You are in:

Press briefing by Acting President of the Government after European Council meeting

Europen Council, Brussels, Friday 18 October 2019

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, Acting President of the Government.

(…) make this appearance, this press briefing and, if you agree, the first thing that I will do is read out a brief statement regarding the Conclusions of the Council and subsequently it will be a pleasure to answer any questions you may have.

As you know, I appear here to explain the results of the European Council held yesterday and today and the Article 60 European Council meeting held yesterday, to discuss the two main issues of Brexit and the Multiannual Financial Framework.

As regards Brexit, I wish to state from the outset that we are very satisfied at the agreement reached. I feel that this is great relief for Europe and also for Spanish citizens as a whole that we have managed to reach this agreement, which must now be ratified by the British Parliament in the coming days.

This agreement means that we ensure something fundamental - an orderly Brexit. Secondly, we guarantee lifetime rights for European citizens, whether Spanish or from anywhere else in the European Union, that live in the United Kingdom; we preserve the unity of the internal market and respect for the Good Friday agreements, and we also guarantee compliance by the UK with its obligations under the current Multiannual Financial Framework. It is now down to the British Parliament, as I mentioned, to ratify this agreement which included the unanimous consensus of all Member States of the Council.

After Brexit, negotiations will start on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. You are aware that on this matter there is a very sensitive issue for Spain, which is Gibraltar, regarding which Spain will head up these bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom. These negotiations will soon start, seeking an area of shared prosperity that benefits Campo de Gibraltar and those Spanish men and women that work in Gibraltar.

As regards the Multiannual Financial Framework - that is, the EU Budget - so that viewers understand colloquially what we mean, this is a fundamental question for the future of the European Union, and also for the Member States, as I stated at the European Council.

The European Union is facing some major challenges - migration, climate change, digitalisation; in short, I feel that we must advocate an ambitious Budget that provides the EU with the necessary capacity to tackle them. And with a Budget of around 1% of the Gross National Income, which is the proposal initially made it will be difficult to achieve all these goals. This is a question we discussed at the European Council and that is in line with the position of the Government of Spain.

In terms of policies, Spain has been very clear regarding the Common Agricultural Policy as well, and the Commission's proposal is insufficient in our opinion and Spain will clearly defend the primary sector - the agriculture and livestock sector - which is so important for our country. The Common Agricultural Policy plays a key role in also supporting something that I was pleased to underline today at the European Council, which is the ecological transition of agricultural models towards an increasingly more sustainable and competitive model. We cannot allow our fields to continue to become fallow or for the gap to further widen between built-up areas and the countryside. The consequent maintenance of our support for farmers is an uncrossable red line for us and we have conveyed this to our counterparts. The countryside in the Levante and in Andalusia which suffered, as you know, from flooding caused by the 'cold drop' a few weeks ago, are also suffering the abuse of the customs duties imposed by the Trump Administration and which we obviously reject outright, and farmers there know what we are talking about. And Spain is also heading up an EU response to some of these products affected by this customs duty imposition and we have implemented a set of measures to mitigate the effects of these hikes as far as has been possible.

As regards the Cohesion Policy, you are aware that this is one of our priorities, which directly supports the regions and helps lead to their convergence. Hence, it is time to make an effort, close the wounds opened in the crisis and also reduce the gap between the most and least profitable regions. I have advocated maintaining their funding which will allow the development of our regions, of important regions such as Extremadura, Galicia, the Canary Islands, Andalusia and Castile-La Mancha; through investments and infrastructures. I also advocated fighting youth unemployment, long-term unemployment, the European child guarantee, and also clearly the Gender Strategy that must be implemented at a Europe-wide level.

As regards climate change, with the enlargement to include North Macedonia and Albania and the Turkish investment in the the north of Syria, I would like to say that we have addressed the climate emergency, as well as the enlargement process and also the Turkish invasion. And in terms of climate change, the new European Commission must start to apply the Green New Deal as soon as possible - a major green deal towards a carbon-free economy that must be just. I spoke to the Council today of the need for vulnerable areas to be in everyone's mind, places like El Bierzo, Palencia, the Asturian coal districts, Teruel, A Coruña and Almeria should also receive funding from the European Union so that this adaptation process does not leave anyone behind.

Spain, as you know, is the first country in the world to enact a Just Transition Strategy towards a carbon-free economy. The government will allocate more than 600 million euros to areas in transition through the Just Transition Agreements we have been signing with the different social groups affected, and just this week, we have identified the first areas where specific projects and investment will be implemented next year.

