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Speech by Acting President of the Government at closing session of La Toja-Vínculo Atlántico Forum

O Grove (Pontevedra), Saturday 5 October 2019

Good day to you.

Mr President of the Regional Government of Galicia, Alberto; Mr President of the Forum, Josep; Mr Chairman of Hotusa, Amancio; Government Delegate, Mayor of O´Grove, congratulations, by the way, on the 61st anniversary of the Seafood Trade Fair that I believe starts or has started this weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, public officials, good day to you all.

These last few days have served to discuss the future of liberal democracies, as President Josep has told us, to discuss the challenges facing the world in our time, and also to discuss how important it is to have stable frameworks to develop a country's project, and also the common European project.

For me, this is a special opportunity to explain at the closing session of this forum our idea of Spain, the idea we have of what Spain is and of the transformations we need to address to gain a better future in the next decade.

Spain is one of the best countries to live in, that is more than evident; as Josep rightly said, it has an incomparable framework, as was stated in the classical texts, to justify and attest to this. This is one of the safest countries in the world, and also one of the countries with the greatest, richest and most diverse cultural heritages in the world. These are not things that I am just saying, or we are just saying, these can be seen in international indices, in comparative studies issued by prestigious global think-tanks.

How do others see us? Other see us as a supportive country, an open country, a tolerant country and a country that is able to make progress and tackle any of the challenges we have faced in recent decades. And we have a democracy rated in the top 10 in the world.

Spain's recent history is a case study. The great transformation we have undergone in the last 40 years bears witness to our ability to tackle and successfully overcome any type of challenge and some figures can substantiate this claim which I am sure we can all agree on.

Firstly, in 1975 life expectancy in Spain was 73, whereas it is now 83. I don't need to tell you that, particularly here in Galicia! Thanks, among other things, to our diet, but also to public healthcare and its professionals.

In 1975, 5% of Spaniards, mainly men, had higher education studies. That figure now stands at 23.8% and our universities are particularly full of women.

In 1975, per capita income stood at 11,474 euros, whereas at present, at constant prices, it stands at 23,742 euros; in other words, a rise of more than 100%, 107% to be precise. And all of this has been possible thanks to the stability we have enjoyed over these last four decades,, something the President of the Forum mentioned: firstly through the Spanish Constitution; secondly, through the State of the Autonomies; thirdly, through our membership of the European Union; and finally, the social pact the Spanish people have lived under for the last 40 years.

This stability is what has allowed us to make progress, precisely creating a framework that has allowed us to address the necessary reforms at an economic, institutional and political level, as well as to the Welfare State. Today in the media, dear Chairman, dear Amancio, you can read some of the debates that have come out over the last few days. In particular, those of two former Presidents of the Government yesterday, precisely on the political system we have in Spain; and I am going to take up the gauntlet and say something about this question which I can share and may be of interest to listeners as a whole and to the people accompanying us here at this event.

Firstly, I believe that a multi-party system is decided on by our citizens through their vote, and hence, is welcome. Any option is welcome except imposing a stalemate. Secondly, political parties must take on-board the result of the elections.

What does that mean? That whoever wins cannot impose their election programme; what we have to do is forge a joint programme with other political forces. Secondly, that whoever loses the elections should not block or try to prevent, from their offices, what the ballot boxes have denied them. Thirdly, that a multi-party system contributes to the extent that it contributes to the governability of our country, and not to destroying the stability that our country needs precisely to tackle the major economic, social, institutional and environmental transformations facing us.

In short, the only option that is unacceptable is a stalemate. Secondly, the Spanish people decide on the type of government thought their vote, whether progressive or conservative, and on 28 April, they decided it should be progressive. And finally, what Spain needs is a cohesive and stable government. And this - stability - is very important, above all at a time in which we are facing a secessionist challenge in which we cannot allow the pro-independence movement in Catalonia to have more influence than the governability of our country.

