Speech by the President of the Government of Spain at the General Debate of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly


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New York


Mr President, Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, ambassadors, delegates:

Rarely have the foundations of this Institution shaken as strongly as in the early hours of 24 February, when several Ukrainian cities felt the terror of Russian shelling.

More than six months later, we are still witnessing the horror of an invasion that is taking us back to times we thought we had outlived in Europe.

Only yesterday, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin continued his sort of headlong rush with a series of completely unacceptable statements.

And from this rostrum, and what it represents, I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms the announcement that annexation referendums will be held in the occupied territories of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kherson.

These fake referendums constitute a further violation of international law by Vladimir Putin.

And let me be clear, its outcome will never be recognised. We will continue to support what we have supported from the beginning of this conflict. And that is the freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Now is the time that we must act together in defence of our principles. Those enshrined in the UN Charter, and in support of a country under attack such as Ukraine.

This war robs the sovereign people of Ukraine of their legitimate right to exist, and to do so freely and peacefully. It also condemns the whole world - because it is a global crisis - to an era of uncertainty. Particularly now, since we were on the threshold of a deserved era of optimism.

Just after humanity succeeded in launching the largest scientific and humanitarian cooperation in its history to fight COVID19.

In this era of uncertainty, the economic and social consequences of war threaten global prosperity - especially for those countries most vulnerable to the food crisis, which has been central to the entire UN General Assembly debate - and an energy crisis provoked by an autocrat willing to use any instrument as a weapon of war to keep himself in power.

The impact on prices, already affected by last year's supply chain crisis, threatens to further impoverish those who have the least.

As a result, they are understandably fed up. And I am thinking above all of the young people born in this new millennium. A generation that, in addition to facing this new crisis in their lives, is also living with the very real threat of the climate emergency and its consequences for the world they will inherit. And in spite of everything, I am certain that as danger grows, salvation also grows. That is why today I want to send a clear message of hope and confidence.

Hope in the international community's ability to overcome adversity; and confidence. Confidence in the strength of an institution such as the United Nations to face challenges that know no borders.

Allow me to clarify this thought regarding five major challenges with all of you. The first is the commitment to global health. The second is the food crisis. The third is the ecological transition. The fourth is the digital transition. And the fifth is real and effective equality between men and women.

On global health, I believe it is imperative to learn from the lessons of the fight against the COVID19 pandemic. On 9 November 2020, the whole world came together to celebrate the news of the successful results of the COVID19 vaccine. Just a month and a half later, the first doses began to be administered, and with them we not only began to bend the curve of the pandemic, we also bent the pessimism of a world that came to doubt whether it would ever return to normal in the future.

The vaccine represents many things, but above all, in my view, it represents the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

Because in two years, the world has been able to develop not one, not two, but 40 COVID19 vaccines. Through COVAX, more than two billion vaccines have been allocated to developing countries. Mass vaccination campaigns have brought the virus under control, bringing the situation back to normal in many countries.

But this does not detract from the fact that much remains to be done, and there are many lessons to be learned from pandemic management.

Because the inequality between countries regarding access to the vaccine, in this case, is simply insulting. But it is also contrary to the general interest of humanity as a whole, because it will not be possible to eradicate a virus without eliminating its spread in each and every country on the planet.

Spain, my country, which was badly hit during the beginning of the pandemic as a consequence of our touristic strength, wants to be part of the global solution to the enormous challenge represented by this pandemic and future pandemics that we may suffer.

We will contribute EUR 15 million to the Financial Intermediation Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response. And we will support the adoption of an international, legally binding instrument to this effect at the World Health Organisation, thus strengthening an institution that has been key to the global response to the COVID19 pandemic.

Our debt, also to science, obliges us to act on other neglected fronts in the race against the virus. We must redouble our efforts and strengthen scientific research to ensure universal access to medical care and treatment. In this regard, Spain has proposed allocating more than EUR 237 million of development aid to the area of health over the next three years, of which EUR 130 million will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The second major challenge that I would like to address with you all, relates to the food crisis that threatens millions of human beings. This is a complex problem that could worsen in 2023 if we do not take action. Russia's blockade of Ukrainian grain exports, and also selfish decisions to put up barriers to trade in agricultural products and fertilisers, have made this crisis even more pressing.

And as a co-sponsor of the Leaders' Network for Enhanced Realism, we hosted a summit on the current global food crisis in Spain two days ago, together with the President of the African Union, the President of Senegal, the President of the European Council and the Secretary of State of the US Administration.

Numerous world leaders from all regions of the world, especially those most affected by this crisis, participated. And together we adopted a declaration renewing our commitment to address this crisis.

I think the meeting had a clear purpose, which was to address this challenge, to seek solutions urgently. And there I announced that Spain, too, was going to lead by example in this respect. We will provide EUR 151 million in donations and EUR 85 million in loans for this cause over the next three years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this action is consistent with my country's commitment to the fight against inequality and poverty throughout the world.

A commitment that is highlighted by the new Cooperation Law, which underpins the commitment to allocate 0.7% of Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance by 2030.

The third major challenge that I would like to address next relates to the climate emergency, and the need to drive the ecological transition forward urgently and purposefully.

It is clear that the current energy crisis is pushing us to make a decisive commitment to much more sustainable energy models, reducing our dependencies and becoming more resilient.

Diversifying, electrifying and decarbonising our energy mix is essential for two reasons.

Firstly, to prevent certain countries from using their resources as a weapon of war, which is what Putin's regime is doing - believing it has the right to blackmail the entire planet, contributing to rising inflation and jeopardising the necessary recovery of many economies that have really suffered as a result of the pandemic.

And secondly, because in order to respond to the fundamental and increasingly evident challenge facing our generation and future generations - namely, climate change - we need to redouble our commitment to energy transition.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the current situation pushes us with even greater determination to meet the commitment to decarbonise our societies. It is not a question of whether or not to decarbonise our economies, but whether to do so fairly and with the speed required for scientific certainty. Time is running out.

In this regard, Spain also wants to contribute concrete solutions within the United Nations. And together with Senegal, we will support the creation of an "International Drought Resilience Alliance" to promote innovation, technology transfer and resource mobilisation in drought-prone countries.

Spain is also a country exposed to the threat of drought. We will present this initiative at the COP 27 in November in Egypt, together with the secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and other interested countries.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the energy crisis represents a severe test for all European societies. And also for my country, mainly because of the crudeness with which it attacks the majority of people in our societies: the middle class and the working class. Because all measures taken to reduce this impact share a common principle. This time, the burdens and sacrifices should not fall on the shoulders of the vast majority, who have been mistreated in previous crises.

I am thinking above all of the financial crisis. In this context, Spain has promoted far-reaching regulatory reforms to reduce the impact of gas prices. But we are also aware - and the Secretary General of the United Nations has said this here - that we have to continue working, as we have been doing so for more than a year, on the necessary and urgent reform of the electricity sector throughout the European Union.

It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to move forward in aligning the sector to the current reality, sharing out and limiting the costs and benefits of price increases in a fairer way. And this is the commitment that sustains and supports my country.

The fourth major challenge I want to address relates to the digital transition and its impact on education and labour rights, now and in the future.

Just this Monday, my country, Spain, participated in a session of the Education Transformation Summit dedicated to digital transformation. We did so by evoking again the lessons of the pandemic: how technological solutions have bridged the gap of a face-to-face presence that was impossible at the time. I am thinking of our sons and daughters. And in this context, Spain wants to play a leading role. We are going to establish the United Nations technology centre for the digitalisation of education, called GIGA, in the beautiful city of Barcelona, thanks to Spain's collaboration with UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union.

Education, ladies and gentlemen, is the path to a more educated, more informed, freer, more inclusive and egalitarian society.

If we want to continue advancing our rights agenda, it is essential that we continue to support the right to education for all, but especially for girls.

And it is there, at school, that the plan for gender equality - and also the empowerment of half of the world's population, who are women - begins.

And in relation to this, I would like to refer, fifthly and lastly, to the feminist agenda and real and effective equality between men and women.

We live in times when stating the obvious sounds revolutionary. The global threats to women's sexual and reproductive freedom are yet another illustration of how infuriatingly slow the world is moving to ensure full equality between men and women. Even worse is the fragility of these achievements, victims of an inexplicable regression in some advanced democracies in the 21st century.

Spain will continue to be at the forefront in this regard, with the approval of a new law guaranteeing sexual freedom and with the future law on Sexual and Reproductive Health, to ensure that public health care assists women in all their needs and across my country. And in this area, I would also like to announce that Spain is going to lead by example by contributing EUR 100 million over the next three years to organisations working on gender equality, especially in reproductive and sexual rights, including UN Women.

I believe it is essential that we listen to the voice of women, that we remove all obstacles so that they can occupy their rightful place in business, in government, in peace-building.

And therefore, I simply invite you to do an exercise, to compare the images of 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Compare the family photos you keep at home with the images that appear in the media in your country, for example in my country, Spain. In both cases you will be surprised, and even amused, to see how we have changed: fashions, appearances, habits, even smoking indoors. All that has changed. But if you compare the two, you will notice an intolerable difference. Notably, the presence of women in family photos, and the absence of women in images regarding political or economic news.

We have come a long way in gender equality, but there is still a long way to go and not everything is guaranteed, as we saw a few months ago in Afghanistan with the coming to power of the Taliban.

Ladies and gentlemen, last month I had the privilege of visiting the Centre of Remembrance, Peace and Reconciliation in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. I was able to observe at first hand the efforts of an entire people, and especially of its women, to move forward and restitute its victims, in order to build a society free of violence. Colombia is entering a new stage of hope in order to continue building peace, and Spain will be at its side, ready to support it.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have a fundamental role to play in the world and in the multilateral order, starting with the defence of democracy. However, we have to be aware that the region also needs international support, including in tackling the fight against drug trafficking.

Spain is committed to Latin America and to the Caribbean. We will work towards closer rapprochement with the European Union under the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of next year.

We want Europe to reaffirm its broad and strategic outlook towards Latin America and the Caribbean, looking for very simple, common sense things - such as rekindling a fundamental alliance between the two regions - and also towards the Southern Neighbourhood, to which we must pay greater attention.

We will take up the baton at a key moment for Europe. We take it on with enthusiasm, with hope. We are aware of the challenge and responsibility this represents.

And our will is that these priorities that I have just outlined should inform and guide our action during the second half of 2023.

The green transition, digitalisation, but also the social transition, which will purposefully guide the path we want to follow during our Presidency of the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, Europe is a project of stability, peace, freedom, democracy and harmony. We want this peace project to be extended to other parts of the world, starting with Ukraine.

Look: it is clear that we must continue to work to ensure that other areas, in addition to Ukraine, also regain stability. We are making progress in negotiations to reach a nuclear deal in Iran, in which I believe the European Union is playing a key role. But we have seen very recently how tensions in the East China Sea are threatening the status quo in a key region for the present and future of humanity.

The importance of Asia in the global security accord was underscored at June's NATO summit in Madrid, where NATO's Pacific partners participated for the first time at the highest level and where a new Strategic Concept for the organisation for the next ten years was approved. In Madrid, we welcomed two new members - the established democracies of Sweden and Finland - and approved a new Strategic Concept for the organisation that will guide the future of the Alliance in the coming years.

And that Concept makes a clear assessment of an increasingly complex strategic environment. It includes a notable mention of the South, in particular the Sahel, a region affected by growing instability and terrorism. And we must pay attention to the very real risks in this area, such as irregular migration flows, and also the threat of terrorism. Threats that may be exacerbated by the combination of the energy crisis, the food crisis, and also the climate emergency and demographic trends.

We cannot carry over conflicts from the last century. And that is why - in regard to an area of great importance to Spain, Western Sahara - Spain supports a mutually acceptable political solution, within the framework of the United Nations Charter and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. And in this regard, the work of the UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy seems to me to be fundamental, and I would like to say that he has the full support of the Government of Spain.

My country, Spain, will continue to support the Sahrawi population in camps - as it has always done, being the main international donor of humanitarian aid to the Sahrawi refugee camps.

And on the other hand - as I reported in last year's session - on 31 December 2020, Spain and the United Kingdom reached a bilateral understanding regarding Gibraltar, in the context of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union. We have been working very hard, very intensively, since that date, so that this understanding would serve to lay the foundations for a future relationship between this territory and the European Union, in the hope that an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom on Gibraltar can be reached as soon as possible.

This agreement should be fully respectful of the United Nations doctrine on this territory, with which Spain is fully aligned. And it must also be respectful of my country's legal position with regard to sovereignty and jurisdiction in relation therewith. We wish, in any case, to work for the development of a prosperous social and economic area that encompasses the whole of Gibraltar, and also the Campo de Gibraltar.

Ladies and gentlemen, I shall conclude.

I appealed at the beginning of my speech to two sentiments: hope for the future, and confidence in the multilateral order represented by the United Nations.

Two years ago, we came to believe that we would never again see a world where people could shake hands, hug, kiss. We came to believe that courtesy, affection and fondness would also be victims of the COVID19 pandemic. Today, a world that seemed impossible is back again. It is a sentiment repeated throughout history, understandably in the face of the great crossroads that societies face. And yet, hope always finds a way. Sometimes with the force of science and knowledge, as in this case, and sometimes with the will to not repeat the fatal mistakes of the past.

And I believe that humanity will always find a way to overcome the winds of fate and move forwards. Because what makes the difference is how we deal with these crises; how we heal the wounds suffered along the way, while protecting the most vulnerable, those most at risk.

We must be guided, ladies and gentlemen, by the values and principles to which we all adhere as members of this noble and important organisation, in which Spain reasserts its full confidence.

We must persevere in our quest to build a freer, fairer, more prosperous, more diverse and more democratic world. And in all of this, it is essential to strengthen rules-based multilateralism and, in short, to guarantee peace, which is the most valuable asset we have.

Nothing further, Mr President. Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Original speech in Spanish

Non official translation