In terms of the enlargement, Spain will always advocate stability and progress in the Western Balkans. North Macedonia and Albania must have a clear prospect of EU enlargement, and hence of membership of the European Union in the future, and on this matter we will continue to work with the European Council in the coming months. As regards the invasion of northern Syria by Turkey, this action is in violation of international law, as it endangers the lives of innocent people and stability in the region. That is why we have expressed our outright condemnation of Turkey's military action in Syria, as the government did at the start of the week. As you are aware, Spain had already suspended licences for arms sales to Turkey.

And finally, to culminate this brief speech, I wanted to refer to Catalonia. I wanted to send out several message about today's events in Catalonia; firstly, I want to say to all the people of Catalonia and of Spain as a whole that the social and democratic State under the rule of law, which is Spain, has all the mechanisms available to ensure that the law, democratic legality and co-existence prevail; that is the function of the courts and also of the State and regional law enforcement agencies, which I would like to mention to offer my full support, since they are acting with exemplary coordination. A social and democratic State under the rule of law cannot give in to the force of unrest. The strength of a democratic State is precisely expressed in its firmness and proportionality of response, and consequently, in its moderation. The law is clear; whoever commits a criminal offence must respond for it, and sooner rather than later. And let no-one have any doubts, the acts of vandalism we have seen over recent days in some cities in Catalonia will not go unpunished.

Secondly, and in relation to the protests called for today, I must say that there are people taking part in exercise of their legitimate use of constitutional law to attend. Precisely the exercise of the right to demonstrate is the living manifestation and evidence of the strength of our democracy, of the democratic characteristics of our system. Those who doubt this can directly observe that all liberties, rights and opinions are respected in Spain, and that no-one is punished for their ideas, only for their actions when these are precisely in breach of democratic legality. This right to demonstrate must be protected by all the public powers, which is what the Government of Spain ensures, and must also be exercised in an absolutely peaceful fashion, without affecting those other citizens who do not wish to take part in the protest, and hence they must not be coerced into doing so.

Finally, in relation to the violent incidents perpetrated yesterday by different groups organised under different colours, I wish to reiterate what the Ministry of Home Affairs stated both today and yesterday, that those guilty of violent actions will be identified and brought to justice to receive the corresponding punishment, in other words, there is no room for impunity for the serious violent actions we have seen in recent days in different cities in Catalonia.

These are the Conclusions from the European Council and a brief assessment of what is happening in Catalonia. I will now answer your questions.

Q: Thank you, Acting President of the Government. This morning, the Minister for Home Affairs said that Barcelona can be visited with all normality; I was wondering if you feel the same and I also wanted to ask you whether, after these last four nights of rioting in Barcelona, you still think that no extraordinary measures need to be applied in Catalonia. Thank you.

Acting President of the Government: As regards your first question, I think it is clear that we need to put the response by the Minister for Home Affairs into context. I believe that if there is anyone who knows exactly what is happening in Barcelona and in Catalonia it is the Minister for Home Affairs, who has spent a great many hours this week precisely carrying out an outstanding task of coordinating the State and regional law enforcement agencies.

And as regards your second question, I believe that the approach the government has always taken, and you'll forgive me for repeating myself, but I feel it is important to say that any decision that is taken will firstly be planned, and secondly will be based on the spirit and principles that I have set out on many occasions in my speeches, and this is the third one I have made this week which are, firstly, democratic firmness, the duty of all political leaders is to guarantee co-existence and democratic legality, and that is something that we must do with calm and democratic firmness; secondly, the unity of action with the other political parties: I have had the chance to meet up with the main political forces at a national level to explain to them the scenarios that have been proposed and the potential responses we can offer, and finally, proportionality, which I believe it is important to state, because we clearly have the democratic legitimacy to do this though the laws that back us and even through the doctrine of the Constitutional Court which clearly states when these extraordinary measures can be applied, whether it be through the law, the National Security Act or the application of Article 155 of the Constitution, there is sufficient doctrine and rules to know when they can and cannot be applied. But what is also important is to have social legitimacy, that is, that our citizens understand when these extraordinary measures are applied. I feel we are at a time when moderation, the weighing up of measures will contribute to appeasement, to redirect the situation and hence that is what the Government of Spain will do.

Q: Good afternoon; I wanted to ask you about Brexit. What conditions will Spain ask the United Kingdom for so that Gibraltar can benefit from a future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom within the framework of future relations? What will Spain ask for? And secondly, as regards Catalonia, what do you think about Regional President Torra bringing up the matter of a referendum as a way out of the Catalan crisis?

Acting President of the Government: Thank you Lucia. As regards your first question, we are still at an early stage. Everyone knows what the Government of Spain's traditional and historical position is. I feel that what we have done over the course of recent months is reach four or five bilateral agreements with the United Kingdom over questions that are related to the movement of workers, taxation and environmental protection. We want to have as constructive a relationship as possible with the United Kingdom to resolve this historical contention over Gibraltar.