Our older generations sometimes don't believe in the strength of our country. Perhaps because they have lived through other times and are probably aware of the risks and, on many occasions, of the regressions that may take place - and some of these are in the air right now, not just in Spain but in global politics. But our young people, I feel, have taken this on-board much better. They have it clear that this is a modern country, that we are a European country, that we are a country with an international vocation able to achieve anything and overcome any challenges that we put our minds to.

Our society is full of people and companies with a great deal of talent and with a capacity to keep striving until they achieve their goals, and we have many examples of that.

We have a veteran company, for example, such as Talgo, that in recent years has attained a leading position on the international stage in the railway sector, thanks to the development of high-speed and very high-speed trains. The young man from Galicia, Xoel Vázquez, founder of a start-up, Xoia, is one of the hundreds of entrepreneurs that are called on to follow in its wake.

In the mid-90s, José Antonio Bayona, that great director, began his film-making career out of nothing. A decade later, his first film, 'El Orfanato' premiered in Cannes, and most recently he directed a Steven Spielberg film with a budget of no less than 260 million dollars.

The singer Rosalía is one of our young people to cause a big stir in the world, and is following in his wake.

And in the 1980s, the scientist, Margarita Salas, taught the then-biologist, María Blasco, who has risen to become the Director of the National Oncology Research Centre and one of the most prestigious scientists in her international field.

The young Asturian researcher, Usama Bilal, who is developing an enthralling project on urban patterns that affect health, is one of these hundreds of scientists called on to follow in the wake of Margarita Salas and also of María Blasco.

In short, Spain never stops when it has the right conditions to press on. Even in a tumultuous world, with so many complexities as I am convinced you discussed over these last three days, full of uncertainties such as we see in the media every day, Spain can attain its goals.

And allow me to proudly recall the way in which Spain, in contrast to the times, has shied away from movements we are seeing all too clearly and often in other places not so far from Spain. Spain has shied away, for example, from reactionary movements; it has shied away from xenophobia, from retreating to within its own borders as we are seeing, as I said before, in so many other places. Just this week we saw the unacceptable conditions that a government, in this case the United States Administration, has imposed, or threatened to impose on the four countries that share a pro-European vocation, which was firmed up in a shared project, that of Airbus. Well, Josep Piqué has taken part in this project from the outset which is now, moreover, more a private than a public company. This is something that fills us with concern.

What we can convey is that we are a government that wants to maintain good international relations. We are a government that, through the European Union, but also through bilateral relations, wants to transcend any type of concerns, of vicissitudes, and also have the best possible trans-Atlantic relations, in this case with the US Administration. But I should also say that my responsibility, and the responsibility of any government is to defend, in this case, the agri-food sector, from any type of customs steamrolling that may take place in the coming weeks.

As from 31 October, that is the date, as well as these questions that I mentioned before in relation to a trade war; unless there is an extension, then, as I said before, on 31 October, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, which will lead to a major restructuring of trade on the continent, as well as the redefinition of what the European project represents. I have said this on many occasions; I deeply regret the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I feel that the EU will not be the same; it will not have the strength or the wealth in its political project without the United Kingdom, but, at any event, we hope to have the best possible relations from a Spanish and from an EU perspective with the United Kingdom. We share a great many things with them at a trade level, in terms of education and also regarding security and the fight against terrorism.

And there are other countries in Europe and in the Ibero-American Community where we have seen the rise of movements that go against the grain of history. In short, we don't like them, and we don't share many of the things we are seeing and which are happening in the world, but a crisis is always an opportunity to improve, an incentive to undertake pending reforms and also to address new ambitions.

And I wish to leave you with a thought in this regard. I believe that we are wasting too much talent, too much energy and feelings as a country in correcting problems that should never have existed. And allow me on this note to speak about the crisis of co-existence that prevails in Catalonia, and has for more than 10 years now.

I feel that this has also been the big mistake made by the pro-independence movement in Catalonia, which has not understood the world in which we live, in destroying co-existence to move backwards, squandering talent and efforts that should have been better used to resolve the true challenges facing Catalan society.

Since this is a predominantly economic forum, we should recall that the Catalan economy has still not recovered the pulse it had before October 2017. This is a region that had always headed up economic growth but which is now growing at half the rate of the national average and has still not recovered the rates of foreign investment, or the bank deposits, or the business fabric, destroyed by the sovereignty crisis. When a false idea, a false and exclusionary idea of identity and of democracy endanger better employment, legal certainty, the financing of healthcare and of education, the emancipation of young people and everything that holds this together, which is the co-existence of a society, there has clearly been a breakdown, caused by the sovereignty project in Catalonia.

Breaking the law, asking people to disobey the law, means repeating the errors of this already failed political project. Catalonia will not recover its full potential for well-being, or be in a position to address the future until such time as the pro-independence forces accept the reality, and the reality is that their political project has failed, above all because it was based on lies.

What lies would I like to share with you? The first is that a minority will always be a minority, and hence, cannot impose its will on a majority. And, in all election processes, with a high turnout of the Catalan population, whenever the Catalans have been called to the polling stations, they have voted, in their majority, against independence and have embraced the idea of a Spain united in its diversity.

Secondly, the best way to develop being Catalan is in a Spain of the Autonomies, in constitutional Spain, and in the federal Europe that we all want. And hence, what you can't do is separate identities that have always been complementary throughout time. Spanish with Catalan, and Catalan with Spanish.

In short, we are always going to work to enhance co-existence, because, as you will have heard me say on many occasions, the challenge in Catalonia is not independence yes or no, but co-existence, yes or yes.

If we look at other processes under way in other parts of the planet, with nationalist and economic retrenchment, and there are even those who are climate denialists as we saw a few days ago at the United Nations General Assembly, or the pro-independence movement in Catalonia, all we find is a fear of many of the problems and challenges that societies are facing. And we don't find any answers, I won't say whether effective or ineffective, to many of the questions that have been raised here over these three days of debate - the answers to technological disruption, to these digital rights Josep mentioned before, to the inequalities that still persist between men and women and which are trivialised in their crudest form in the violence that half of the population in our country potentially suffer from, and also in other societies, for the mere fact of being female. Or answers to the social injustices that still ravage a good many of our citizens. Or answers to job insecurity, to the protection of pensions, to education and also to the climate emergency which I know is something dear to the hearts of the people of Galicia and to Spanish society as a whole.

These are, in my opinion, the true challenges that we should be devoting all our efforts and energy to. These are, in my opinion, the major transformations that Spain needs, the transformations that cannot wait.

Firstly, an economy that confronts digitalisation head on. Secondly, the empowerment of women, the affirmation of feminism as an essential value that unites societies, rather than separating them, dividing them, breaking them down; on the contrary, we should all share this aim, which goes beyond gender orientation and means achieving complete equality, which is also a challenge from an economic perspective. Thirdly, social cohesion and the fair distribution of wealth, above all, in an economic model that is moving towards very different parameters, such as digitalisation, the search for a decent job and entrepreneurship. And also the ability to sustain our public pension system and our Welfare State. The inevitable education reform or, more than an education reform, I would say the modernisation of our education system in all aspects: vocational training, basic education, and universities. And boosting science and research as fundamental pillars of progress and the just ecological transition of our economy.

And in Galicia and, above all, thinking about some parts of Galicia, I would like, above all, to underline justice. I believe that the ecological transition, in order to be understood and embraced by different sectors, must be just; in other words, we must pass on a message that no district, no group, no worker will be negatively affected as a result of this inevitable transition towards the use of more sustainable clean energies that allow us to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

These are the six great transformations which are where, as I said before, we must focus all our efforts. Six transformations on which I will dwell, if you allow me, a moment.

The first of these, as the President of the Forum rightly said before, is the digitalisation of the economy. Spain arrived late at the three previous industrial revolutions, but it will arrive on time at this fourth industrial revolution. And not only will it arrive on time, but we will also be much more ambitious; we want to be a member of the group of countries to head it up. As you know, we have the necessary infrastructures to do this, with a penetration of fibre optic in homes of 63%, that is, the highest percentage in the European Union and the third highest in the OECD.

Just yesterday, at the Council of Ministers, we approved some new pilot projects to continue extending 5G technology throughout the country. We are pioneers in terms of the extension of this new technology in the EU as a whole. We also have the talent, real talent, not just on paper, that matters. Over these 16 months that I have headed up the government, I have had the chance to see how you find leading scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs involved in the implementation of projects with technology transfer to society.

In Spain, there are hundreds of companies and start-ups that have reached outstanding positions in very different areas of the economy, such as PharmaMar, a bio-pharmaceutics company that develops marine-based medication to treat oncology processes; such as the Cosentino Group, that works in the field of materials and produces innovative surfaces of natural stone for architecture and design; the Pharmadron project is at a trial stage, which aspires to establish a service to supply medication in the countryside and areas that are hard to access. And a few days ago, the doctors at Gregorio Marañón hospital - I don't know if you saw this in the media - also saved the life of a patient by manufacturing part of a customised aorta with a 3D printer.

In short, our researchers are manufacturing many things, even including robot sensors that explore planets like Mars. We have young entrepreneurs, of course, but we also have an increasing number of older entrepreneurs, who we should also mention in speeches, because we think on many occasions about young people, but there are those aged 45 who are also doing many very interesting entrepreneurial things in our country. And we have top entrepreneurs such as Rocío Arroyo, who has developed a leading diagnosis project for precision medicine applied to cancer.

The second great transformation that Spain has pending is real and effective equality between men and women. The removal, consequently, of all those invisible barriers and glass ceilings that half of the population suffers just for being female.

We have a government where two thirds of its composition are women, the highest in the OECD, we have great female entrepreneurs, we have great female researchers. Our female athletes triumph around the world and almost 80% of the executives of our leading companies, such as Inditex, are women.

All of these unquestionable facts and figures show that we are making progress. But they don't show, as some assure us, that we are achieving real and effective equality between men and women. At the last two 8 March celebrations, the streets and squares of Spain once again filled with women - and also with men who support the cause of equality - who called for the need to continue making progress. Because women have better university transcripts than men, let's acknowledge that, but obtain less stable jobs and earn 9.5% less than men.

Because 89% of non-professional care-givers are women, not men, and because when we speak about everything related to the STEM, they are men rather than women who are precisely joining this whole digital revolution, and also in terms of training, women must not be left behind. And because there are many women - this may even sound false; when I first heard the figure I was indignant, then I found it very striking - as many as 8,000, take this figure away with you, since 2010, who have suffered harassment from groups of extremists at abortion clinics.

And because in 2019, 46 women have been murdered at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. How long will it take us to fully eradicate this whole type of scourge of inequality? No-one knows, because social dynamics are complex and men have suffered from patriarchy for many years in our societies. But what we do know with certainty is that we cannot idly stand by and wait.

We must implement specific policies, laws that correct these inequalities at source; for example, by incorporating co-education in our education system; for example, by fighting labour inequalities. We must clearly invest resources in the fight against gender-based violence and firmly combat, even with indignation, any attempt to turn back on the path already taken.

We are not going to be a completely dignified society until men and women are absolutely equal. Nor are we going to be a completely dignified society while the levels of social exclusion and a lack of opportunities continue to persist in our country. This is the third transformation that our country needs. I believe, and I am convinced, that many of you present here, because I have read this, share with me one of the great lessons that we must take away from this crisis in 2008, which is that you cannot have sustainable economic development unless it is accompanied by much clearer social and territorial cohesion.

In my opinion, it is clear that the source of many of the bombshells we are talking about, in terms of reactionary movements, the Catalan pro-independence movement, or even those leaders bent on moving against history, is a lack of social cohesion and a lack of opportunities.

Let me give you a figure that has perhaps gone unnoticed in public debate but which can explain, to some degree, what we have gone through in recent years in Spain.

The social elevator broke down in the crisis in 2008, and it is clear that we must repair it. We are the European Union country which most saw inequalities rise since 2008. 13% of people in work fall under the poverty threshold, which shows that not even having a job guarantees social integration. 4 out of every 10 homes are at risk of exclusion.

Hence, nor can this challenge wait. It is necessary to create the right conditions for a cohesive society, both at a social level and also, I am talking here in Galicia, at a territorial level. Social spending, which stands in our country at around 24% of GDP, five points below the European Union average, must clearly be strengthened. Taxation must adapt to the 21st Century, including some of the issues that the president suggested in his speech to close off this forum, such as the issue of data, which is something that we must study from a point of view of the Member States and in the design of new tax systems.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, which I attended a few months ago, I spoke with some of the large technology companies and they said to me: since we are doing a lot of business in Spain, don't impose a digital tax on us. And I said, OK, but where are you paying tax? And they said to me that in some countries, you can imagine which, of the European Union, which clearly means that what they are doing is avoiding tax here.

I believe that this is something that we must clearly resolve. I believe that we must reform our tax system, adapt it to the 21st Century, and that the foundations of a new social contract should be studied. We are a government, or at least a political project, that has tried from the outset to place a horizon on our roadmap ties in to the 2030 Agenda, which is a multilateral agenda. And we logically have to talk with this digital world, about a subsistence income, a universal minimum wage, that may be a new element of redistribution to guarantee this social cohesion. But, in the same way as social cohesion is necessary, territorial cohesion is equally as important.

We must provide a response to urban Spain, that is clear. But we must also provide a response to rural Spain, to the rural environment. And that means talking about regional financing. I must say that I have empathy with and am committed to those regions that suffer from rural depopulation. I am aware of the dispersion and of the cost of guaranteeing key public services for many residents, in this case in Galicia, where these resources are more expensive as a result of this dispersion, of the ageing population, and clearly, when we have to address the regional financing system, which must be updated, this will be one of the rules, one of the parameters that clearly, if I have the honour of continuing to be the President of the Government, I will take into close account when defining this system of regional financing; among other things, because this system will also be closely tied into a repopulation strategy for territorial cohesion, that our country needs.

Of course, the arrival of the AVE high-speed train, in due time and form to Galicia will also provide knock-on opportunities in this land, in my opinion.

The fifth transformation consists of redesigning our labour model, of protecting our public pension system and we must also do this in order for a good part of society, above all the elderly, above all those who are on minimum pensions, are no longer at risk of poverty. This terrible paradox, in my opinion, must be eliminated. The value of work cannot continue to be devalued. The right conditions must be created to ensure stable employment, quality jobs and so that the law protects employed workers and offers opportunities to self-employed workers.

We want to govern digitalisation rather than be at its mercy, as Josep rightly said before, and make it serve to improve competitiveness, and also productivity. And we must also place special emphasis, through vocational training, on medium- and high-qualification positions, which will be well remunerated and which, by the way, will be, to a large extent, the new offer of jobs.

And this will undoubtedly help sustain our public pension system, which has been questioned precisely due to the insecurity of jobs.

The fifth transformation is obviously education and, moreover, today is Teachers' Day and hence, this emphasises why I should pause, just for a few seconds, to discuss this important question.

As regards education, I will start with something obvious; this is one of the key elements of the smooth functioning of our job market. In Spain - this is important so as to see the work that needs to be done and that lies ahead of us - only 12% of students opt to study vocational training. Just 12%. But the job offers that require a vocational training qualification are higher than those that require a university qualification. Furthermore, and this is another of the endemic evils of our job market, 37% of graduates work in jobs that do not require higher education studies. This is also the origin of a certain social discontent and disaffection that young people suffer from. And lastly, only 23% of Spanish university students choose engineering, due to its negative connotations, despite the greatest work opportunities existing in this field.

The responses to all these questions and many others lie in definitively achieving a great State Pact for Education. And above all, I believe that this great State pact should be based on minimum financing, on a minimum level that we must give our public education system, that provides for a new Education Act, a new Universities Act and a new approach, such as we are taking at this time, but which we must step up considerably, towards vocational training, adding qualifications that will be important in the future, incorporating digital skills in all of them, and giving a significant boost to research, above all, to that which maintains the pillars of our progress as a society. And something else that I am sure here, as important business leaders, you will share with me, is the need to revise and reform active employment policies. I believe that this is something, in a country in which we have such a high level of long-term unemployed compared with other economies, which is fundamental.

I have left until the end, but not because it is any less important, one of the main transformations that the world and our country needs, which is the ecological transformation of our economy. I believe that this is the most pressing transformation. Nothing we do to win the technology race, to achieve equality between men and women, to knit a more cohesive society, to banish job insecurity or to improve education will serve any purpose unless we reverse climate change.

Without a planet, any other realities simply disappear; they are not possible. We have been aware of this for a long time, but unfortunately it was not until recently that we started to become aware that it is now or never. And we must also give some of the credit to governments taking this on to the young people of our country and throughout the world, who have started to clamour intensely in this regard, even describing governments that do not take urgent measures to tackle this climate emergency as highly irresponsible.

Climate change is something quite paradoxical, as are all the major crises or challenges we are facing. On the one hand, it is a threatening challenge. It is clear that there may be certain groups that feel threatened in terms of their present or near future. But, on the other hand, if through politics we are capable of anticipating, preventing and becoming aware that if we lay the foundations then what comes in the future may be turned into an opportunity rather than a threat, then we will be making this transformation that has already been taken on-board by the private sector, but which must be also taken on-board by the public sector, something positive. And that is, at least, my intention and the intention of the Government of Spain: a positive transformation of our economy, of our health. We talk a great deal about the economy while forgetting that there are many people who die in our country as a result of bad air quality. Hence, our health, our consumer habits and even our landscape.

The ecological transition will create some 350,000 quality jobs between the year 2021 and 2030, closely tied in to industry, enhanced efficiency, particularly in the refitting of houses and buildings, innovation, renewable energies and the services sector.

And we estimate that our GDP will rise by between 19.3 and 25.1 billion euros in this same period. That is the horizon we have proposed in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan that we approved and that has been acknowledged as one of the best qualified and most ambitious by the European Union.

In short, a 1.8% increase in GDP as a result of this National Plan I just mentioned that was presented to the European Commission in January and which has been, as I said, very highly rated.

We want Spain to be a leader. The government has shown that, among other priorities, the ecological transition is pressing. And this is a task for us all: for Central Government, for regional governments, for provincial councils, and also for local authorities, since cities are one of the most contaminating spaces that exist.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to end with a stark observation: Spain's future and many of these transformations I have just mentioned are tied in to Europe's future. We want to see a cohesive Spain within a Europe with a common project, that is strong, and capable of defending the values that have turned it into a model of co-existence, social peace and progress. Spain is Europe, and all these transformations we want for Spain, we also want for Europe, because the challenges are the same. When we talk about a just ecological transition, it is clear that we also need the support, solidarity and commitment of the European Union as a whole.

I have no doubts that Spain will come out of this stronger. Let's think about the country we want to have in the year 2030, or in the year 2050, and starting building this without delay. With a sound government, and with a stable parliamentary majority. In short, with all of us doing our part.

In my opinion, the starting point is extraordinary. We have a dynamic society, a thriving business sector and one of the best countries in the world to live in.

Thank you.

(Transcript revised by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation