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Press conference by President of the Government at presentation of Action Plan for Science and Innovation

Moncloa Palace, Thursday 9 July 2020

President of the Government: Good day, Vice-President of the Government. Ministers, ladies and gentlemen.

It has already been said that this is an important day, and indeed it is. The government has also been thanked, particularly the Minister for Science and Innovation, Pedro, and I also wanted to thank the scientists - the scientific community. In this same room, at very tough times during the pandemic, we met here every day, we met with the Vice-President of the Government, with those related, firstly, to the escalation plan, and then to the de-escalation plan, and each day we received contributions and advice from the scientific community. The scientific community, on a very cross-cutting and horizontal basis, because clearly at the start of the pandemic, during the lockdown and with the measures we had to take to bring COVID under control, these were the measures, let's say, from the point of view of public decision-making, that were simpler, since there were few of them to bring COVID under control; I don't mean by this that there wasn't a tremendous and huge effect from a health perspective and from a socio-economic perspective. But clearly then, when we had to design the de-escalation plan, we had to include many more nuances because the measures we had to implement were far more complex and heterogeneous.

And I should add that, with the scientific contributions, the public decisions taken would clearly not have been as effective as they have during these tremendously tough and complex weeks.

Not just that, but also in these debates we have with the scientists here, Doctor Simón, for example, has been mentioned, but behind him there are a great many other people, not only at an epidemiological level, but also in the field of social science and many others that have helped understand the implications of the decisions the government was taking, on an unprecedented basis, as we are seeing.

What I have seen in the scientific community is always, firstly, extraordinary training and preparation. Secondly, a great sense of duty, a great sense, also, of their commitment. Firstly, to their discipline, to science. Secondly, humility. Thirdly, their awareness that there were also limitations on knowledge and science in tackling an unknown virus to science and, consequently, also in relation to the precautions we had to take, in other words, there were no categorical statements, but rather humility from scientists in the awareness of their limitations, and I believe that this is also very important in today's societies. And lastly, there was a high degree of commitment to their country and to public service, which is broadly speaking the same, in the end.

I believe that if this Plan shows anything, it is that, from the government's point of view, we are not only committed, but also that we have learned first-hand, I can guarantee this, the importance of science at such a critical time facing humanity today. We are all waiting on when science will discover a vaccine or a therapeutic remedy. That is why I believe it is very important, as I said before, to hold this event here today, and above all the Plan we are presenting.

I has prepared some notes and firstly wanted to begin with this example, which we probably don't see every day, but I wanted to underline the importance of science, with the example of Belén Pastor, this young researcher from the Spanish Association against Cancer in Valencia, who found a way to identify more quickly and accurately colon, prostate, lung and breast cancer, and from what appeared in the media, Belén is only 24 years old, in other words, she has only just finished her studies. A decade ago, perhaps, she would quite likely, as mentioned, have had to leave the country to carve out a future. And consequently, we would have lost her talent. Many young people had to do that, many scientists. Unfortunately, they are still doing this, and so today we firmly intend to make sure this does not happen again, or at least not as dramatically as in past decades. Belén Pastor is just one example of women involved in science in Spain, we have a wealth of talent and the capacity to be at the forefront of research, innovation and development.

In other times, there was a movement that considered, this is no longer the case, that science was a secondary matter, as is the case with climate change, and that they are issues for when the situation is buoyant, when there is economic growth, when there is wealth and, as you rightly said, the reality is quite the opposite, and we know this. That is why I would like to begin with a recognition, something the researcher mentioned before, which is a virtual declaration, which has clearly been echoed around the whole country, including to the government, which we enthusiastically subscribe to - "There is no future without science", and with this Action Plan, with this hashtag and we turn this around a little and say "science for the future".

The pandemic we have just gone through, as I said to you before, is just the latest evidence of the renouncement of science in the past. Spain cannot continue to turn its back on science, on innovation and on research. We must more forcefully commit to them if we want to be prepared for future health emergencies, which will break out. We have had good examples in the past, but this has clearly been a very forceful reminder of the need to take measures. If we want to guarantee health, well-being, competitiveness, cohesion, sustainability, that is, the prosperity of our societies, if we want, in short, to create skilled jobs, new industries, a fairer society, a much more resilient economy in terms of environmental sustainability, and also social sustainability, we need to commit to science.

After almost a decade of relegation, suffering from the consequences of the financial and budgetary limitations, cuts, and probably also due to the absence of more structural and systemic political attention in the medium and long term, the Spanish scientific system and innovation need an Action Plan.

And the government, with Minister Duque at the head, has been working on this comprehensive Plan from the moment it was formed. We said then that education and science must be the pillar or pillars on which the prosperity of our country is based and we firmly believe in that.

This is a government that listens, and also acts, not just with words, but also with deeds. That is why the goal of the Plan we present today is to immediately boost the public and private R&D+i system, with measures that will be implemented this year and next.

The Action Plan is structured around three pillars.

The first is research and innovation in health, which is obviously very relevant at this time. Without delay, we will strengthen the public health research system, principally through the mobilisation of resources to the institute, which I believe is very powerful, and I also wish to acknowledge the work of its director, Raquel Yotti. Hence, allocate many of these resources to the Carlos III Institute, and also reform the Bio-health Research Act to promote the professional career of biomedical researchers. That is the first pillar.

The second pillar is the transformation of the scientific system and attracting talent, to which end we need to resolve the endemic deficiencies of Spanish science. On the one hand, we must swiftly initiate a reform of the Science Act to offer stability to the professional careers of scientists in all areas of knowledge. And, on the other hand, what we must do is allocate more funding to the main instruments to finance science in all its disciplines.

The third pillar is related to boosting business R&D+i, and the industry of science. Science needs to implement its results to be fully productive. This has already been said here - creating or manufacturing vaccines too late or inventing a prototype of a car that cannot be manufactured is clearly not productive. That is why we want to strengthen the foundations of our productive fabric by promoting the transfer of knowledge. We want this to be one of the pillars of this economic, social, environmental and digital recovery/transformation of the country, with specific, cross-cutting measures in strategic sectors.

This Plan is not only comprised of good intentions, which I am convinced that you share. It also contains resources. The Plan amounts to an investment of 1.06 billion euros in direct support in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the Action Plan will mobilise some 396 million euros. The rest will be mobilized in 2021, and in addition to this investment you have to add a total of 508 million euros in loans under beneficial conditions for innovative companies.

I also want to add, because it has been mentioned here, that this Action Plan not only contains short-term impact measures, urgent measures, but that we must clearly look at how important it is to make a systemic and structural commitment to the recovery of our scientific and innovative system.

This is clearly an Action Plan, and hence it affects what is urgent, not what is important, yet, and I would like to underline this, it is precisely designed to be aligned and complemented by the medium- and long-term resources under the investment and reform plan for the economic recovery that the government is preparing and that will be taken to Brussels to be financed, once we reach this agreement, hopefully in the month of July, on the European Recovery Fund.

Europe must save Europe. That is the main lesson we must take away from the pandemic. And following the crisis ten years ago, all countries are under an obligation to reach an agreement next week whereby the EU can mobilise an unprecedented volume of resources to help Member States in their recovery. In terms of historic moments, I believe that this point in time is very similar to 1957, in the negotiations on the founding treaties of the European Union, or when Spain jointed the European Union, or when the single market was set up or the single currency created. This is an unprecedented, historic moment. If we reach an agreement next week, which we hope we will, we will undoubtedly be writing a new chapter and also a very positive chapter in the common history we share with other European societies.

Resources, those of the European Recovery Fund allocated, and this is the main approach that I would like to share with you, precisely to speed up the way out of the crisis, but also including the fact that there are many changes that have speeded up as a result of this pandemic, associated with green, digital and inclusive matters; in short, with the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which also guide and impact on our public action.

Hence, measures that are related to everything I have mentioned, and also with education and with vocational training. We are doing a great deal on vocational training that goes unnoticed in the media, but which is being done. Each Council of Ministers is leaving its mark on a decisive commitment to vocational training tied in to many of the questions you agree on. Also a commitment to science and innovation that will necessarily be at the heart of the government's priorities in this new request for economic resources from Brussels to enhance the recovery.

Scientists have gained, this was said before and I also mentioned it at the start of my speech, personal experience that has played an unconventional and unprecedented leading role in the history of our democracy, which I am sure will be here to stay long after the pandemic goes away. Today we can say that there are 12 vaccine projects under way in Spain, and there you have Minister Duque driving this with great conviction, something I believe Pedro also conveys in his speeches, which I am grateful for. Anyway, if we have these 12 vaccine projects underway in Spain it is thanks to previous decades of basic research. We must wonder how far we could have gone if science had not unfortunately been renounced in recent decades. Science is an investment; this has already been said, in the medium term, one which cannot be halted in times of crises. More science, not less; more research, not less; more innovation, not less. So, together with the Climate Act, the Inclusion Act, and clearly also the Digital Act, we must now add the Science Act.

In these two years of government, we have been able to start to lay sound foundations. I also want to advocate and acknowledge this. There you have the advanced statute for researchers on information. There you have the bringing into line of scientists on common scales, in order to foster mobility. There you have the annual increases in real investment, our instruments for the transfer of knowledge, and issues in science and innovation. But it is clear that we need to speed up and require budgets that translate these political goals into realities. We will only come out stronger if we invest in the long term.

I must admit that one of the decisions I had very clear when we formed the first government in 2018, and then in 2020, just a short time ago, was this debt Spain owed through the creation of a Ministry of Science and Innovation. This debt to science was overdue. And this debt was primarily to our young people. And I would like to recognise the tireless and successful work of Minister Duque throughout this time.

Europe also has clear that knowledge and science must be a priority. There will be no room for Europe in a global world alongside other giants, as we are seeing, if we are not capable of also coordinating all our actions at a scientific and technological level. The policy that I believe the European Union is proposing seeks to achieve cohesion and then we can add all the adjectives we want - economic, social, territorial - which are so important for our country, through the creation of jobs, competitiveness, economic growth, development, digitalisation, territorial and social cohesion, in line with the SDG of the 2030 Agenda.

Science has been what has allowed us to get to know COVID-19, as I said at the start of my speech, its influence on different groups, in improving diagnostic testing, the detection of outbreaks, the discovery of better treatments and the establishment of the best way to defeat an unknown virus.

Never before had the whole world watched with such expectation, and I must admit, with such impatience, for the scientific community, all of you, never before had the whole world been so aware, in real time, of the crucial role you play.

During this pandemic, the government, as you well know, has invested 30 million euros in emergency research projects. The COVID Fund, managed by the Carlos III Institute, has distributed almost 24 million euros to 127 projects. It has also set up the platform - "Global Health" - of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (Spanish acronym: CSIC) - I must admit that I have read some of these reports and the truth is that they are very pedagogical, very suggestive, including when taking political decisions, which are very important because they affect the daily lives of the people of our country. This platform has gathered together more than 150 research groups in different specialised fields to address health and social science projects, projects to improve care for the elderly, projects to detect genetic material with the virus in wastewater, which is proving to be very important in precisely detecting the extension of COVID-19. This platform - "Global Health" - has largely been possible, which I also wish to acknowledge, thanks to donations from individuals and companies, which is a clear sign of social support for research in our country and of the importance, as has been said, of public-private collaboration. The government is profoundly grateful and proud of this commitment by companies to research and to fighting COVID-19.

The Centre for Industrial Technological Development (Spanish acronym: CDTI), in turn, has mobilised 500 million euros in loans to R&D+i projects in SMEs, medium-sized companies and has launched an extraordinary round of proposals for subsidies with an allocation of 12 million euros for business projects aimed at tackling the health emergency. I also want to acknowledge the role being played by the CDTI because I have borne witness to this. We have also seen, in relation to the vaccines, the importance of this role being played by the CDTI in this health emergency.

Spain, in short, has more than enough capacity, more than enough talent, to make discoveries, to make progress that creates new industries, attracts investment and that will be where more skilled jobs come from, as has also been said. This will be where this sustainable recovery takes place and our future is as a country. The commitment to science, to innovation, does not end here. On the contrary, both the Action Plan and the medium- and long-term measures I have just mentioned are established in the Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy 2021-2027, which will be presented in the coming weeks by the ministerial department, and together with this, the government is finishing off, as you are ware, the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy.

We are now working on a specific law for start-ups, as part of an entrepreneurial alternation strategy. You know that we created a High Commissioner for Entrepreneurial Nation, directly attached to the Presidency of the Government, headed up by Paco Polo, a new Universities Act that is committed to a new professional career for teaching and research staff. We know that science must be fruit of a sound education and training system. We must also seek to convert our country into the first country to recognise the right to life-long education throughout one's career.

And lastly, I also wish to thank all those people whose work has gone into drawing up this Plan - Minister Duque and his team, and all the other ministerial departments involved, and if you will allow me I will also mention a good friend, the Minister for Universities, Manuel Castells, who runs the Ministry of Universities, for the good work he is doing at this tough time, which is also a key department in achieving a sound relationship between universities and the science and innovation system. And also all those sectors, and business owners and associations that support them. Some of them are present here today and I am truly grateful to them.

And above all, I want to express my gratitude to the work of so many scientists and innovators, technical personnel and administrative staff who have had to bear, for more than a decade, tremendous difficulties and make tremendous sacrifices, but who, despite this, have continued in their posts believing, unwaveringly, in the value of what they were doing and its contribution to society.

In our country - Spain - there are few areas that arouse greater political and social consensus. This is something very striking, but which must then translate into much most structural and decisive political action. Without looking further, on the Social and Economic Reconstruction Committee of the Lower House of Parliament, this great consensus has been made clear, beyond mere party politics, regarding the importance of science, innovation, research and development. I will textually quote something that this parliamentary committee stated, "It is time to forge agreements, great agreements for the pending reforms, on which there is a great political and academic consensus".

For this reason, I am convinced that the Plan we have just presented will be backed by all the political forces, as the first in many steps that will soon be taken. We have expressed our goal of exiting this crisis, of making progress in the transformations we need and we want to win the future and guarantee a sound and sustainable economic recovery. And we want this progress to go hand-in-hand with not leaving anyone behind.

And to achieve this, we must apply one of the lessons that this health emergency has taught us. Science is the weapon with which people protect themselves from adversity and is also the tool with which to build the future. And Spain wants protection from adversity and, above all, what Spain wants, yearns for and demands is a future, which is why we need the contributions from science, and hence we need you.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation