Speech by the President of the Government of Spain at a meeting with young Spaniards and Portuguese on the future of Europe


Trujillo (Cáceres)

Many thanks first of all to the President of the Junta de Extremadura, thanks also to Trujillo, to all its residents and to the councillors and mayor who have welcomed us to this extraordinary historic and emblematic city, where we have had the opportunity to hold this very important summit between Spain and Portugal.

Thanks also to Prime Minister Antonio for always helping us to make progress in many areas at every summit. And I am convinced that some of the things we have achieved in the city of Trujillo will come out of the conversation.

But the presenter commented: "What is Europe?

Well, let's pick up the gauntlet and answer that question.

No, because it seems that we might be faced with a question that is impossible to answer: What is Europe? Well, not many things, but I would like to say that when one leaves Spain or Portugal, I would dare in this case to share this reflection with Antonio. And we go to Brussels and people ask how is the pandemic going in Spain or Portugal? They do it with envy, they do it with envy, because the response of Spain and Portugal, of Portuguese and Spanish society, with the vaccination response to the Covid pandemic, has been formidable.

Great, we are in Spain, then the Prime Minister can talk about Portugal.

In Spain, almost 90 per cent of the population over 12 years old, i.e. of vaccination age, is already fully vaccinated. And therefore we are better protected against COVID-19.

This is thanks to the commitment of Spanish citizens, who have seen access to the vaccine not as a right, but also as a duty, a duty to protect their loved ones and, therefore, Spanish society as a whole.

But secondly, and I will end here, it has a lot to do with two fundamental aspects that represent and define the European Union.

The first of these is the Welfare State, because the Welfare State has meant that the people who have had first access to the vaccine have been those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, and not those who, on the basis of the size of their pocket, could afford the vaccine. Thus, the welfare state, which is the defining feature of what European civilisation and the Union stand for.

This may seem to us to be a right and even common sense, but when you leave Europe, things are not so obvious, as you well know.

And thirdly, it is related to a decision we have taken throughout these months of the pandemic and with that a brief conclusion. We have become more aware than ever that together we are stronger.

We have all stood behind the European Commission and said to the executive body of the EU institutions, all the Member States, representing the more than 400 million human beings we represent: you are going to negotiate for us with the big pharmaceutical companies to speed up the research processes on the Covid vaccine and on the purchase, which we are then going to share out fairly according to the percentage of the population we represent in the European Union as a whole.

That is what we have achieved. It may seem common sense, but imagine if, when the pandemic began, we had entered into a competition with each Member State, where the size of Portugal, the size of Spain, it was absolutely impossible to compete with societies such as, for example, countries as numerous as India or South Africa, or many other countries around the world.

So, the conclusion I would like to share with you, if you will allow me to use your first name, in response to the presenter's question.

Well, it seems, because things are moving very fast, but in these 20 months of the pandemic, the European Union has made a giant leap forwards in the integration process.

We are probably not aware today, because we are very close to the wall, of knowing exactly what we have achieved, but historians will probably say of this era that just as when the single market was formed or the single currency was created, one of the moments when the integration process accelerated was in response to the pandemic.

And that would be the reflection I would like to share with you.

Q.- Good afternoon, my name is Sofia and my question is the following. It is addressed to both leaders. Do governments plan to adopt policies to guarantee traditional extensive use such as the aforementioned Dehesa, as a means of tackling climate change? And if so, what would those measures be? Thank you very much.

President: Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much for your question.

I would say three things that seem fundamental to me. Well, yes, of course, to the question you raise. I believe that we are living in a time in which everything is accelerating exponentially, I would say. This is so. And I believe that Extremadura, as I have shared with the President of the Junta de Extremadura for some time now, for some months now, that we have been talking about different projects, has a great opportunity because many things are going to be redefined. It will redefine, for example, the new industry in Europe. And therefore, Extremadura, as the Prime Minister said, has the capacity to attract an industry that is going to define the economic development, not just of a territory, but of a whole, of a country, such as Spain, over the next 20 or 30 years.

Who could have imagined, for example, 20 or 30 years ago, that Extremadura could be an industrial hub in the automotive sector. If you asked your parents or grandparents, they would have said never. Today, however, it is a reality. It is a possibility. Not only because, as the Prime Minister has said, because of lithium, but also because there is capacity and political will and also investment interest in Extremadura being able to effectively become one of the main industrial centres in the automotive sector.

A few days ago, yesterday I think, the president of the Junta de Extremadura, the Minister for Industry and an American company a few kilometres from here, decided to invest. Otherwise, I don't have time. Invest in setting up a diamond factory. Sure, diamonds for what? Diamonds to have the capacity to manufacture semiconductors, which is a critical part of the automotive industry.

Therefore, from the point of view of public policy, what I can guarantee is that the European funds in the Spanish perspective have four horizontal axes that explain each and every one of the items. The first is the ecological transition. The second is digital transformation. Third, social cohesion. Fourth, territorial cohesion. And fifth, the gender perspective. All the projects that will be implemented within the framework of the NextGenerationEU funds will be funds

For example, whether it is tourism, whether it is the automotive sector or whether it is any new industry, they are going to be explained by these five dimensions.

That is why I want to assure you that from the point of view of the Government of Spain, Extremadura is going to have a great opportunity to reindustrialise much of its economy.

And obviously, at this level, the ecological transition obviously plays a key role.

Secondly, I would also like to convey the following to you. I believe that if this pandemic has shown us anything, it is the need for a strong welfare state. I am not only talking about health, but when we are talking about modernising our economy and making, for example, a car factory change radically, not only because of robotisation, but because of the need to have training that makes the batteries of these vehicles necessary, a completely different technique, this is going to require a lot of public investment in the training of human capital.

The Government of Spain, just to give us a figure for the next few years, is going to invest no more and no less than five billion euros in the promotion of vocational training, of which more than 1.5 billion euros will come from European funds.

Therefore, when we are talking about rootedness, about staying in the territory, we are also talking about giving skills to young people and above all to human capital, to citizens, so that they can either create their own company or have the capacity to find employment in their territory.

We have to have a big revolution and a big update of our educational curriculum. But not only in basic education, which we are already doing, moving from rote to a much more up-to-date skills-based education.

We are tackling a new law on universities and also a new law on vocational training, because we want to align all this training with European funds and the modernisation of our economy and the reindustrialisation of our economy.

Therefore, when we are talking about the Welfare State, we are also talking about taxes, and we are talking about the fact that these taxes must be fair, in other words, that those who have more must contribute more to the public coffers.

Never before have we been more aware of the need for a strong welfare state.

Moreover, on many occasions what we have experienced has a lot to do with austerity policies that weakened public health, especially the public health aspect, which are the antennae that allowed us to anticipate, for example, epidemics or pandemics such as the one we have experienced and therefore prevented us from being able to respond as quickly as the virus spread.

Thirdly, I believe that it is very important for territorial development from a cohesion perspective that we open an honest and fair debate on the need to decentralise public administrations.

Look at us, I have given an order as President to all the ministries that new institutions that are created by the Government of Spain and institutions that have to go outside Madrid, for example Renfe. We are setting up new digital capacity centres outside Madrid. Social Security, a new data processing centre, we are putting it outside Madrid.

We also have, from the public sector and from institutional representation, an enormous lever for development and territorial roots. And this is something that we are not doing against any territory, but in favour of all territories and, therefore, in favour of the country.

But all these are policies, as Antonio said earlier, which have to be State policies, because for them to permeate and materialise, they need years, and they probably need different administrations of different political colours over those years.

That is why I believe that the demographic challenge is undoubtedly a state policy. At least that's how I experience it.

Therefore, of course, I believe that, one, we have to approach this entire modernisation project from the perspective of territorial cohesion, which can place Extremadura, and I am telling you seriously, in front of a window of opportunity for development that was unimaginable for past generations - because nobody could imagine with fossil fuels that Extremadura could become an industrial hub, not only in the automotive sector, but also in the new energy, renewable energy or hydrogen sector.

Today, what we are signing between the Portuguese Government and the Government of Spain is pointing that way for Spain, but in particular for Extremadura, which is our responsibility.

Secondly, we have to be aware that the Welfare State is becoming increasingly important, to have a strong State in order to be able to face inclemencies, whether it be a health emergency or a natural disaster, as we are experiencing right now in La Palma.

And thirdly, I believe that public institutions also have levers for development and territorial roots that have not yet been sufficiently strengthened.

In this case by the Government of Spain. In this sense, you have my commitment and we are going to open this debate so that equal opportunities for all Spaniards become a reality wherever they live.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Original speech in Spanish

Non official translation