When speaking to the media after the European Council, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy mentioned the agreement in favor of Britain remaining part of the EU, the monitoring of measures adopted on migration and on taking in refugees, the situation in Syria and Libya, and the recommendations on the Eurozone economic policy.
The acting Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, gave a press briefing on the main issues discussed at the European Council meeting held in Brussels from 18 to 20 February. They included the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union ahead of a referendum in the country on whether to stay in the EU or not; the adoption of conclusions on the migration and refugee phenomenon; the situation in Syria and Libya; and the endorsement of the recommendations on the Eurozone economic policy.
As regards the United Kingdom, Rajoy said “we reached an agreement that is acceptable for all concerned”, which, “while respecting the fundamental and founding principles and values of the European Union, we believe will be enough for the British people to choose to remain in the EU.”
“We have all made a significant effort to accommodate the requests made by Prime Minister Cameron” while being “both flexible and constructive”, he said. “It is very important for Spain,” said Mariano Rajoy, “the European Union and, I sincerely believe, the interests of the British people, and Spanish people, for the United Kingdom to remain part of the European Union”.
In this regard, he said, “Spain has focused on defending one of the fudamental principles of the European Union: the free movement of workers and, with that, indiscriminate access to the social benefits of those who relocate within the EU for work”. The President of the Government believes that this goal has been met “reasonably well” because the text approved, including the admission of comments from Spain, “much more clearly limits the accepted exceptions and restrictions to the freedom of workers” so that they are just that – “exceptions that must be justified and limited in time, scope and without discriminating on grounds of nationality.”
Mariano Rajoy continued by saying that Spain is also concerned about “ensuring that the principle of equal treatment and fair competition is respected in the financial and banking markets”, issues on which improvements have been made to the text over the initially proposed version.
Rajoy stressed that, in terms of competitiveness, Spain “shares and supports” the concept of “a European Union that is open to trade, competitive in the world and focused on the objectives of research, development, innovation, and single digital and energy markets.”
Finally, Mariano Rajoy said that the agreement does not mean “a change to the EU treaties”, any potential amendments to which will have to take place in line with the established review procedures” and, as far as Spain is concerned, “the Spanish Constitution.”
On this issue, Rajoy said that “Spain insisted on a basic principle: the best way to resolve the migrant crisis is by tackling its root causes in order to avoid its consequences”. To that end, “we should cooperate with the countries of origin and transit of migrants and refugees; fight people traffickers by breaking up their criminal organizations; properly control our borders; and foster an effective return to their countries of those who are not entitled to asylum under our laws and according to our courts.”
Spain is committed to this task of “the relocation and resettlement of the people who come to Spain as they flee from war, terrorist barbarity or regimes that do not respect the most basic human rights,” said Rajoy. “But nothing can be done without the cooperation of the countries of origin” and, in this regard, “the role of and cooperation from Turkey is key to the current crisis.” To that end, Mariano Rajoy said that the European Council has approved financial aid for Turkey and has scheduled a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister in the near future.
The European Council also approved the economic recommendations for the Eurozone that, according to Rajoy, “are fully in line with the economic policy strategy that the Government of Spain has been implementing over the last four years”.
The European Council recommends those countries in deficit to introduce reforms aimed at “strengthening productivity, fostering job creation, increasing competitiveness and improving the business climate”. For those countries with a surplus, it proposes measures aimed at “strengthening domestic demand and potential growth”. “The Spanish policy”, said Mariano Rajoy, “is clearly aligned with these recommendations.”
For the labor market, the European Union advises “flexible employment contracts, ongoing training, policies to facilitate the return of the unemployed to the labor market, adequate and sustainable social protection systems, reducing the fiscal burden on work, and boosting open and competitive goods and services markets.” The measures implemented in Spain – such as the labor and training reforms, the reactivation income, the 500-euro exemption from National Insurance contributions on permanent employment contracts, the energy reform and market unity – “respond to this European approach,” said the acting Prime Minister.
Regarding 2016 fiscal policy, the European Council recommends maintaining a neutral fiscal stance and urges the Eurozone to reduce public debt levels for 2017. “This,” said Mariano Rajoy, “is what we are already doing in Spain”, where “higher than expected revenue has been allocated to lowering taxes while the deficit is being reduced year after year.”
Syria and Libya
As regards Syria, Rajoy stated that the European Council has “called for the swift implementation of the agreements reached by the International Syria Support Group, especially regarding the immediate end to hostilities, the end of bombings over civilian populations and access by humanitarian aid to the whole country”.
On Libya, “the parties have been urged to apply the Libyan Political Agreement so that the Government of National Accord can start working as soon as possible – an essential requirement for a return to political normality in the country, to fight illegal immigration and to tackle the DAESH terrorist threat.