You are in:

Press conference by President of the Government of Spain in Republic of Senegal

Dakar (Senegal), Friday 9 April 2021

We have heard, during our time here in Senegal, as President Sall mentioned, of the death of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

You are aware that Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Spain, have already passed on their condolences to the British Royal Family and to the British people. The Government of Spain wishes to add its voice to these condolences. I would thus pass on my wishes and those of the Government of Spain to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, to the whole Royal Family, and also to the British Government and the British people.

I would like to sincerely thank President Sall for his invitation to visit Senegal, a country that you are aware is a priority under the Africa Plan and also of the more recent Focus on Africa 2023, with which we have wonderful relations in many areas.

I feel that this tour and its results, together with the structuring of the Focus on Africa 2023, represent the way Spain views Africa as a genuine continent of great opportunities for its societies. Spain is drawing closer to Africa as a partner, as a friend, and we are also working hand-in-hand in some very important areas for the people of Spain, such as peace, security, sustainable development, the fight against climate change, and so on.

I wish to highlight our support for President Sall and for the dialogue processes being implemented that bring together the government, civil society and the opposition.

We feel that the pandemic is also an opportunity to achieve these broad political consensuses. While we also welcome Senegal's success in containing the pandemic and the start of the national vaccination campaign.

Spain, as the President is aware, forms part of the COVAX initiative to guarantee vaccine access to the entire world's population; we cannot allow anyone to be left unvaccinated in a global health emergency. Relations between Senegal and Spain are not only excellent, but they span a whole host of aspects.

Our intention is thus, through our presence here, to continue stepping up these relations.

As you know, I took part this morning in a business meeting at which I was able to appreciate the dynamic nature of the Senegalese business class and authorities, and their vocation to reform their country. Our companies, Spanish companies, wish to invest and also diversify the economy of this country. We have certain cutting-edge sectors, like agriculture, renewable energies, water, sanitation, road infrastructures, and also the construction of housing, along with port and airport infrastructures. In short, these are areas we can work on together to build a future of opportunities for Senegal and also for Spain.

And furthermore, as an example of Spain's commitment to sustainable development in Senegal, we have signed two loan agreements of 50 million euros and 15 million euros through the Fund to Promote Development, which will help finance a solid waste management project here in Dakar and an irrigation project in the Sahel.

We are also very proud of Senegal's growing interest in the Spanish language. Spanish is increasingly thriving as a language and it is one of our most valuable assets at a global level, and I want to say to you that for us, for the Government of Spain, dear President, it will be an honour to see the first headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Sub-Saharan Africa opened here in Dakar. This will be inaugurated this year, in 2021. A fundamental element, in our opinion, in the teaching of our language and which will prove beneficial. More than 200,000 secondary school students now choose Spanish as their second language here in Senegal.

This new headquarters will open soon, the site of which I will visit later.

I also trust that this will not be the last time that this happens, since I am firmly committed to continued support for the expansion of Spanish around the world.

As regards the migratory dossier, Senegal, and the President mentioned this earlier, is an essential partner in the management of the Atlantic route. Senegalese residents in Spain are the largest colony of Sub-Saharans in our country, with 71,020 on the census. What I must add Mr President, is that the people of Senegal resident in Spain are great workers, are fully integrated in our societies and we are proud to have them with us.

Spain is always in favour, as you know, of safe, regular and orderly migration and, given the current context of a rise in flows leaving along the Atlantic Route, Spain is committed to the continuity and stepping up of these bilateral relations on migration. This is also clearly one of the reasons for this trip.

Our migratory policy is based on two key cornerstones - the preventive dimension and also on returns - to which end I wish to acknowledge the extraordinary collaboration we enjoy with the Senegalese authorities in all areas.

I believe that the joint statement we have signed today on cooperation between Spain and Senegal in the fight against illegal migration, together with the two Memoranda of Understanding on managing migratory flows - one of them to encourage regular migration through this circular migration, and the other to create a framework of institutional cooperation that allows more effective management of migratory flows - affect, above all, the most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities and women.

This morning I also visited Dakar Port, and the deployment of the Guardia Civil and the National Police under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Affairs. I clearly feel that this collaboration between the Governments of Senegal and Spain must be further strengthened.

The support and commitment of the Senegalese authorities is essential through identification missions. And this is a subject which, of course, President Sall and I addressed in our meeting.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight the excellent cooperation we have with Senegal in relation to the efforts to stabilise a very important region in Africa - the Sahel - an area of great strategic priority for our countries.

As I have mentioned on other occasions, our commitment to security in the Sahel is a long-term commitment. The dual path of security and development is the right path to take and, moreover, Senegal hosts our Marfil detachment - Spanish Air Force contingent - which, with its two planes, provides support for air transportation in different operations in the Sahel and which I intend to visit before ending my stay in Senegal.

In short, President, Spain is and will remain committed to the Sahel, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank President Sall for his support for our contingent.

Thank you.

Q.- We wanted to know whether you reached an agreement in your meeting on recovering repatriation flights for illegal immigrants and when you think this could become effective again after being suspended in 2018.

And for the President of the Government, in relation to the pandemic, we wanted to know what figures you have used to doubt the figures offered by the Regional Government of Madrid on the contagion and what opinion the President of the Regional Government of Madrid's response to these doubts merits when she used the phrase that a thief believes everyone else is of the same nature. Thank you very much.

President of the Government.- Well, if you agree, President, I will respond to the second question, and as regards the first, clearly everything related to return policies forms another part of migratory policy. I feel it is also very important to highlight what we are going to sign today. What we have signed today includes an MOU to boost circular migration.

In other words, Spain is a country committed to boosting and organising migratory flows through regular channels. And I also feel that this experience of circular migration could become a turning point in collaboration on migration.

I repeat, President Sall and I have spoken about repatriations, and I feel it is very important to pass on a resounding message to the mafias. I have said this on many occasions, but when we speak about those people who arrive, we often forget the people who do not arrive because they die at sea. And this ought to be the subject of an even more resounding message, as both our governments are doing in fighting the people trafficking mafias and illegal migration, and hence we ought to give regular migration routes a chance, which would undoubtedly benefit both our countries.

As regards your second question, well, I think we are talking here about something very serious. And regarding that, let me tell you that figures are more telling than words.

Madrid has a 14-day cumulative incidence rate of 315.49 cases. The Spanish average stands at 174.52. That is, 315.49 compared with 174.52. When an autonomous region, and the Spanish people should be aware of this, stands above 250 over 14 days, it is classified as a high risk region. That is what we are told by the health authorities; over 250 is a situation of high risk, I repeat, of high risk.

When we see, for example, the ICU beds per patient, this stand in Madrid at 38.56%, compared with the national average of 20.26%. When a region stands at above 25% of ICU beds occupied, this is also considered to be a situation of very high risk, I repeat, of very high.

And it also has one of the highest rates of positive cases in the country - 9.93% today, compared with the national average of 7%, with almost one quarter of all deaths in the last week occurring there - 67 out of a national total of 282 - 23.8%. Hence, what I would ask for is seriousness and responsibility. Figures are much more telling than words, and hence, seriousness and responsibility, and hard work to reduce this curve of contagion.

Q.- You spoke in your speech about the efforts at trade exchanges between Spain and Senegal. Oil and gas form part of these new points of the partnership between Senegal and Spain. Mr Sánchez, my question (inaudible) is about illegal migration, for example last January, when the President of an NGO was arrested for reporting fake news, above all, speaking about the money that the EU had contributed and that, for him, this money had been misappropriated, and hence we asked whether the EU has verified if the money had been (inaudible). Yes or no?

President of the Government.- Well, as regards cooperation between Senegal and Spain at an economic level, we held a business meeting, as I mentioned, this morning… we shared the eight pillars of the reforms proposed by the Government of Senegal to improve and attract foreign investment, and I believe that the Spanish companies present here in Senegal and those others that wish to invest in Senegal, and above all are very interested in what Spain is very competitive in, don't they? - agro-industry, the renewable energy sector, which we are told the Government of Senegal is very interested in, as it has a clear energy policy, and also on the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, everything that the residential construction sector represents, infrastructures, both of highways, and ports and airports, and clearly everything related to the tourism sector, where there are major hotel investments in Senegal, and where Spain can clearly share a great deal of its knowledge in the tourism sector.

Hence, I am very optimistic; I feel that some very important messages have come out of this bilateral meeting for the Senegalese business sector, as well as for the Spanish business sector, and hence also for both of our societies.

I commented before to President Sall that in Spain, following the 2008 financial crisis, many business owners understood that the way to recover the economy was through internationalisation. And I feel that now, at a time in which we have some governments and some countries that are more committed to protectionism, it is important to continue to boost the agenda of international investment and trade relations. Both Spain and Senegal are committed to this.

As regards your second question, I have no information on that so cannot response. At any event, I subscribe to the words of President Sall.

Q.- Marisol Hernández. Good afternoon, my questions are for the President of the Government of Spain, Firstly, not to leave… Sorry, Marisol Hernández, from the daily El Mundo, I didn't introduce myself. Sorry. Firstly, so as not to leave anything out from Madrid, we can understand, from your answer that the figures from Madrid are correct, but worrying, and measures need to be taken.

And then I wanted to ask you about the matter we are observing where some people are being called to have the vaccine but don't go to their appointment, to avoid having the AstraZeneca jab. Is the government thinking about totally eliminating this vaccine from its plan so as to avoid this situation, so that everyone, when given an appointment, has the vaccine? And what will happen with those people who have been given the first dose of AstraZeneca and are waiting for the second one?

And then, lastly, President of the Government, Germany has begun to make contact to buy the Russian vaccine by itself, beyond the scope of the European Union. Is the Government of Spain thinking about doing this as well? And, if this is not the case, would you allow the regional governments to act alone and acquire them, as they are calling for? Thank you very much.

President of the Government.- Thank you Marisol for your questions. Let's see, I feel that the figures speak much clearer than words, and you have the figures: a national average of cumulative incidence of 174 cases, 315 in Madrid. And, I repeat, when a region exceeds 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, the health authorities tell us that there is a very high risk.

When we speak about ICU beds occupied, we are talking about 38.56% compared with an average of 20.6%.

When the regions exceed 25% occupancy, the health authorities say that this means a very high risk. When you see the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the Region of Madrid, this is also above the national average and the rate of positivity is also among the highest in the country, at almost 10%.

So, these are the figures and I feel they are sufficiently clear for us to avoid using confrontational words and to start to collaborate, cooperate and fight COVID-19. The figures speak much louder than words. In short, I feel they speak for themselves.

As regards AstraZeneca, I wish to say to you that we have seen the statement made by the EMA in this last week, saying that we must continue to vaccinate with AstraZeneca and that the vaccine is safe. At any event, it is clear that what we will do is, thanks to the report of the paper on the vaccines, use it on those people over the age of 60, on whom cases tied with those episodes that have been recorded in other parts of Europe and also in our country have not been recorded, and continue with the vaccination with AstraZeneca on those people over the age of 60. And as regards those who have already received the first dose, well, what we precisely need to see is what the Commission is telling us in the technical paper on vaccination, and also, of course, the Health Committee, and as we are doing with this and with regard to many other things since the start of the pandemic, what we will always do is adhere to what the scientists and the technical experts are telling us. This will be a decision we take at a political level, absolutely based on scientific and technical criteria to guarantee, firstly, the lives of our people, the public health of our country and clearly to ensure that the vaccination process is a success.

And as regards those announcements that have been made by some countries, in this case you mentioned Germany, well, let's see, no country has opposed the purchase of Sputnik, in this case the Sputnik vaccine, nor indeed any other. What we have said from the outset in the European Union is that those vaccines that are going to be supplied to our compatriots in Europe must be approved by the EMA - the European Medicines Agency. And hence, if Sputnik is approved by the European Medicines Agency, then it will clearly be one of the vaccines we include in the vaccines dossier, not just in Germany, but in all European countries, but this approval must be given, and it hasn't been to date.

And lastly, I want to say to you that I believe that one of the main achievements and successes in the vaccination process, not just in terms of the doses that Europe is receiving, but also in terms of anticipating the resources, so that the large pharmaceutical companies can research and speed up vaccine discovery processes. And secondly, their manufacture on a considerably greater mass basis than at the start of the vaccination process is closely related to centralised procurement and to the united action of all the Member States. And Spain, both internally and externally, within the European framework, will always act under this criterion. We are much stronger when acting as 400 million people than when acting as X millions in any given autonomous region.

[Speech by President of Senegal]

President of the Government.- I feel that one the main lessons we must take away from this pandemic is the need to strengthen our systems of science, research and health. And in this regard, Spain will obviously applaud any cooperation we can establish, both bilaterally and at an EU level.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation