Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Francisco Villar

Sparkling New Optimism in Europe
Nearly one year after Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took office as Spain’s new president, the Ambassador of Spain to France, H.E. Francisco Villar, talks about the crisis roiling the European Union and La Moncloa’s increasing focus on other foreign policy priorities, including enhancing Spanish ties with France.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, French voters resoundingly rejected the proposed EU constitution on May 29th, followed shortly thereafter by the Dutch, propelling the European Union into a difficult phase. Could you share your thoughts on the heated debate in France, and this rejection by French voters?


H.E. Francisco Villar: The debate in France was, indeed, long, heated and fertile. Unfortunately, this debate was also hijacked by various forces. More importantly, it was tainted by French domestic policy concerns and by questions that were no doubt important, but had little to do with the treaty. What’s more, the debate took place in very difficult and complex circumstances (political, social, economic, as well as psychological) that were very unfavorable to this type of consultation.

I, for one, believe the outcome was very negative for France and Europe alike, and for the European construction process as a whole.


T.D.L.: Spanish voters were the first to say “yes” to the EU constitution, in a referendum held on 20 February of this year. While over 76% of those who did vote favored the constitutional treaty, how do you explain the record low voter turnout?


H.E. F.V.: It is true that a good deal of Spaniards stayed away from the urns, but you have to realize that Spain does not have a strong referendum tradition, and that far fewer Spaniards vote in European ballots and elections than do in national elections. What’s more, there was very little political debate, due to the fact that all the key forces – political, labor, etc. – backed the “yes” vote. A positive outcome was therefore expected.

In any case, what is really important, and very positive, is that Spaniards showed wide support for the Treaty.


T.D.L.: How, in your view, will this treaty help advance the European construction process?


H.E. F.V.: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a good treaty. This is not a new integration project, but a legal framework, an indispensable tool that lays down new rules that will allow an enlarged Europe to function and to move forward with the integration process.

The Treaty is not a step backwards, just the opposite. It marks clear progress,   real and indisputable advances in the European construction process. It makes significant strides towards the democratization of the EU and helps diminish the democracy deficit (moving to establish a constitution through the Convention, strengthening the role of the European as well as national parliaments, introducing a popular legislative initiative), constitutionalizing the Charter of Fundamental Rights, strengthening the EU’s role and weight in world affairs (more stable presidency, Foreign Affairs minister who wears two hats, a European diplomatic service, laying out the principles for the European Defense), and heightening the EU’s effectiveness (a more lively decision-making process within the Council, a qualified majority required to resolve more issues).


T.D.L.: Now that it has become one of Europe’s most dynamic economies, Spain is expected to stop receiving support from the Cohesion Fund in the medium term. What is your country doing in the economic arena to prepare for this shift?


H.E. F.V.: We accept the fact that our country will stop receiving cohesion funds in the medium term, due to its strong economic growth and the “statistical effect” (with ten countries poorer than Spain having joined the EU). We are trying to prevent this loss of funds from coming about too suddenly or brutally. We don’t want it to happen overnight, which would naturally be very damaging to our economy and would also have a negative impact on our main economic and trading partners.

Nonetheless, our economy’s steady growth and good prospects for the coming years make us relatively optimistic about how things will unfold. Our biggest economic challenge at present is making our economy more competitive. To that end, we are going to make more and more investments in research and development and new technologies, while continuing our investments in infrastructures.  


T.D.L.: The Spanish government recently granted residency status to some 700,000 illegal aliens. Could you summarize your country’s immigration policy for our readers?


H.E. F.V.: After inheriting a truly unbearable situation, the Spanish government decided to grant amnesty to some 700,000 illegal aliens. This has been a resounding success, both in terms of advancing human rights and putting an end to abuse and exploitation, and in terms of improving the social and economic situation by flushing out a segment of the population that was not paying federal or social security taxes.

We managed to do this without producing a significant “back draft.” There will be stricter control in the future, in order to organize migratory inflows at the source, if possible, in function of our country’s economic needs. We also believe that international cooperation is becoming increasingly important in order to tackle the growing immigration wave and combat illegal immigration.


T.D.L.: In view of the shift in the EU’s center of gravity towards the East, after the 1 May 2004 enlargement, how do you feel about Spain’s evolving political role within the enlarged EU?


H.E. F.V.: The EU’s center of gravity cannot be defined in geographic terms. Spain is increasingly determined to remain at the very heart of the European construction process, and to make its weight felt in this process. At the same time, we will continue, working with France and our other partners, to bolster its transatlantic dimensions, including the EU’s ties with Latin America and the Mediterranean, as well as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the EU’s good neighbor policy.


T.D.L.: 2005 will mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the Barcelona Process. What types of synergies would Spain like to foster, to help build a true partnership between the two shores of the Mediterranean?


H.E. F.V.: The EU has made 2005 the “Year of the Mediterranean.” This year we will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration. On this occasion, we will be the guests of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership’s heads of state and government, at a meeting in the Catalan capital this coming November. This anniversary must be more than just a commemoration of the things we have accomplished, which are indeed significant. It must also be a reflection on our new common objective and on the fresh political impetus needed to jump start this process. Spain looks forward with great enthusiasm to helping the Union reaffirm the compromise it reached with our former neighbors. To that end, it will lay special emphasis on continued coordination with other European countries that have taken the lead in this arena, as well as our partners on the southern shore. Spain would like to share its own European experience in the Mediterranean. Let me mention the example of our regional policy, for instance. We share France’s desire to make good use of this instrument in our relations with our Mediterranean partners.  


T.D.L.: After a 3-year diplomatic crisis that ended with the Isle of Persil incident, President Zapatero chose Morocco as the destination of his first official foreign visit. How would you describe Spain’s renewed relations with Morocco?


H.E. F.V.: After the trip by the President of the Spanish Government, Mr. Zapatero, His Highness the King and Her Highness the Queen also visited Morocco. We have very strong and very specific ties with this country, due to our proximity, our shared past, the large number of Moroccans living in Spain and Spaniards living in Morocco, our close cultural and economic interdependence, etc. These two visits testify to our excellent bilateral relations, mutual confidence and belief that the stability and progress of our two countries are closely linked. Both our governments are working in this same direction. What’s more, Spain continues to defend and expand the EU’s Mediterranean vocation within the Barcelona Process. Morocco has also made a concerted effort to get actively involved in this process.


T.D.L.: On 18 April 2004 President Zapatero announced that Spain was pulling out its troops from Iraq, in a major break with his predecessor’s pro-Atlantist line. Could you tell us what areas are being given special focus, as Spain and the United States redefine their ties?


H.E. F.V.: Spain still has very close relations with the United States, and considers its transatlantic ties to be of great importance. We have made strides in key areas of our bilateral ties in recent months, with Spain’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior and Defense all visiting Washington. Spain has also taken on a bigger role on the international stage. We share the United States’ conviction that we must be an active force in Haiti, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. We are clearly working together closely in multilateral forums such as NATO. We are also carrying on a dialogue in fields of mutual interest, with Latin American as the leading example. Obviously, the US government was not pleased about the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq, but we cannot forget the compromise Spain has made to help rebuild Iraq and ensure its successful political transition.


T.D.L.: The next Ibero-American Summit, one of the key tools for consolidating relations between Spain and Latin America,   is scheduled to be held this October in Salamanca. Given the relative disinterest in this forum, and the proposal to reform how the summits are organized, what can be done to breathe new life into this process?


H.E. F.V.: It is true that we have not always managed to make people appreciate the great value and usefulness of the Ibero-American summits, which have been greeted with a certain amount of skepticism in the past. Nonetheless, their great worth cannot be denied. The Ibero-American summits are an extremely fruitful forum for political dialogue as well as economic and social cooperation. Outside the United Nations and regional Caribbean bodies which include Cuba, this is the only forum that allows us to discretely resolve all kinds of problems through direct contact between heads of state and government. It has enabled us to set up an Ibero-American economic and social network as well as a wide-reaching cooperation program (Mutis scholarships, libraries and archives, cybermedia, an indigenous fund, etc.). At the upcoming summit in Salamanca, scheduled for this coming October 14th and 15th, we will take another step forward towards cementing the Ibero-American Community of Nations, bolstered by our experiences and accomplishments over the past fourteen years. This is a dual challenge: laying out increasingly concrete proposals and getting more actors from civil society involved in the process. As for obtaining concrete and measurable results, the Salamanca summit will attempt to ratify an Ibero-American culture map. This will be an even broader project than the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions. It will include a program that exchanges debts for education, and lays out a new agenda for Ibero-American international cooperation (to set the region’s priorities in this area, launch new cooperation formulas with third party countries such as Haiti, and create a mechanism for periodic program review). Finally, we will support the creation of an Ibero-American space of liberty, security and justice that will enable us to move forward with harmonizing our laws and strengthening judicial and police cooperation in the war on drug trafficking and terrorism. Finally, let me mention the upcoming nomination of the Secretary General, which will give this forum a fresh boost until the next summit, by launching a consultation mechanism for emergency situations and strengthening the Ibero-American community’s presence on the international stage.


T.D.L.: Last March President Zapatero visited Vene-zuela, where he met with Venezuelan, Brazilian and Colombian leaders. Is Spain looking to play a wider role in this region?


H.E. F.V.: Spain’s strong presence in Latin America is nothing new. This region is one of our top priorities. Spain sees it as a duty and more importantly has a strong desire to do its utmost to ensure the stability of this region. This is why the President of the Spanish government emphasized the notion of “shared security” at the meeting to which you referred. This means stepping up police and judicial cooperation between countries in this zone. Firstly, so they can work together to face shared challenges and, secondly, to prevent conflicts that spark bilateral flare-ups from reoccurring in the future.


T.D.L.: President Zapatero offered testimony of our two countries’ reenergized ties in his May 1st speech before the French National Assembly, which focused on the issue of the EU constitutional treaty. On the heels of the December 2004 French-Spanish summit in Saragossa, could you outline the main areas where the Spain and France would like to strengthen their ties, in both the European and international arenas?


H.E. F.V.: We have to put our heads together and cooperate even more closely, to lift the EU out of this slump, this crisis, into which it has fallen. We must start this way, then continue to work together closely to get the European construction and integration process moving forward. Our countries have a great deal of shared interests within this process, starting with the importance of keeping it moving forward.

We also have very similar visions and ambitions as concerns the need to build a more modern, more prosperous, more just and more united Europe. Both of our countries would like Europe to play a stronger political role, making its weight felt around the world, especially in regions where we have shared interests, such as the Maghreb, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.


T.D.L.: Would you summarize the goals and key successes of Franco-Spanish antiterrorism cooperation, starting with joint efforts to wipe out the terrorist Basque separatist group ETA?


H.E. F.V.: Cooperation between our law enforcement and judicial sectors is, and will continue to be, one of the most essential and strongest branches of Franco-Spanish bilateral ties. With our similar and shared interests growing by the day, in a climate of strong mutual confidence, we have built up a remarkable level of cooperation. And it has produced results. This cooperation is not, however, limited to fighting and doing away with ETA terrorism, though that battle is still very important. Our cooperation also includes battling other terrorist activities, such Islamist terrorism, and the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration.


T.D.L.: The Saragossa Summit gave birth to a new summit reserved exclusively for autonomous border regions and French territorial entities. Will this help further expand decentralized cooperation between France and Spain?


H.E. F.V.: It was, indeed, decided at the Saragossa Summit to hold a meeting presided by the French Prime Minister and the President of the Spanish Government, attended by the Presidents of the Autonomous Communities and French Border Regions. To differentiate this meeting from regular “bilateral summits,” it will be called the “High Level Meeting on Cross-Border Cooperation between Spain and France.” The meeting’s name gives a clear idea of its underlying objectives: establishing greater visibility, taking stock of the current situation, and giving our central governments a better understanding of the cross-border cooperation already being carried out by various regional and local entities. As for exactly what this type of meeting can do to help boost decentralized cooperation between our two countries, I am convinced it will highlight and give a fresh boost to the advances we have already made in a variety of key areas, such as transport infrastructures (road and rail transport), electrical hookups, education, health care and environmental protection. Bilateral cross-border cooperation has benefited both sides of the Pyrenees in a wide variety of other areas, working within the broader framework of interregional European cooperation programs like EUROREGION, INTERREG and URBAN.

Finally, this high level meeting will also be very useful for making a forward-looking analysis of the many joint actions being carried out under the 1995 Bayonne Treaty, which must be interpreted and adapted to meet the new political, social and economic demands of citizens on both sides of the border.


T.D.L.: Given the strong cultural ties between France and Spain, has the joint linguistic program known as “Tandem” been a success?


H.E. F.V.: On November 2002, during the Franco-Spanish summit in Malaga, the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Spain and France signed a friendship memorandum that set up a Language and Cooperation Program known as TANDEM. Starting in the summer of 2003, this program has provided grants enabling French and Spanish students to attend joint training sessions – grouped in binational couples – which are part of official development cooperation projects funded by Spain and France in third-party countries.

Every year since 2003, when the TANDEM program was first launched, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs have awarded 3-month tandem grants to five French nationals, while the French Department of International Cooperation and Development (DGCID) and the French MInistry of Foreign Affairs have given grants to five Spanish nationals.

Both versions of this new bilateral experiment have produced very satisfying results. The winners of the 2005 grants have already been selected. This summer they will be grouped into French-Spanish couples and begin participating in AECI cooperation projects in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and El Salvador, as well as DGCID projects in Cambodia, Niger,   Yemen, Tunisia and the Central African Republic.


T.D.L.: What can be done to help expand bilateral cooperation between our university and scientific communities?


H.E. F.V.: With regard to multilateral cooperation agreements between institutes of higher education – and here I’m thinking specifically about the Erasmus program – we must make a special effort to help students participating in this type of exchange find suitable housing. Agreements between institutes of higher education, especially in large urban centers, need to come up with solutions to the problems these young people encounter in finding decent housing at a reasonable price. In that light, I also believe that Erasmus grant amounts should be increased.

In addition, we need to conclude more agreements like the one signed in May by the French and Spanish Ministers of Education, which gave official recognition to the Spanish departments in France and to bilingual departments in Spain.

In the scientific arena, our efforts must meet society’s expectations, ensuring that the world of education is in tune with the needs and realities of modern-day society, as well as technological advances.

Along this same line, we cannot forget that France is a leading pole for space research. It is absolutely vital that we expand exchanges between our countries’   teachers (the Job for Job Program) and researchers.

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