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Speech by President of the Government of Spain at presentation of "Focus on Africa 2023" programme

Moncloa Palace, Madrid, Monday 29 March 2021

Ambassadors.

State secretaries.

CEO of Elecnor, as well, on behalf of Spanish companies in Africa.

Ministers.

Dear President.

If you will allow me to begin with an anecdote. This is the headquarters of the Presidency of the Government of Spain. This room has been baptised as the Room of Miquel Barceló - who was one of Spain's great painters. And here we have some examples of his African collection, when he had the chance to paint some of the paintings that evoked his time in Africa. And well, this always means, dear President, ministers, that a very profound imprint exists in Spain of our relations with the African continent, which date back a long time.

And hence, I would like to begin by remembering what the Minister for Foreign Affairs said and which I feel is fundamental, which is Spain's clear vocation to have a global perspective of those matters that are global. We spoke about this earlier. The President said this when he specifically mentioned the challenge that the 21st Century represents for all countries around the world.

Spain is willing, together with many other countries, specifically with African countries and particularly with Ghana, to head up the major global challenges. The health emergency, the economic and social emergency, also stemming from the measures all countries have had to take to contain the COVID-19 virus, have highlighted, even more clearly, the challenges we already faced before the pandemic.

These are global challenges, which was mentioned by the President of Ghana, which require a response through global unity in which Spain, my country, will not avert its gaze from. Quite the opposite; this event shows that Spain wishes to head up and promote, together with many other countries, this unity, with ideas, initiatives and projects. And that is what we are doing today at this event.

That is why I am grateful for your participation. I believe that we are undertaking an exercise in advocating and strengthening the multilateralism that has carved out so many good results, and that it must continue to carve out to the benefit of history and the progress of Mankind.

And I am also grateful, particularly to all those present here, because today is the day that the Government of Spain presents an inspiring programme, as the minister said before. We have called this Focus on Africa 2023. This is a programme that represents the action of the whole government, not just from the perspective of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but of the whole government in relation to your continent for the coming years. And it is the clearest example of this global ambition under the 3rd Africa Plan that we approved back in 2019. And today we are going to go one step further. We want to convert this decade, which has begun with the added complexity of the pandemic, into the decade of Spain in Africa. This is the soul of the Focus on Africa 2023 programme, dear President. In short, Spain wants to draw closer to Africa and Africa closer to Spain, and thus, to Europe.

We want to build a bridge that must be very sound, broad, with many lanes from an economic and social perspective, that are sufficiently wide, as mentioned earlier, and strong so that both Europeans and Africans can cross it.

Let me be very clear on this point. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Arancha, said this before, Europe's future is undisputedly tied to Africa. Spain is well aware of this and I also feel that Spain is welcomed with open arms by our neighbouring continent. And Spanish society is increasingly aware - and we have seen this in recent years - that its diversity also includes the reality of the African descendants in our country. We are proud of the integration of men and women from countries on the African continent, which we are only separated from by a few miles of water. That is why it is inevitable that we are interested. As the minister said earlier, the reality of young Africans is that they are forced by the economic insecurity of their families, as the President of Ghana also said earlier and by the lack of opportunities in their own communities, to leave. By the way, a lack of opportunities is also a challenge we face here in Europe. In other words, these are not just realities that societies suffer from in African countries, but also in countries like ours and which, accordingly, in the case of African societies, means people risk their lives in Europe in their search for opportunities.

Spain is perceived, because this is the reality, as the southern gateway to Europe and we absolutely want to be a strategic partner and I would say, be considered special by the African continent. I repeat; strategic and special.

That is why we believe that it is through this global unity I mentioned at the start of my speech that we can best tackle the challenges that affect us all.

We are all, the President said this before, in a struggle with the virus. By the way, dear President, congratulations on the figures and also on the control of the pandemic in Ghana. The truth is that these are figures that not only invite us to think of the level of efficacy of the government in containing COVID-19, but also encouraging in terms of a speedy recovery that your country may also enjoy after the pandemic.

I said before that COVID-19 has been, and if you will allow me, a sort of time machine that has speeded everything up. We said this before at the bilateral meeting we held. And Africa, and also Europe, are both facing realities that we already viewed as pressing before the pandemic.

The reality of climate change, not just as regards the need to reduce the effect of climate change, but also to adapt to a reality that exists, which is the climate change in our countries.

The obligation, as we have seen in some of the videos, to uphold peace and security. Spain is firmly committed to peace and the economic and social development of the Sahel - a region of Africa where we clearly have a great many interests that go beyond just security.

The eradication of poverty, and of discrimination between people, above all when this affects women and girls. Not long ago, dear President, in this very room, we presented out feminist foreign policy action. We are a government committed to real and effective equality between men and women.

We also need to address how to satisfy basic social needs, how to improve governance, and thus the institutions in all countries. How to manage the movement of people, goods, services and capital. How to undertake this digital transformation that the President of Ghana mentioned before so that no-one is left behind; quite the opposite; we want everyone to feel affected and involved in this great disruptive transition for our societies that digitalisation presents.

And as you know, both from the perspective of climate change and the fight against discrimination or in favour of equality and the eradication of poverty, these are also priority challenges for the Government of Spain.

In fact, this is explicitly contained in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan that the Government of Spain is working on and that will involve the disbursement of 150, 140 billion euros excuse me, over the next six years in the great reconversion and modernisation of our country.

And I would like to briefly review the framework of Africa without COVID-19 and with COVID-19 that we mentioned earlier, dear President, in our relations in the bilateral meeting.

Without the pandemic, the rise in Africa was of the urban middle classes in an extraordinary and exponential fashion, the boost to infrastructure plans on most of the continent of Africa, which was revitalising African economies with a clear political direction, at least that is what we could see from Spain. Accompanying, as the representative of the African Bank said earlier, clear progress on institutionalisation, democratisation, political participation, reforms to attract foreign investment, applying African solutions, in short, to African problems and African challenges.

The great progress Africa was experiencing can be summed up in a good example, which is that until 2020, six of the economies with the highest rate of GDP growth in the world were in Sub-Saharan Africa and a total of 26 African countries were on the path to becoming medium income countries that same year. Among all these, I can only highlight the extraordinary example of Ghana, whose President I would again like to thank for his presence at this important event.

The country of Ghana, your country, was the third ranked country in Sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy the most growth in 2019, at a rate of 6.5%. So well done, President. And my congratulations and those of all of Spain on these magnificent results which I am convinced will become a new reality in Africa and in Ghana once we have got over the pandemic, which will be very shortly in both Europe and Africa.

And against this backdrop of economic and social progress which, as I said before, was interrupted by COVID-19 - a health crisis that has also had a major economic impact on Africa, which is facing its first recession in 25 years; the World Bank has today said that the African population in a situation of extreme poverty has increased by between 40 and 60 million people. In turn, the African Union estimates that more than 80 million jobs, both formal and informal, could be shed on the continent as a result of the pandemic, thus exacerbating the lack of opportunities for young Africans and thus enhancing the structural inequalities.

I believe that the leaders reacted quickly in introducing the African Continental Free Trade Area, as mentioned here earlier, which started up in January this year. And in these very difficult and complex circumstances, I would like to underline that several African governments have stood out from the outset, as I said before, in their handling of the pandemic, in their excellent preventive health management of the pandemic.

I feel that Ghana and Senegal are very clear examples of this, with incidence rates that are much lower than neighbouring countries, and hence we are convinced that with a strong Africa, Spain will undoubtedly accompany Africa in overcoming COVID-19, in the development of security, and also in boosting its economic and health system.

Our aim is to contribute to the Focus on Africa 2023 programme, a pressing and immediate response that structures the aims of the 3rd Africa Plan while aligning these sustainable development goals that we are absolutely committed to with the goals of the agenda of the African Union.

In short, we want to contribute to the structural processes and to the medium- to long-term goals of Africa for the African people.

The foreign policy of any country logically caters for the interests of their own country, that is obviously the case, and this is one of the aims of our country, of Spain.

And yet, the reality is that in the case of Africa, our aims and interests almost perfectly coincide, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs mentioned earlier.

Accordingly, the priorities contained in the Focus on Africa 2023 programme are aligned with Africa's priorities.

Firstly, and this has been mentioned here: peace and security, because the efforts at development can only lead to positive results in a secure environment. In other words, people clamour for peace where violence has forced schools and health centres to close, where crop and livestock farmers cannot work without having their lives threatened, where women and children live in fear and where the construction of infrastructures has been paralysed due to insecurity.

Peace that must clearly also be built based on social development and with coverage for the basic needs of citizens. And in this regard, the commitment made by the Government of Ghana in relation to free and universal education, universal access for all people of Ghana, seems like the right approach to me, dear President.

And secondly, we also want to see sustainable, just and inclusive economic development of all societies in Africa. How? Well, I feel that by supporting regional African integration, the fight against climate change, boosting the ecological transition, to which end we will continue to promote debt relief measures, as called for by some African governments, and we will continue to support regional integration processes, particularly in the African Continental Free Trade Area, to which end we consider it a priority to boost the Spanish business and investment presence in Africa. I feel that this is one of the tasks pending for the Spanish economy and I also clearly feel that this event represents a turning point in a decisive commitment that must also translate into greater foreign investment, in this case by Spain, in the African continent - an investment that already contributes to create jobs, as the CEO of Elecnor said, in a great many sectors. I would also like to refer to the agro-industrial sector because this is very important for Ghana.

We are clearly and decisively committed to the sustainable industrialisation of African economies and we are also committed to achieving a future of shared prosperity, as the minister mentioned. The stability and prosperity of Africa will also mean the stability and prosperity of Spain.

Our companies are currently facing a tremendous opportunity to rebuild in a much more sustainable, fairer, greener and more inclusive manner not just European and Spanish economies, but also African economies, in the wake of COVID-19. And furthermore, the competitiveness and technology of Spanish companies in renewable energies is just one example of the suitability of collaboration to develop sustainable economies.

The third priority, as I mentioned before, is to strengthen feminist diplomacy. As our foreign policy is feminist, which I mentioned, I believe that we must all address the recognition of the transforming power of women in all areas, including the economy. We want, together with our African partners, to promote gender equality, the participation of women at all levels and in all areas, including in decision making in public life. And we are particularly convinced of the need for their participation, that of women, in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

The fourth priority is clearly related to the health emergency we are jointly addressing in different countries. Spain has committed to guaranteeing access to the vaccine under criteria and equity in all countries. We have headed up, together with other countries, since the outset of the pandemic, several financial mechanisms to guarantee this objective, and several African countries have already received the first shipments through the international instrument COVAX, which Spain has formed part of since its creation.

In fifth and last place, I want to mention the Focus on Africa 2023 programme, which advocates a strategic partnership that includes the management of migration and the safe mobility of our citizens. The fight against illegal immigration, and also the uncompromising fight against people trafficking networks must go hand-in-hand with fostering orderly, legal and safe migration, with the necessary respect for human rights.

And we want to continue to promote the participation of African students in the European Erasmus Plus programme, through Spanish universities; the President and I also spoke about this, because universities are called on to play a greater and closer role in relations between Africa and Europe through education.

In short, dear President, ministers, public officials, ambassadors, I believe that Africa can count on Spain and on Spain's voice in the European Union, and we want, together with others, to head up the EU's action in Africa.

We want to build, as I said before, on the positive aspects of our relations, which are many and varied, committing to peace, sustainability and also the shared prosperity of our continents.

We are, I believe, profoundly convinced that this relationship involves a strategic association based on mutual respect and dialogue with our African partners.

2020, dear President, ministers, ambassadors, was the year of the pandemic, and also of the great resistance of our societies to this pandemic, and 2021, I am convinced, will be the year of the recovery, because it will be the year of vaccination.

But faced with the health, economic and social emergency that still affects our societies around the world, the only extraordinary and global response is unity. Focus on Africa 2023 is conceived as an instrument to serve these goals, which will be applied through dialogue.

I thank you very much for your presence here, particularly the President of Ghana.

Thank you for your efforts, and I can assure you that I will listen carefully to our African partners to achieve a more prosperous, fairer, more inclusive and more equitable future together, which will clearly also be more sustainable.

I believe our societies will be extremely grateful for this.

Thank you President.

Thank you ministers.

Thank you ambassadors.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation