The cross : Your country, Spain, has been hit hard by the health crisis with just over 27,000 deaths from Covid-19. What is the situation today ?
José Manuel Albares: The hardest part is behind us. The measures taken during the health crisis, the containment, the cessation for ten days of all non-essential economic activity, have proven their worth and today the curve of cases of infection and victims is really falling. It’s a success, we’ve mastered the Covid-19 in Spain.
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During this pandemic, we quickly realized that we were facing something completely new. We had never been confronted, neither we nor anyone, with a global health crisis which very quickly, because of confinement, was going to be coupled with an economic and social crisis. The Madrid government quickly took economic measures to support small and medium-sized enterprises and social measures to help families and individuals. And the recovery plan for Europe, which has yet to be discussed and approved by the Brussels parliament, is in addition to the measures taken by the Spanish government. We are pleased to see how things are going.
This European plan provides significant aid to Spain and Italy. But the countries less affected by the health crisis are reluctant, what do you think?
J. M. A.: It is a plan proposed by the European Commission. Spain has always been present when it was necessary to protect Europe and therefore, there is nothing more natural than Europe helping the countries that have always been there to support it. It would have been incomprehensible if it were otherwise. Solidarity is the basis of the political project of Europe, without solidarity there is no European construction. Beyond that, the basis of this Europe is a single market and for the countries that are part of it, it is also a single currency. Without solidarity, there will be no cohesion in the single market. If countries as important as Spain and Italy, and even France which have been very affected by the Covid-19 stop economically, what will become of the single market? What will become of the euro zone? It is in the interest of all, also of the so-called “frugal” countries, to support the cohesion of this single market.
This plan is going in the right direction. There is new money in the European budget which is aimed at the countries and sectors most affected, such as digital technology, airlines and the automobile industry. We need liquidity to be rapidly injected into these sectors and these countries to keep them standing. The division between grants and loans that the commission proposes is also reasonable. This pooling of Covid debt is a good way to approach this crisis which has nothing to do with that of 2008. The virus knows neither borders nor ideologies. We did not do anything worse or better than the others, and it is normal for solidarity to come to us.
The Spanish parliament must approve this minimum living income (a form of RSA) this Friday, May 29, is this a first in Spain?
J. M. A.: It is a historic measure to prevent social exclusion which should affect the 850,000 most disadvantaged households. The government of Pedro Sanchez was thinking about this measure already before Covid-19 and the health crisis has shown its usefulness even more. In Spain we are aware that we have to face three crises with different instruments. There was the health crisis that we faced thanks to the civic spirit and the rigorous behavior of the Spaniards, of the medical personnel, and thanks to our universal public health system.
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Then there is the economic crisis for which the government has presented several plans and which, with the support of Europe, will make it possible to revive the most affected sectors; finally, there is the social crisis which demands that we support families and homes. The minimum living income is for those whom Covid-19 may exclude from society, which we will not allow. No one will drop out of Spanish society.
Holidays are approaching and tourism is a vital sector for Spain. Are you ready to welcome tourists this year, particularly the French, and how long will the 14-day containment period last?
J. M. A.: It has been taken by several countries, it is linked to the state of alert and it is provisional – until June 7. Its raison d’être is twofold: we are willing to end this period of deconfinement to welcome tourists this summer, and it is non-discriminatory. We are proceeding with the utmost rigor at the exit of Covid-19, so that once everything is reopened in Spain, at the latest on 1er July, all French people are welcomed in conditions of absolute security. Those who wish to spend their holidays with us, can already make reservations for hotels, flights, or can prepare to go to their second homes.
We will double the quality and professionalism of the Spanish tourism sector with safety and health. We have established 21 public security protocols for each of the tourism sectors, from camping to 5-star hotels, to sports facilities, to ensure and guarantee the quality that makes our mark. And we would like Europe to harmonize the standards. In the discussions in Brussels, our Minister of Tourism was also at the forefront for this harmonization to be established.
Our public health system is also ready with free beds. And I repeat, all reservations are open across the whole range of tourism. This summer, everyone is welcome in Spain. We are doing everything to make this 2020 a normal tourist season.