I would also like to say that we have always felt supported by the other 26 Member States in terms of their understanding that the Government of Spain must head up bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom and that, obviously we must have the ability to define the position of the European Union. Hence, we are still at an early stage so it is better not to get ahead of events, although clearly everyone knows the historical position of the Government of Spain regarding this contentious issue.

And in relation to what Mr Torra said yesterday in his appearance in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia, I feel that we need co-existence after this ruling. In the two speeches I have made at Moncloa Palace on Monday and Tuesday, I called for a new era to begin after this ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on the judicialisation of a political crisis. The ruling by the Supreme Court clearly states the limits of the proposals being made in this case by the President of the Regional Government of Catalonia in relation to the supposed right to self-determination and hence I believe that what you must not do is go down the same path that has already led to frustration, failure and the breakdown of Catalan society. So, we must open up a new era in which, logically, the Government of Spain will always be prepared, based on the premise of respecting the law, but what is also very important is that the pro-independence movement, in this case Mr Torra, understands something that I have been saying time and time again, which is that society in Catalonia is divided, and so the first thing that the pro-independence movement must do, particularly the person heading up the Regional Government of Catalonia, is acknowledge the other side and recognise that Catalonia is not just one people, it is many people. It is a diverse society; a plural society. And hence you cannot homogenise something that is diverse; you must acknowledge that there is a part of Catalonia, in fact the majority, as seen in each election called that is not in favour of independence. So, he must try and seek an agreement with this other Catalonia. They may have a parliamentary majority, but not a social majority. They have a parliamentary majority as a result of the electoral law. But they don't have a social majority as they claim.

Hence, what Mr Torra must do is aspire, I should say, to govern all of the people of Catalonia, not just part of them, who, by the way, are becoming increasingly radical. What we have seen from Mr Torra in the last few days is precisely a trivialisation of violence, tackling it frivolously, and not taking the grave effects on the economy and on co-existence in Catalonia seriously. Given this trivialisation and frivolity, we would like to say two things to Catalan society: first that this crisis will be overcome calmly and we will restore co-existence in Catalonia.

Secondly, the social State under the rule of law will always apply legislation to guarantee calm, security and co-existence in Catalonia.

I feel that, regardless of Mr Torra not acknowledging the work of the Mossos d'Esquadra [regional police force] in Catalonia, the Government of Spain would like to underline precisely the extraordinary cooperation between the Mossos d'Esquadra and the National Police and Guardia Civil over recent days.

Q: In your talks with European leaders, have you received any support regarding the moderation you have shown in Catalonia? You keep saying to us every day that there is a need for moderation, but each day we are seeing dramatic scenes in Catalonia. Today there is a strike that the business owners' association considers to be illegal and yet it is taking place. Don't you feel that this moderation could be counter-productive and could be interpreted as weakness or impotence by the State in response to this movement?

Acting President of the Government: As regards your first question, the truth is that "no". There have been no talks aside from asking after the vandalism in Barcelona by the rest of the leaders at the European Council. Hence, I have perceived nothing aside from the media interest that obviously exists when you have this kind of scene. I wish to acknowledge the work done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the embassies that form part of the diplomatic corps following the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court, and the position of the Government of Spain can be seen quite clearly, with a clear message advocating the social and democratic State under the rule of law in our country. We defend the strength of Spanish democracy. Hence, from this point of view, I must say that I am well satisfied at the work that has been done by the diplomatic corps and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this matter.

As regards your other question, I believe that proportionality is a sign of the strength of a democratic State under the rule of law. So, that is where we will always stand, because I believe that it is the best way to effectively tackle this type of crisis.

Q: You were seen talking to the Belgian Prime Minister and the French Prime Minister yesterday; did you explain to them what is happening in Barcelona? Did you speak to the Belgian Prime Minister about the European Arrest Warrant? As regards Brexit, what do you personally feel will happen with the vote in Westminster? If there is another delay, what will happen? Will there be another summit, will elections be called in the United Kingdom, or should we prepare for the worst?

Acting President of the Government: I cannot answer that; that is down to the British Prime Minister and the MPs in the British Parliament.

I believe that we have done a good job, that a more than reasonable agreement has been reached and I hope that it will be pushed through the British Parliament. I believe it has been called for Saturday.

As regards your first question, we live in consolidated democracies and hence you cannot ask a prime minister about questions related to the separation of powers and the judiciary. But in relation to that matter, I will tell you that the Government of Spain is obviously working to ensure that decisions based on democratic legality by the judiciary are upheld both in Spain and beyond our borders.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation