Focused on the future
Ambassador of Spain to Japan Jorge Toledo Albiñana
May/June 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Benjamin Parks
May/June 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Benjamin Parks
Could you tell me about the progress of Spain’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?
Along with other European countries, Spain has been severely hit by the coronavirus, which forced the government to impose a strict lockdown. The challenge has been immense for our society. However, we have managed to overcome these difficulties, thanks to a huge sense of responsibility on the part of our nation’s people and the magnificent response from our public health system.
Today, as the number of infected people is going down very rapidly, social and economic activity is gradually returning. Responsibility and prudence will guide Spain as it re-attains normality. If the pandemic remains under control, we expect to be back to full steam by the summer. For example, the Spanish football league La Liga will resume from 8 June, and the country will open again to international tourism on 1 July. Quarantines for visitors arriving from abroad will end on that same date.
It appears that the worst is over, and this crisis has again shown us the resilience and the spirit of solidarity of the Spanish people.
What is Spain doing to support its citizens and its businesses at this time?
The government of Spain has deployed a vast array of social and economic measures to support people and businesses and to prepare the path for economic recovery. The goal is to preserve economic activity and employment — by helping SMEs and those who are self-employed — as well as to assist those in need. The government is backing SMEs with soft credit lines, fiscal assistance, and deferment of taxes.
To keep employment afloat and maintain a certain level of income for employees, the government is paying the bulk of the salaries of those who have been temporarily furloughed. At the end of May, the government approved a basic income scheme that provides a guaranteed income for the most vulnerable households, starting this June. These and other measures will mobilise up to 20% of Spanish GNP.
In what ways is Spain supporting other countries that are still struggling to fight Covid-19?
Spain is fully committed to helping developing countries fight the coronavirus pandemic. We are also specifically calling for the protection of women and girls, who risk being neglected during this kind of crisis. At the beginning of May, Spain co-chaired the Coronavirus Global Response conference, launched by the EU Commission to raise €7.5 billion. Spain pledged €200 million to facilitate access to vaccines and treatments for developing countries. We have also joined the Global Call for Water, which is an initiative to improve water and sanitation as a way to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
There are many lessons to learn from this crisis, but the most important one is the need to strengthen the effectiveness of multilateralism and global governance on health issues to minimise the impact of future health crises.
How have you seen the EU come together at this time?
The European Union is a project based on solidarity among its people and its member states, a project with which Spain is firmly engaged. The coronavirus has tested the resilience of this project, as it was tested during the financial crisis of 2008. But solidarity must and will prevail over populism and nationalism once again. European institutions are putting important instruments and financing in place to help with the recovery.
EU leaders have jointly agreed to a roadmap for recovery that defines four key areas of action: revitalising the single market, making massive investments, taking global action, and improving governance. It also sets out principles such as solidarity, cohesion, and convergence. The European Council will discuss a recovery fund, targeting the sectors and geographical parts of Europe most affected. It also approved safety nets, worth a total of €540 billion, for workers, businesses, and states.
As High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has said: “We will come out of this crisis together. No one will overcome it alone.”
How is Spain helping to develop a vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus?
The government of Spain has provided special funding for projects aimed at finding a vaccine. Ten vaccine projects — developed by both public and private scientific institutions — are currently underway, and some of these are within the framework of international or European projects.
The government has made it clear that it will guarantee a fair price for this vaccine and will give free access to all those unable to afford it.
Additionally, Spain is the European leader in clinical trials for possible Covid-19 treatments. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals are participating with more than 28,000 patients in 58 studies of possible treatments against the coronavirus. In fact, a Spanish pharmaceutical company recently signed a memorandum with Fujifilm Holdings for the clinical trial of Avigan in Spain.
What are your hopes for Spain once this time of uncertainty is over?
The future is full of opportunities for Spain. After the financial crisis of 2008, many people thought that Spain’s recovery would lag behind that of other European countries. This was not the case and, for the past few years, the Spanish economy has been growing above the average of other developed countries. We are confident that this will be the case again.
The European Climate Foundation ranked Spain’s climate strategy the best in the EU last year. Could you tell me about Spain’s environmental goals?
Protecting the environment is one of the cornerstones of the Spanish government. We find ourselves immersed in an unprecedented climate emergency, which is increasing inequality, affecting the most vulnerable, and putting our current model of development at risk.
In May, the government presented an ambitious climate bill that would underpin the country’s huge renewable energy ambitions and set us on a course for carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this goal, the government will propose interim targets through its national energy and climate plans to 2030. This climate bill, which still has to be approved by parliament, aims for 70% of the nation’s power to come from renewables by 2030, on the way to a 100% clean electricity system by 2050. It also includes measures to halt new oil and gas exploration, end fossil fuel subsidies, and rapidly exit coal generation. This bill is in line with the EU’s ambitions enshrined in the green deal, which aims at making Europe climate neutral by 2050, boosting the economy through green technology, creating sustainable industry and transport, and cutting pollution.
The future must and will be green, and most investment and future jobs will come from this area. The current health crisis should not divert our attention from our green ambitions. We cannot afford setbacks that could have detrimental effects on our climate, biodiversity, and the environment, as well as on human health and our economies.
Could you tell me about King Felipe VI’s visit to Japan in October?
Their Majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia were highly honoured to attend the coronation of the emperor, and they felt privileged to share that moment of joy with the people of Japan. During the proclamation and banquet, Their Majesties had the opportunity to convey to the emperor and empress their appreciation for being invited to such an historic occasion. The attendance of Their Majesties at the coronation demonstrated the deep ties between the people of Spain and Japan and the longstanding friendship between Japan’s Imperial Family and the Spanish Royal Family.
King Felipe also had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. During the meeting, they exchanged views about the brilliant future of our bilateral relations in the new Reiwa era.
Could you tell me what Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha González-Laya discussed with Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on the call they had in May?
The conversation was mainly focused on the health crisis and bilateral relations. Minister Motegi had a word of sympathy and solidarity with Spain. He also acknowledged the efforts of Spain’s government and society to fight the pandemic. Both ministers stressed their determination to cooperate in scientific areas and share best-practices and experiences to obtain a vaccine or a treatment for the coronavirus. They also exchanged views on the post-Covid-19 era, which will require reinforcing health systems and preparing the way for the economy to recover rapidly, making sure that growth and employment reach pre-crisis levels as soon as possible.
Regarding bilateral relations, they reaffirmed the strategic relations between Spain and Japan based on common values such as democracy, human rights, multilateralism, and a rules-based international order. They concurred that one of the added values of our relations are the contacts amongst our civil societies, expressing their support for the Spain–Japan Symposium, which will be held in Kyoto in the autumn. Finally, they committed to working towards strengthening our ties within the framework of the EU–Japan EPA and the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the fruits of which are already visible in a promising boost for our trade relations over the past year. •