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Press conference by Acting President of the Government to take stock of United Nations General Assembly

New York, Wednesday 25 September 2019

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, Acting President of the Government.

Acting President of the Government.- If you agree, I will make a short introduction, and a statement to take stock of these last few days here at the United Nations General Assembly, and then I will obviously be pleased to take any questions.

As you know, the Government of Spain has been taking part since Monday in the Climate Action Summit and in the United Nations General Assembly. The issues we have been addressing constitute the core issues of our government action as well. And now is the right time and place to forge a consensus and also a commitment to boost the global policy of the United Nations.

Over the course of these last few days, Spain has shown its commitment, leadership and ambition to contribute to this global effort that will allow us to address in an urgent and decisive fashion the challenges we face.

The main milestones have been, first and foremost, the participation of the Government of Spain in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

I gave this speech yesterday. As you know, this was the occasion to make clear the government's vision of our commitments to action that has called us here to this United Nations General Assembly, and I would particularly underline that yesterday symbolically closed off the democratic circle.

Spain was unable to take part in the creation of the United Nations, almost 75 years ago, due to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, but yesterday, the Supreme Court of Spain authorised the exhumation and reburial of his remains. As I said to the Assembly yesterday, this is a victory for Spanish democracy.

Secondly, the Climate Action Summit, which is the main great challenge we face, and how to tackle the climate emergency effectively.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations called us on Monday to hold the Climate Action Summit. He asked all us participants to raise our levels of ambition, which is what Spain has done.

During the government's participation in the Summit, we announced our country's commitments, and we have mobilised, in the coalition we have co-led with Peru, political and social aspects of climate action; not only what amounts to the ecological transition, but ensuring that this ecological transition is just.

We also announced Spain's commitment to contribute 150 million euros over the next four years to the Green Climate Fund. We also committed to ratifying the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and we will give 2 million euros to the Climate Convention Adjustment Fund.

Along the same line of generating a global political boost in favour of climate action, we were asked to inaugurate one of the most prestigious events in New York City in the fight against climate change, called New York Climate Week.

I also had the chance, and this was one of the most important moments, in my opinion, one of the most touching and emotional moments, to meet with young Spanish climate change activists who took part in the Youth Summit at the weekend.

I received a letter from the young people with commitments to climate change. And I signed, on behalf of the Government of Spain, the commitment to our young people that was pushed through at this Summit.

The third area was the Sustainable Development Goals Summit - compliance with the 2030 Agenda. This is one of the great challenges to ensure a more just and fairer future, as I had the chance to mention just a few moments ago. And this was the pillar of another large part of the activities the Government of Spain has been participating in over the last few days in New York.

We have just taken part, as I said, in the Sustainable Development Goals Summit. This was a good opportunity to reiterate our country's commitment to the 2030 Agenda, which inspires and overarches all our government actions.

We have also announced that Spain will contribute 100 million euros over the next five years to the Joint SDG Fund. And we also had the chance to co-chair Panel One on Monday of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Healthcare Coverage, in recognition of the extraordinary work that our healthcare professionals carry out.

Along this same line, the Government of Spain was invited this morning to inaugurate, together with Bill Gates and Melinda Gates, the event that their foundation organises each year, called 'Goalkeepers'. This is an event that seeks to mobilise ambition and resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, the goals related to health and education. And, in that speech, as you know, I pointed out that the Government of Spain will make a contribution of 100 million euros over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

Lastly, the third great challenge of this Summit, at this United Nations General Assembly, has been dialogue between leaders to counter the narrative of terrorism. We took part on Monday in the dialogue of leaders to fight this narrative. In Spain, we are all too familiar with the drama of terrorism and we are one of the countries with the greatest and most successful experience in the world of effectively fighting this scourge.

As members of the Christchurch Initiative, sponsored by New Zealand, we signed up to the Protocol to establish an early warning system in the event of the spread of extremist content on the social media and the Internet.

Aside from that, in terms of the bilateral meetings I have held as Acting President of the Government, given our presence here, I have held meetings with different international leaders including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, the President of Andorra, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the Presidents of Costa Rica, of Peru, of Egypt and of Iran.

And finally, a comment regarding relations between Spain and the United States. You are aware that, while all this has been going on, we have backed and taken part in the whole multilateral agenda. We sought to take advantage of our time here to promote and boost Spain's relations with the USA, and hence, I have taken part in an economic forum organised by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the United States, in collaboration with the Prisa Group, through the daily 'El País'.

I also held a meeting with important foreign business owners and investors that have interests and investments in Spain, to explain to them the exact economic and political situation in our country. And tomorrow, I will lend my support to Spanish entrepreneurs that are pushing though new initiatives in New York and which project the best image of our country, such as the initiative 'Little Spain', which is headed up by the chefs José Andrés and the Adrià brothers. And I will also make a visit to a technology centre where I will hold a meeting with those in charge of several Spanish start-ups that are paving the way in the USA.

In conclusion, I believe that it is essential for Spain to actively participate in these important events with goodwill and ambition. By doing so, we strengthen our image as a democratic, supportive ad European country, while committing our efforts and our political will to multilateralism, and to the global challenges that will condition the lives of generations to come.

Without further ado, I will obviously take any questions you may have for me.

Q.- Acting President of the Government, we saw you with the President of Iran the other day. I wanted to ask you what this Summit means, what feeling do you have of Spain's political weight on the international stage, and to what degree the fact that we are going to be several months, well almost a year, with a caretaker government, is prejudicial.

At a domestic level, I wanted to ask you whether the arrival of [Íñigo] Errejón is good or bad news for the centre-left bloc. On the one hand, it may make forging pacts easier; on the other hand, it could divide the vote. And in your own words, would you sleep better at night with [Íñigo] Errejón or with Pablo Iglesias in government with you?

I was also going to say that there have been some polls in the last few days. Why are you so sure that your position will get stronger? There are some polls that point in one direction and others that point in another. Why do you believe, why are you so sure, that these elections will improve your position? Thank you.

Acting President of the Government.- Thank you Carlos for your questions.

If you want we will start with Íñigo Errejón, then move on to the polls and end with the question about the bilateral meetings I have held.

Let's see, as regards Íñigo Errejón, I believe that what we are seeing is a restructuring of the political space represented by Unidas Podemos and its branches in the past. How do we view this, in this case as the leader of the Socialist Party? At a certain distance, with respect, without any wish to get involved in any internal affairs of other political forces.

I believe that the efforts we are investing our time in are focused on explaining to our citizens the importance of finally forming a progressive, stable, cohesive Government of Spain that brings an end to these five years of instability, with a provisional, interim situation, that Spanish politics has undergone. I think that answers your question.

As regards the polls, I wish to say to you that in all elections our citizens are called to provide a response. And I believe that the question our citizens will have to respond to on 10 November is if they want a stable, cohesive government that can offer a progressive response to many of the challenges both in Spain and globally.

Clearly there are about half a dozen political formations that don't want a progressive government. They don't want stability under our mandate over the next four years of legislature. And only one political force can guarantee a progressive, stable and cohesive government, and that is the Socialist Party.

And finally, in relation to a provisional and interim situation, I feel that all the talks I have had at the highest level with other formations, or better put, with other countries and, in this case with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with the President of the United Nations Assembly, what they have positively evaluated has been the commitment of the Government of Spain. We may be a caretaker government, but it is clear that the presence of the Government of Spain at the United Nations General Assembly, advocating a progressive perspective to many of the global challenges we face, its commitment and laying the foundations for the issues we have addressed over these last 15 months in terms of climate change, gender equality, the recovery of the universal nature of public healthcare, the fight against labour exploitation, are all issues appreciated by the international community and by the United Nations.

Hence, I feel that we all have a tremendous opportunity and also a tremendous responsibility on 10 November, to do away with this, with this provisional and interim situation, and to offer and guarantee this country a stable, cohesive government that can give a progressive perspective to many of the challenges we are facing.

Q.- Good afternoon, Acting President of the Government. I wanted to know, in many of your speeches we have heard these days there has been a certain criticism of the policies adopted by the United States in many aspects, from trade to climate. I don't know whether you had the chance yesterday to speak to President Trump at the reception he gave. And if you could tell us if you exchanged any opinions.

Then, I would also like to ask about your meeting with the President of Iran, if this might have annoyed the rest of the allies; if you have spoken with them, above all with France, Germany and the United Kingdom… Which signed that statement.

And, on another note, I just wanted to ask you about the exhumation of [Francisco] Franco, and whether you have a new timeline now that the Supreme Court has handed down its ruling, or whether we need to wait to get over the last remaining hurdle.

Acting President of the Government.- Well, let's see. As regards your last question, Spanish democracy is very, very close to withdrawing a very symbolic public space in our country, a space that is emotionally symbolic for many millions of Spaniards, not just for today's generations, but for those who have gone before and are unfortunately no longer with us. So, we are very close for removing a monument to the Franco dictatorship from that public space. And I feel this is extraordinary news and represents a victory for Spanish democracy. And hence, the Government of Spain, sooner rather than later, as soon as we can, will proceed to enforce the Supreme Court ruling.

There is one political leader who has precisely criticised this ruling from the Supreme Court, describing it as divisive. I find that quite strange because I don't feel that justice, dignity or memory divide; quite the opposite, they unite the Spanish people.

Hence, this is a great victory for Spanish democracy, and logically, the Government of Spain is very satisfied with the result of the same.

In relation to the question of Iran, nothing could be further from the truth. I feel that the message from the Government of Spain is fully aligned with the message of the main European forces, of the European Union. I said to President Rohani that it was necessary to save the nuclear deal and that Spain was clearly expressing its interest in taking part in the instrument that will be created by the European Union and by the main countries that maintain trade relations with the Iranian regime. At any event, what I found on the part of the Iranian regime was a predisposition to maintain this dialogue with the Government of Spain and with the EU as a whole.

Q.- Regarding [Donald] Trump?

Acting President of the Government.- I didn't have the chance. What you saw at the end was a photo; there was no chance to talk.

Q.- María, from TVE.- How are you? Good afternoon, Acting President of the Government I wanted to talk about the meeting at the end. Aside from not wanting to get involved in internal matters of other parties; I am talking about Íñigo Errejón, who is presenting his candidature at this time. I wanted to ask whether, following the elections on 10 November, his presence may facilitate an agreement with the left wing. A potential three-way agreement. Do you think that it would be easier to reach an agreement with him, given the political panorama? Thank you.

Acting President of the Government.- Look María, I honestly believe that what we are witnessing is, let's say, the restructuring of a space to the left of the Socialist Party that Unidas Podemos and its different branches held in the past. And hence, we will not get involved in these internal matters, but rather, respect them and look on from a certain distance.

But I do believe, as I said before in response to Carlos' question, that on 10 November, what we must do is answer a simple question, which is whether we definitively want to put behind us this interim and provisional period in which we have been immersed in Spain for the last five years, and open up a new era, with a stable, cohesive government that provides a progressive response to the problems we are facing as a society and as a planet as a whole and that we have been addressing at the United Nations General Assembly.

I believe that the challenge is to mobilise the millions of progressive Spaniards who did this on 28 April, and also those people who voted for other political formations but have seen that this vote went to political leaders who have not guaranteed the stability of this country, but who have contributed to the instability of this country and who find in the Socialist Party a political project that I humbly head up, which offers a response to this stability and cohesion that we need.

What have we done over these last few months? We have worked to try and form a progressive, stable and cohesive government in Spain. Progressive means that the other political parties acknowledge that the Socialist Party won the elections, and that there was no alternative majority to the Socialist Party.

Stable means that Spain does not depend on pro-independence political forces to govern.

And cohesive means having a single vision on the main problems facing our country and how to respond to them.

If we don't have a progressive government today it is because the different political parties have not taken on-board the elections results from 28 April. And they have helped produce a stalemate. If there is no stable government today, it is precisely because the conservative forces of the People's Party and Ciudadanos gave the pro-independence forces the key to invest a President of the Government of Spain. They renounced this and did not shoulder their responsibility.

And if we don't have a cohesive government it is precisely because the preferred partner we pointed to after the elections on 28 April made a proposal that was not of a cohesive government, but of a co-government.

Hence, I believe that the choice and the question to be asked on 10 November to which all Spanish men and women have been called is very simple: do we want a stable, cohesive government that offers a progressive response to problems facing the country?

Q.- Iñaki Aguado. Good afternoon, Acting President of the Government. I want to ask you about the arrests of the members of the self-proclaimed CDR that have taken place this week. I would like to know whether the government has information that leads it to think that the root of a violent response to the ruling on the pro-independence leaders has been neutralised, the root of potential terrorist action. And, on a different note, the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia has today defended those arrested in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, saying that he will not allow the pro-independence movement to be associated with terrorism. That, after sending you a letter.

Acting President of the Government.- Yes.

Q.- A letter denouncing a false narrative of violence without a response.

Acting President of the Government.- Well, let's see. I believe that it is easy for Mr Torra. He has it easy. If he doesn't want the pro-independence movement to be associated with any type of violent action, then precisely what he has to do is denounce, criticise and condemn any form of potential use of violence by any group tied into the pro-independence movement. I think that is very simple.

The problem I sometimes see when I listen to Mr Torra, to the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia, is that he finds it difficult to understand how a Social and Democratic State under the Rule of Law functions. The State law enforcement agencies, in a democracy, act as the judicial police on the orders of the judges. And the judges do not depend on the Government of Spain. We have a Legislative Power, an Executive Power and a Judicial Power, which is independent. We are a democracy. We are a Social and Democratic State under the Rule of Law. And hence, Mr Torra has things easy. If he doesn't want them to be identified with his movement, then he should condemn any type of potentially violent action by groups tied in to the pro-independence movement.

Q.- Sandra Gallardo, from RNE. Good afternoon, Acting President of the Government. Following on from this last question, do you fear an escalation of violence in Catalonia when the ruling is announced?

And coming back to Íñigo Errejón, you separate the Socialist Party from what is happening in this restructuring that you talk about in the space previously occupied by Unidas Podemos. Do I understand correctly, therefore, that the Socialist Party is looking at other potential partners further to the right?

Acting President of the Government.- I believe that is based on a false assumption. Votes do not belong to political parties, but to people. Hence, when you talk about the votes of Ciudadanos, the votes of Podemos, the votes of the PP, or the votes of the Socialist Party… No, these are people's votes. It is that simple. The Socialist Party is where it has always been. What do we represent? A constitutionalist left wing, a moderate left wing, a reformist left wing, a positive and constructive left wing. A left wing that wishes to provide a response, let's say, with progressive, but not over-adventurous convictions, to many of the problems we face as a society.

Hence, we are not looking either one way or another. We simply claim ground that is backed by the majority of Spanish society at this time, which is the ground held by the social democrats, by democratic socialism. That is why I believe, rather than looking to see which ground, that is the term analysts use I think, well first of all, votes belong to people and not to political parties. You have to win their confidence. We are going to go out and explain our political project. We are going to present our election programme. As you know, we already said that we were going to incorporate the 370 measures we designed with civil society in the dialogue held in August in our election programme. And we will also incorporate in this election programme the proposal to set up a committee to represent the third sector, civil society, to assess the degree of compliance with our election programme should the Spanish people give us their confidence on 10 November to govern the country.

And hence, I repeat, I think the question is straight-forward; and is whether we wish to put a provisional and interim situation behind us. Whether we truly want Spain to be stable, with cohesive government action and a progressive outlook on many of the problems we face as a country.

Acting President of the Government.- Thank you.

Q.- (…)

Acting President of the Government.- Ah! I would stress that. Sorry, I just wanted to say what I said at the start, which is how easy the pro-independence movement has it, and in particular, the person who heads up the main institution in Catalonia today, which is Mr Torra. If he doesn't want any sort of doubts surrounding any type of ties between the pro-independence movement and any type of violent radicals, what he should do is condemn any idea that this may take place by any group associated with the pro-independence movement. It's that simple. And that is what I would like to hear from Mr Torra.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript revised by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation