President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, appears before the European Parliament

2023.12.13

Strasbourg (France)

INITIAL SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE GOVERNMENT OF SPAIN, PEDRO SÁNCHEZ

President Metsola,

President von der Leyen,

Vice-Presidents and High Representative Borrel,

Ladies and gentlemen.

Let me begin this appearance by pointing out the unusual nature of the date on which it is being held. As you know, custom dictates that it is at the beginning, rather than at the end, of the rotating Council presidency that the country holding the presidency comes to the European Parliament to present its priorities.

However, the early general elections in Spain on 23 July went against this option, as some parliamentary groups in this chamber rightly pointed out.

So I come before you now, having formed a government and in the final days of our presidency, not to promise progress, but to give an account of what has been achieved and also to reflect on the challenges that remain.

In my opinion, the wait was worthwhile for two reasons.

First, because in this electoral interval Europe has gained a great ally for the next four years, with a progressive government in Spain.

On 23 July, Spaniards had to choose between two antithetical projects, including in terms of European integration.

They had to choose between a coalition of the right with the ultra-right that aspired to repeal a large part of the social, economic and environmental advances we have approved and promoted in Spain in recent years, and to apply once again the failed neoliberal recipes that created so much hardship during the last financial crisis.

The other option was a coalition of progressive forces that, despite our differences, shared the desire to continue moving forward, to continue consolidating the European project, to continue supporting social justice, labour dignity, tolerance, respect as a basic rule for democratic coexistence, open societies; just causes such as feminism, the green and digital transitions and, of course, the strengthening of our common project, which is Europe.

Fortunately, the progressive forces won the elections and, following that mandate born of the ballot box, formed a new progressive coalition government on 16 November, with the support of an absolute majority of 179 seats in the Spanish Parliament, which represents the will expressed in the last general elections of more than 12 million citizens of our country, and of five political groups that are not part of the Government of Spain.

A government that will undoubtedly always support Europe, that will defend European values and principles.

And I also believe that the leadership we have shown as the rotating Presidency of the Council is a good illustration of this.

And here is the second reason. I honestly believe that the Spanish presidency has been a successful one in which 43 dossiers have been approved, a higher number than the usual average, and very important legislative and political advances have been made for the European project.

It is impossible, due to time constraints, to give an account of all of them here.

But I would at least like to mention a few in line with the four priorities we set at the beginning of the presidency when we presented our objectives.

The first, ladies and gentlemen, is to promote the reindustrialisation of Europe and to achieve this Open Strategic Autonomy.

The difficulties our citizens have suffered in recent years, such as the shortage of health products, even masks, particularly in countries where the effects of the pandemic were initially felt, the climate emergency and its economic, social and environmental consequences, Putin's war in Ukraine and its impact on energy prices and the economic impact it is having on the pockets of our citizens, should not be in vain. They should help us to learn and to improve.

The international order - and this has also been the subject of debate in this legislative chamber - is changing and Europe has to change with it. The days of massive industrial relocations to other continents, blind dependence on imports, must come to an end.

We need to strengthen our domestic production capacities. We have to guarantee the competitiveness of the sectors in which we are already at the forefront, and promote new industries of the future so that we have more companies and more quality jobs and wealth for our citizens.

And we have to do it with more innovation, more training, more industrial policy and more integration of the single market.

But this does not mean, ladies and gentlemen, that we should buy into the anti-globalist theses or the outdated protectionism of certain political forces, particularly on the far right.

Because however much we strengthen our domestic industry and gain circularity and efficiency in it, and this is fundamental for the future of the European economy, our continent will always be more prosperous by cooperating with other countries.

Two pieces of information I think may be sufficient to convey what I am trying to tell you. Our participation in the global economy accounts for 40% of Europe's GDP and one in five jobs in the EU.

This is why it is important that instead of closing in on ourselves, Europe is launching a new trade expansion aimed at consolidating, diversifying and expanding our external links.

Leading the modernisation of the multilateral architecture. And increasing its development assistance, its commitment to the welfare of other countries, particularly those linked to the global south.

This is the vision of the future that the Spanish presidency has sought to build during these six months of presidency.

A vision which, by the way, was endorsed by the 27 heads of state and government at the last summit or Informal Council held in the Spanish city of Granada, and which we hope will serve to guide the design of the new European strategic agenda to be drawn up under the Belgian presidency.

This is the direction we must take.

And in this six-month period, Europe has, I believe, made great strides in this direction.

The president of the European Parliament said this earlier, and I would like to dwell on it for a few seconds.

We have passed ground-breaking laws to secure our supply of critical raw materials; we have boosted our leadership in green and digital technologies; we have included a pioneering law for the promotion, development and adoption of artificial intelligence in Europe while respecting our values and also the interests of our citizens.

Decisions have also been taken to protect and promote the modernisation of our agriculture.

And I believe that I should also congratulate the European Parliament on the agreements we have finally reached, and also on the fisheries agreement reached yesterday, which guarantees the future and prosperity of thousands of Spanish and European families.

We have also approved the creation of new economic security instruments that protect us from coercion by third countries and ensure the free movement of goods, services and people in times of crisis in the single market.

And, in parallel, we have also promoted an external agenda for the EU with a celebration I would describe as historic between the EU and CELAC, the Latin American and Caribbean Community, with substantive progress unfortunately not yet concluded to achieve this trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, with the signing of new trade agreements with Chile and New Zealand, with the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

Agreements that will mean something for our citizens, expanding our trade with these countries and helping us to diversify our supply chains.

The second priority we set ourselves, along with reindustrialisation and Open Strategic Self-Government, was to make progress on the ecological transition and the adoption of measures that will enable us to adapt to the effects of this climate emergency.

We did so because for us Europeans, stopping climate change and environmental degradation is not just a matter of survival, but is a huge opportunity. If we execute it well, if we are consistent and persistent over the next few years, if we do not use the crisis to postpone our duty to the climate emergency, I believe that the green transition will help us to become more prosperous and more competitive, it will allow us to create new industries, we will grow by an extra point of GDP every year, and more than a million new jobs will be created in this decade alone.

It will also help us to drastically reduce our dependence on foreign energy and raw materials - think of Europe's vulnerability to Putin's Russia; it will substantially lower our household electricity bills; it will make our businesses more competitive; it will reduce - little is said about this, but I think it is very important to say it here - it will also reduce our illnesses, and it will save more than 300,000 lives a year currently being lost prematurely to air pollution and adverse weather events.

Anyway, what I mean by this is that the green agenda is not, as some political formations on the far right say, an obstacle to Europe's competitiveness. On the contrary, it is its best hope.

We should therefore welcome the fact that, under the Spanish presidency, the EU has taken very important steps in this area. We have reached agreements to reduce emissions of polluting gases from industries, and to move towards sustainable air transport. We have adopted several ground-breaking regulations that will help us to reuse waste better and to have more durable, repairable and recyclable products. And we have achieved something that is very important for this presidency, and here I would also like to thank the European Parliament for its work, and that is a Law on Nature Restoration, which is going to serve to recover all the degraded ecosystems in Europe by the middle of the century.

And we have also presented a common front, dear President of the Commission, in the COP28 negotiations, a conference that today announced the end or at least the abandonment of fossil fuels, which I believe is one of the best pieces of news we could have received from Dubai in recent days.

And I am convinced that in the not-too-distant future the regions that will grow the most will be those that know how to do so in balance with nature. And thanks to the measures we are taking, I believe that Europe is in a position to lead this economy in balance with nature.

Re-industrialisation, adaptation and response to climate emergency. And third, social and economic justice.

Let me tell you something. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, as a result of Franco's dictatorship and the autarchy that we had for four decades in Spain, two million Spaniards, including my grandfather and my father, emigrated to Europe in search of employment and opportunities, which unfortunately did not exist in our country. Those migrants had to deal with prejudice and also rejection, but above all, they found welcoming nations with tolerant people who opened their homes to them, people with whom many of them ended up marrying and forming truly European families.

And it was here, in Central Europe, that our fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers discovered something very important, namely that employment could be more than just a way of subsistence and become a dignified way of life. It was here that they also discovered that the welfare state guaranteed education, public health and decent pensions for the elderly when they retired from working life. And when they returned to Spain after the end of the dictatorship, those migrants brought the advances with them and turned them into an aspiration for the country. With their vote, with political leadership, with trade union participation, with business participation, they worked to ensure that Spain's economy, as well as being prosperous, was fair. Today, we govern in Spain to ensure that this reality continues to be valid.

What do I mean by this? Europe needs to become more competitive. We must raise our productivity to continue to grow, just as we must ensure that the opportunities and wealth generated reach all citizens and that the cost of the green and digital transitions does not fall on the most vulnerable.

During our rotating presidency very important steps have been taken in this direction. A direction shared by the Community institutions, by the majority of the member states, and also by the social representatives, as was made clear at the Tripartite Social Summit held by the Council or the Commission and by us holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, last October in Brussels.

I believe we are on the verge of completing something very important, which is the historic reform of the electricity market, which has been the subject of much debate in this House and also in the European Council. A reform which, in addition to promoting the need to boost renewable energies, will make electricity prices lower and more stable; will bring greater transparency to the system and, therefore, more information for consumers, our fellow citizens; protecting citizens from possible abuses by energy multinationals.

A number of measures have also been approved that will strengthen consumer rights and improve the working conditions of millions of workers.

And, at the same time as notable progress has been made in the social pillar in this area, I would also like to highlight others, such as the implementation of the disability card, the development of new directives to combat structural violence in all European societies, such as violence against women and trafficking in human beings, and to extend the rights of other vulnerable groups.

Now we only need to complete the review of the multiannual financial framework, and that is what we are called upon to do in the Council, which we are going to start debating during the course of this week, from tomorrow.

Also the reform of fiscal rules with an agreement, hopefully before the end of the year, that will allow us to maintain healthy public accounts and, at the same time, to adequately finance all the obligations the member states have in the areas of defence, security, ecological transition, digital transformation and, logically, the public services and social benefits that our citizens deserve and demand.

In the end, let's hope that both agreements will be reached before the end of this month.

Our fourth priority has been to strengthen European unity. In recent years, as you know very well, Europe has been subjected to tensions and attacks that sought one thing, and that was to break us, to divide us, but they have not succeeded, they have made us even more cohesive.

Nobody is talking about leaving Europe anymore; nobody is celebrating Brexit anymore, except for a few parties on the far right; nobody is talking about leaving the EU, and nobody is talking about reducing the links between the member states. On the contrary, citizen and political support for the European project, moreover, as a consequence of our response to the pandemic, has grown across Europe.

We have understood something very important, ladies and gentlemen, and that is that in this world of giants, to prosper we must be more united than ever, more integrated internally, and more coordinated in the face of the external challenges we are facing.

That is why, as the President of the European Parliament pointed out earlier, we should welcome the progress made in the Migration and Asylum Pact. I pledge that over the next few weeks we will work to definitively achieve a pact that will be good for Europe and for our societies as a whole, because it will allow us to manage irregular migration much better, from a controlled point of view. We will strengthen the external dimension with this cooperation with transit countries and countries of origin. And, logically, we are also going to promote a regular and orderly migration policy in our countries.

I would also like to tell you that we have finally welcomed the parliamentary agreement reached on the reform of the Treaties, the substantial progress on enlargement, which was an important milestone at the Informal Council in Granada, and which could be validated at the European Council that will begin tomorrow. The time has come, in this regard, for the EU to open its doors and integrate Ukraine. Also Moldova and the countries of the Western Balkans.

We should also positively evaluate the consolidation of the European Political Community, which brought together more than 40 heads of state and government in the Spanish city of Granada, and the sustained and unanimous support that the EU is giving to Ukraine in its war for freedom and on its path towards European membership.

I'm going to tell you an anecdote. I began the Spanish presidency last July with a trip to Kiev, and I hope to be able to close it with the opening of accession negotiations with this country once the European Commission's report is known. But above all, above all what we all hope for, and what I hope for too, is to be able to return to Kiev very soon to celebrate the withdrawal of Russian troops and the arrival of a just and lasting peace in a country that is fighting not only for its freedom but also for ours.

I would like to say that the clarity and unity with which we Europeans have positioned ourselves in the face of Putin's illegal, unjust and unjustified invasion of Ukraine has been key. It has helped us to stop crimes and to save lives.

That is why I also believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the time has come, following yesterday's events in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, to speak out with the same clarity and unity on what is happening in Israel and Palestine.

If we want the world to respect us as a consistent and relevant geopolitical actor; if we want our countries and our citizens to be proud of our actions and to see that European values are not just words, we must speak loudly, clearly and with one voice.

We must, of course, condemn the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas, demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages currently being held by them. We must support the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, and we must certainly recognise Israel's right to defend itself and to exist.

But with the same conviction and the same values we must say "enough" - enough to the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, including thousands of children.

The bombing must stop immediately, a humanitarian ceasefire must be opened. Humanitarian aid must reach people who are hungry, thirsty and cold, as a matter of urgency and in sufficient quantity.

And Europe must demand compliance with international law, and with international humanitarian law in particular. We must actively contribute to the search for a final and comprehensive solution to this conflict by providing a credible and serious peace perspective, which gives substance to the two-state solution.

This means recognising, as has been recognised here in the European Parliament in other legislatures, the existence of a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

And on this issue, as on Ukraine, Europe needs unity. And I can assure you here that, in the coming months, Spain will of course do everything in its power to forge that unity.

Unity in diversity and adversity. That, I believe, should be the guiding motto of the EU in these crucial and complex times.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I will end with a reflection on the future and on ourselves.

There are political forces in this legislative chamber that do not believe in Europe. They see Europe as a decadent, pampered society, obsessed with tackling the ecological transition and defending levels of equality and social welfare that we cannot afford.

These political forces repudiate or ignore all the progress made over the last decades. They fear the future and only want to flee to a glorious past which, by the way, never existed and to which it is impossible to return.

I have to tell you that I do not share this pessimism. I do not subscribe to this reactionary thinking. Of course, there are things we need to improve. Of course, there are things that do not work, but that should not make us forget that, in spite of everything, Europe is making progress. It has not stopped doing so since the end of the Second World War and there is no empirical argument, no data, to show that we will not continue to progress in the future.

Europe has everything it needs to remain one of the most prosperous and socially advanced regions in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, we represent half of the global investment in welfare. We are the world's largest commercial agent. We are the number one recipient of foreign direct investment and the second best innovation ecosystem.

So what I want to say is that we have the talent, the companies, the public institutions necessary to lead the ecological transition and the development of the industries of the future.

Moreover, these are not opinions, they are proven and verifiable facts.

And if I mention these facts here, it is not for us to be complacent or inactive. There is much work to be done, many problems to be resolved and many injustices to be redressed.

I mention them so that we are aware of our enormous potential, so that we understand that it is possible to build a Europe with leading companies, with clean and cheap energy, with full employment, with decent wages, with good public services, and with a better standard of living for the social majority of our country.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the time has come to look to the future with more ambition and optimism than ever before. Because the challenge ahead for the EU is not to avoid its decline, nor to resist the development of other regions of the world; our challenge is to lead a new era of global prosperity.

And I, ladies and gentlemen, am convinced that we are going to succeed.

That's all and thank you very much.

REPLY FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE GOVERNMENT OF SPAIN, PEDRO SÁNCHEZ

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe that the Spanish presidency has been successful and very fruitful for Europe because we have managed to make progress in an extraordinarily complex international situation. As I said in my first speech, we must be united in diversity and also in the face of the adversity we are facing.

In any case, in this debate I have heard erroneous and malicious assertions about the quality of democracy and the rule of law in my country. Statements that I obviously cannot let pass as President of the Government, not because they offend me, nor the 48 million Spaniards I represent, but because they are categorically false.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may disagree on ideas, we may have different ideologies, but the facts are the facts. If we want to have serious and productive debates, we must be empirical and argue with the facts in hand. And the data are categorical, ladies and gentlemen.

Spain is one of the fullest democracies in the world. It really is. It occupies a leading position in the four major rankings of democratic quality, having improved its score in all of them since I have had the honour of being President of the Government of Spain.

Evidently, Spain is a young democracy compared to others, imperfect as we all are, but superior in quality, according to all empirical studies, to some of the oldest in the world.

Spain, moreover, has a full rule of law, one of the 25 most robust in the world, according to the prestigious Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Report. And if we do not occupy a better position, ladies and gentlemen of the Popular Party, it is because there is a clear case of lawfare, seeing how the Popular Party has been hijacking the renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary for five consecutive years. We must put an end to this abuse of justice, which clearly weakens our democracy. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to reiterate to the Popular Party my willingness to reach state agreements to renew the General Council of the Judiciary, to reform article 49 of our Constitution, and to have a new model of regional funding, which is very important for a composite state such as the Spanish one.

I think the election period is over. The ballot box has already spoken. Spain has a legitimate, stable government, and now it is time to work for the general interest and reach an agreement. And I believe that we can and must understand each other, in the same way that our political families often understand each other and vote together in this legislative chamber, as I have often done at European Council level. And to this end, I would ask the People's Party to follow the example of other European conservative parties and break its idyll with the extreme right, because that is what we are talking about.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, in the last decade alone the percentage of votes for the far right in Europe has doubled. Today the far right is the first conservative choice in one in three member states, and 30% of European citizens already live under its rule, be it at national or regional level.

This is the real threat. The real threat to our democracy and to the European project.

And the risk to democracy does not derive from the existence of a progressive coalition government in Spain, perfectly aligned with European values and principles and legitimately elected by the Spanish people.

Nor does it derive from the policy of negotiation and normalisation we have been deploying since 2018 in Catalonia. As you will remember, a decade ago there were episodes of discord, of disagreement, which caused a great deal of pain and trauma, and which transcended our borders with images that still sadden us.

No one can be proud of that era.

Remember what Europe said then, ladies and gentlemen.

Mr Reynders, Commissioner, publicly stated, and I quote, "I hope that dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona can be resumed". And Mr Rangel, who has just spoken here today, stated that he thought it was a serious mistake, and again I quote, "to move forward with the judicial persecution and imprisonment of those politically responsible in Catalonia".

That is what was asked of us then, ladies and gentlemen, and that is precisely what my government has done: return to negotiation and politics to try to resolve a problem we inherited from the abject failure of the previous Popular Party administration.

And the results are there for those who want to see them.

The pardons have worked. Negotiation and institutional normalisation are working, and I am convinced, moreover, that the amnesty will underpin this noble objective, because today the situation in Catalonia is, ladies and gentlemen, infinitely better than it was in 2017, and we will continue to improve it.

To Mr Puigdemont I would like to say that it is in our hands to achieve this, that we must do so through politics, negotiation and the Constitution.

And I believe that the Amnesty Law is an important step in the right direction. A law supported by a large majority of our Parliament, 178 seats. We are talking about 12 million people represented in these seats, which is constitutional, and which only pursues one aim and that is to overcome a conflict and help to sow concord among our compatriots.

Of course, I can also guarantee that we will continue to promote the use of the co-official languages recognised in our Constitution, and which express the feelings and emotions of 13 million inhabitants in our country.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, it is not the commitment to reuniting and resolving political disputes via politics that threatens democracy. No, not at all.

The real threat in Spain and Europe is the advance of the far right.

And also, if you will allow me, the irresponsibility of the traditional right-wingers who are opening the doors to coalition governments and are adopting many of the [inaudible] ideas.

That is the threat to the European project. This reactionary tandem weakens the European project, Mr Weber. It is the one that is eroding democracies, that is outlawing political parties, that is attacking the separation of powers, that is silencing critical media, while undermining the European project, slowing down the ecological transition and putting in check the rights of women and the LGTBI collective, as is happening in Spain.

Mr Weber, you are questioning this directly. Are you aware of this? Do you really feel comfortable being complicit in this threat?

I am absolutely delighted that, after 20 years in this legislative chamber, you have begun to take an interest in what is happening in Spain. But if you really want to help, if you truly wanted to help, I recommend, Mr Weber, that you get to know our country first and not just repeat the unfounded proclamations passed on to you by your colleagues in the Spanish People's Party.

Tell me, Mr Weber, do you know who the allies of the Partido Popular are in Spain? Do you know what VOX really stands for and what it thinks? Do you know how VOX defines the EU? I quote: they define it as "a federal mega-state similar to the Soviet Union".

Do you know how they refer to the Community institutions? I quote: "degenerate oligarchies that want to turn entire nations into multicultural dunghills".

Do you know that your leader, the leader of VOX, Santiago Abascal, has said that, and I quote him verbatim: "Spain is a country chained by the neck by the despotic machinery of Brussels, and with its feet gnawed by the autonomous regions".

Are you in favour of these anti-European statements, Mr Weber? Because they are against a federal state, by the way, very similar to the federal state you have in Germany.

And what do you think of VOX's proposal to outlaw certain political parties, to prevent access to media appearances by critical media? Does this seem democratic to you? Do you think this is good for the rule of law in Spain? And while we are at it, I ask you, what do you know about the policies that VOX and the Partido Popular are implementing in the five regional governments and in the 130 municipalities they govern? Do you know that taxes are being lowered for the wealthy while public rights are being cut? Are you aware that they are eliminating policies and cutting public funding to combat gender-based violence? Do you know that they are slowing down the deployment of renewable energies? Do you know that they are censoring concerts, films and plays, while at the same time restoring the street names of famous people linked to Franco's dictatorship in our cities?

Would that also be your plan for Germany, Mr Weber? Renaming the streets and squares of Berlin after the leaders of the Third Reich?

Spain, ladies and gentlemen, is a democracy, a full democracy. We are a pro-European country, as is your government. Spain has a robust rule of law, an absolutely legitimate and capable government. And I invite you not to confuse your opponents. This mistake was made by the European right in the past and Europe paid dearly for it.

That is all and thank you very much, Ambassadors.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Original speech in Spanish

Non official translation