mariano Rajoy when he was President of the Government. And we've had many differences of opinion. Very strong differences. But when the President of the Government called me, I went to see the President of the Government.

First, out of respect for the figure of the President of the Government. Second, because that also meant a regeneration of democratic life, a respect for the institutions. The Spanish people create the institutions with their votes, they don't come from Mars.

So, respecting this institution, in this case the Presidency of the Government, means respecting also the Spanish people and the democracy we have granted ourselves. So I believe that, beyond any disagreements there may be with one or other political party... Look, I've had many disagreements with the European Liberal Party and the European People's Party, but here we have been working jointly for 48 hours to reach an agreement.

So, what I ask of you in this case, and as you ask me about Mr Rivera's party, well, it's simply that we should respect institutional propriety, institutional decorum. And then, whether you want to vote for me or not, vote what you consider best. If it is in your capacity and your autonomy. I'm not questioning the autonomy, but at least to have some... I don't know, decorum, propriety, fair play; I don't know how to call it. But people are grateful to us for these things.

And with respect to the last of your questions, I believe that the Government's offer is clear with respect to Unidas Podemos, or in this case the Socialist Party's, because now I am candidate for the Presidency of the Government. For a government of cooperation.

Q: Jacobo de Regollos, for Onda Cero: You say that Spain is back. You say that Spain should aspire to everything.

President of the Government: Yes.

Q: Jacobo de Regollos, for Onda Cero. And you say that Josep Borrell is an ideal candidate for the European institutions.

President of the Government: Yes, I think so.

Q: Have you thought at any time, or has the question been raised, of Josep Borrell as President of the European Commission.

President of the Government: No. Let's see, it was 48 hours; so many names were put forward. But no, he was not, let's say, the object of this debate, not at all. We proposed a socialist, Frans Timmermans, as President of the Commission. And the Socialist Party's Plan B for the Commission was Frans Timmermans; Plan C, Frans Timmermans; Plan D, Frans Timmermans... And so on, for many more letters of the alphabet; and that's why we've been there for so many hours. But there comes a time when, well, we all also have to be aware that this situation has to be unblocked; and I believe that from the point of view of the Government of Spain, I mean, Spain has returned because we haven't aspired to a position of such responsibility within the European Union for 15 years.

Thank you.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation