A Conversation With Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares of Spain

Friday, September 22, 2023
Mateo Lanzuela/Europa Press/Getty Images

Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Spain


Journalist and Advocate; Former Anchor and Correspondent, BBC News; CFR Member

Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation José Manuel Albares discusses Spain’s role in the EU, the challenge of climate change, and the geopolitics of the region. 

TREVELYAN: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s lovely to see you all here. My name’s Laura Trevelyan. I am your presider for today. And welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting entitled “A Conversation With Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares of Spain.” 

And we’re very lucky to have him here today. He flies back to Madrid tonight. He’s had an exciting week in the hot seat. And we can’t wait to hear from him and for all of you to get a chance to speak to him. So let me, without further ado, introduce the minister and invite him to come up onstage to deliver his opening remarks, after which I’ll moderate a conversation with him and we’ll open the floor to questions. Foreign Minister? (Applause.) 

ALBARES: Thank you very much for the invitation to participate here at the headquarters of the Council of Foreign Relation. I’m very pleased, especially in a moment in which the world is going through one of the most complex and convulsive periods in decades, to the point where it sometimes feel hard to keep up. 

In Europe, certainly, it is the most complex time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian aggression against Ukraine has been a turning point that has shattered some certainties that we all held. So are the effects of climate change after a record-hot summer that has ended, as we can see, in the last few weeks in devastating rains in Libya, unleashing floods that have killed tens of thousands of people, reminding us of what the future might bring if we don’t adapt quickly to climate change while we mitigate its most extreme effects. All this at a time when humanitarian aid needs increase in different parts of the world. Just a few months ago, after a devastating earthquake in Turkey, a few days ago it was our Moroccan friends who suffer a terrible natural disaster. Meanwhile, we are dealing with increased tension in the southern Caucasus; very alarming development in the Sahel region, our African neighbor for Spain; new partnership in the Middle East; and the overtaking of India as the new most-populated country on Earth. 

All this to say that we are going through a period of change and uncertainties where there is a lot at stake for us. We are in the process of defining the world we will be living in for the next decades and centuries from an environmental point of view, and also from a political and diplomatic point of view. 

Against this background, the certainty of the transatlantic relation is a pillar of stability for our society. The EU and the U.S. need each other. We are natural allies. The U.S. needs a strong EU as much as the EU needs a strong U.S. In fact, building on strong partnerships with our allies and friends across the world, and especially the United States—our natural ally—is one of the priorities of the current Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU. 

The unprovoked, unjustified, unjustifiable Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has become the cruelest example of the return of geopolitics. We have been shown that the strategic economic dependencies can suddenly become strategic vulnerabilities, whether it is on strategic supply chains, health care, food, digital infrastructure, energy. For all of these reasons, the first priority of our presidency is to reindustrialize the EU. We want to diversify our supply chains and strengthen our engagement with likeminded partners. And in this regard, some of the central dossiers of the Spanish presidency are the Critical Raw Materials Act or the artificial intelligence regulation. This goal will drive one of the presidency’s major event, the informal European Council of head of states and government in Granada next October the sixth. Next week I will myself chair the informal General Affair(s) Council, which will put together the preparatory work for the milestone of our European semester. 

As I mentioned, to achieve this we must diversify and strengthen ties with our most reliable partners, such as the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. And this renewal of our relationship can naturally build on our common history, our values, our languages; but it must go beyond this. We need true engagement and a bi-regional agenda of investment. This was the framework of the EU-CELAC Summit, the summit between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, which was a collective success with more than fifty head of states and government in attendance. We have reach a new agreement to hold regular summits every two years, alternated with foreign ministers meeting, with a consultative coordinating body because we cannot allow ourself to let another eight years pass without fostering the bi-regional dialogue—a future to which other agreements reached by the European Union will also contribute, such as Argentina on energy cooperation, Chile on sustainable raw-material value chains, and a much-celebrated agreement for a post-Cotonou framework. 

Today’s Europe cannot be understood without our strong commitment to transatlantic relations. The NATO summit in Madrid gave a boost to the EU-NATO complementarity. And we will continue to cooperate to respond together to global challenges, minimizing the impact of our respective reindustrialization efforts. 

Secondly, we believe that climate action demands action. That is why another priority of the presidency of the Council of the EU will be to advance in the green transition and environmental adaptation. We want to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and in order to do that the EU must undertake reforms that cannot be postponed. And among the key dossiers, the presidency will advance the reform of the electricity market design, the gas/hydrogen package as part of the Fit for 55 Initiative, the regulation on the conservation and restoration of nature, and the Net-Zero Industry Act. 

Thirdly, our presidency wants to strengthen the idea of Europe as a project of common citizenship—Europe as a set of values, Europe as a sustainable and socially just way of life. The European social model defines the way we work, the way we take care of each other when we are sick, the way we make decisions about our children’s education. We must protect it. We must strengthen it also at the European level with new continentwide rights. In this regard, we welcome the Commission’s proposal on the European Disability Card directive. And in addition to this, we will work on the adaptation of measures in favor of equal treatment with a special attention to equality between women and men, to children, and to the elderly. 

And finally, our last priority is to maintain European unity, especially when we are facing numerous challenges—unity of course among EU’s member states with a stronger single market, better decision-making process, a more robustly common migration policy, and a modernized economic governance. But we want to foster unity, too, with our friends and partners across the world. And naturally, the United States are the first one in all these endeavors. 

At a time of international turmoil, it is great news for the world that the EU-U.S. relation is going strong, and that we cooperate to tackle the common challenges ahead of us. And you can count on Spain’s leadership to push for a stronger transatlantic relation and also a stronger Europe in that relation. Thank you. 

TREVELYAN: Thank you so much, Foreign Minister Albares. So we’ll have twenty minutes now for the foreign minister and I to have a conversation, and then we’ll open it up to questions from you, the members. 

Foreign Minister, I was very struck by you talked there about the need to maintain European unity. I had a sense this week, listening to all the speeches at the General Assembly—President Biden, President Zelensky—that fatigue over the war in Ukraine is setting in. Do you think Europe can maintain its unity against Russian aggression? 

ALBARES: I am convinced and I’m totally sure that we will keep that unity. And Spanish leadership during our presidency of the European Council, it’s a part of that. It’s one of our priorities, as I said in my introductory remarks. 

And the reason, it’s also because everyone in European public opinion realizes that when we are together, when we are united, we go through the crisis faster. We get out in better shape. We don’t leave people behind. If we compare how Europe tackled the financial crisis back in 2008 and we compare how we did it with COVID-19 or the Russian aggression, or the social and economic consequences of the Russian aggression in Ukraine all over Europe, we realize that in 2008 we decided to go each one with its own force. And in COVID and facing the Russian aggression, we do it together. And we see one crisis took us a decade to get out and the social pain is still felt in Europe, and COVID and the way we are facing the Russian aggression leave us at the end all much better off. 

TREVELYAN: And yet, you can see that Republican support for the war, at least as expressed in the House of Representatives, is a little bit wobbly. What is the endgame here? Would Spain like to see negotiations in the next year for Ukraine to come to the negotiating table? 

ALBARES: Spain has been very, very clear since the very beginning: What we want for Ukraine is a sovereign Ukraine within its internationally recognized border. What we want for Ukraine is the respect of the United Nation(s) Charter. We have spent a whole week in United Nation(s), and the basic principle—the first one, the abolition of war in order to settle differences among states—should be also upheld in Ukraine. That’s what we want for Ukraine: a Ukraine free, independent, sovereign, and with their international recognized borders guaranteed. 

TREVELYAN: Did you get any sense this week of whether Russia’s allies in the international community would like to see this war come to an end? 

ALBARES: I think that Russia has lost already the diplomatic struggle. When we see the votes in the General Assembly, the last resolution, 144 countries voted against the Russian aggression. Russia is completely isolated in the diplomatic arena because everyone understand that this is not only a war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine, this is a war of aggression against the Charter of the United Nation(s) and the most basic principles of the United Nation(s) Charter. And if Russia wins, no one will be able to sleep at night thinking that tomorrow his big neighbor will want a part of its own sovereignty. 

TREVELYAN: You alluded to this time of great tumult on the international stage and you said we haven’t seen anything like this since the end of the Cold War. There are so many issues, from migration to climate change. For Spain itself, from its perspective from within Europe, how great is the challenge of migration? Now that, with technology, migrants are able to move together speedily in great numbers, how does Southern Europe in particular deal with this? 

ALBARES: Migration is a phenomenon that Spain knows very well. Spain is what we call in Brussels jargon a first-entry state to the European Union. And there are several things that we have to realize. 

First, that migrating is a natural movement for any human being throughout history, so it’s a natural phenomenon. 

Secondly, many times in very especially media, when people talk about migration, actually they are talking about irregular migrants, which is a very small percentage at the end of all the migratory movements around the world. 

And third, when it comes to Europe—because it’s a global phenomenon—the answer, the response, should be European. People don’t come to Spain or to Italy or to France or to Germany; they come to Europe. They come looking for a better life. And therefore, if the challenge is European, the answer should be European. That’s why we are always claiming for a European pact on migration and asylum. 

That’s another differentiation. We have to make a differentiation between those that are seeking our protection and they deserve it because they are unjustly persecuted—and the right of asylum is part of the identity of Europe, and that door should always be open; those that come through a regular migration pattern and they are welcome, because we need them for our labor force; and those that, unfortunately, in a desperately way they have chosen the wrong access, which is irregular migration, and they should go back to their country. 

TREVELYAN: But irregular migration is on the increase with climate change, and you are seeing so much of it coming from Africa to Europe’s shores. Here in the United States just this week the Biden administration had to give temporary protected status to almost half-a-million Venezuelans who have come to the U.S.—again, irregular migration in some cases. People fleeing—there’s so much crisis in the world. How does Europe maintain political unity and public support? 

ALBARES: We try to seek our unity. We are not always agreeing on how to tackle it. But for Spain, things are very clear. 

Conjunctural problems have a solution. Structural problems don’t have a solution; you manage them. And as long as the inequality between the EU and our neighbors in Africa are what they are, we will have a migratory situation. And therefore, those that say I have the magic solution—the populist extreme right—they are lying to the people. We have to manage. 

Spain has proven that we have a formula that is working. When you see how it’s increasing the irregular entrants through Italy or through Greece, increasing by more than 300 percent, in Spain we have a very moderate increase or even a drop of them. And this is based on high political dialogue with countries of origin and transit, being completely tough with the mafias that do human trafficking, and at the same time making strong development programs with our neighbors in Africa to give a possibility to those people that out of despair put their lives at risk. And definitely what we cannot do is just fold our arms and accept that the Mediterranean is going to be the grave of thousand(s) and thousands of people every year. 

TREVELYAN: Climate change is driving migration. You talked about the challenge of climate change having to be met with climate action, and yet there seems deadlock between the Global South and between the West—the polluting powers, as it were—and those who wish to have the right to industrialize. How do you get beyond this deadlock in the climate negotiations? 

ALBARES: There are two things. 

One, we all realize—and you see that very well in the Mediterranean. When you see what has happened in Libya and then you see the fires everywhere in Southern Europe, you realize that we are facing the same emergency. So on that there is no north-south, Europe or Africa; it hit us all. 

But we must accept that there is a financial gap if we want to fight climate change that we need to cover, and therefore we need to show solidarity towards the southern country. Without the right amount of financing, they will not be able to meet their targets. 

TREVELYAN: Do you think it’s possible to reach agreement on the right amount of money for developing countries so that they can meet those targets? 

ALBARES: For me, it’s clear that we have to do it because at the end it’s the whole planet that is in danger. This is not an issue in which you can say, OK, I could do it this way, but I can also have a national solution. There is no national solution. We have to do it. And Spain is putting as much as it can to reach a global agreement for that. 

TREVELYAN: You talked about the importance of the EU-U.S. relationship. You talked about the transatlantic alliance. But there’s a presidential election here in the United States next year. If Donald Trump were to win again, he was no fan of the European alliance and not particularly a fan of NATO either. Do you worry about whether that alliance would survive a second Trump presidency? 

ALBARES: We are working really well in very difficult times with President Biden administration. We are in the same page in climate change, in how we view world peace, in how we see equality and gender promotion. So we wouldn’t like that to change. 

I don’t want to go, of course, into United States politics, and it’s up to the American citizens to decide for whom they vote. But seeing for what is good for the world, I think that the Biden administration is exactly what the planet needs. 

TREVELYAN: I mean, it’s very clear that President Trump might not support Ukraine in the wholehearted way that President Biden has. What would—where would that leave Europe? 

ALBARES: Well, I don’t want to go into political fiction of what would happen. 

But I want to make a reflection: Backing Ukraine today is backing the United Nation(s) Charter. It’s backing what has given us the longest decades of stability and prosperity in Europe and also in the transatlantic relations. Europe and the United States, I was saying previously, we are natural allies. And the threat that is running right now on Ukraine could be tomorrow on anyone if we don’t back the United Nation(s) Charter, therefore Ukraine. 

TREVELYAN: President Biden, he didn’t talk about it as much this year but he has previously framed this world as being a struggle between democracies and autocracies. Is that how it looks in Spain, too? 

ALBARES: Definitely we realize that democracy in any country, it’s something that we have to defend every day. We have seen images in the Capitol in Washington here or in Brazil that would be unthinkable a few years ago. We see all over Europe how extreme-right parties are challenging the very same values that are at the bottom of European construction, that have given us the prosperity and the peace for the last few decades. And we have to defend democracy in Europe from the outside, from the Russian aggression to Ukraine that is also an aggression to the European values; but also within our own societies facing all these forces that don’t believe in something that is essential to democracy: tolerance, pluralism. 

TREVELYAN: There is a critique of the European Union in American foreign policy circles. The joke was always who do I call when I want to get Europe on the phone. But I guess that’s getting at, what is Europe as a political entity in this moment? Europe is very good at regulation. We see that privacy regulation. It’s leading the world in privacy regulation of the internet. But does Europe innovate? And therefore, can it be a real political force beyond regulation? 

ALBARES: We are already a real political force. For many years, Europeans depicted Brussels and European Union entities as something very bureaucratic and slow and very far away from the needs of European citizens. That has changed completely. When you see how European Union has reacted to COVID-19 or to the social and economic consequences of Russian aggression, the response has been within hours to exactly what the citizens needed in things so close to our everyday life as food, vaccines, energy. So we all realize that none of us, no member state, could face the world of today without Europe. For me, it’s very clear: A strong Spain needs a strong European Union. 

TREVELYAN: I just have a couple more questions before I open it up. I have to ask you, the departure of Britain from the European Union, has that paid, that experience, messy and difficult as it’s been, for other countries wishing to leave the EU? Do you think, has it ultimately strengthened the EU, Brexit? 

ALBARES: That was a decision that I personally regretted, but it’s completely democratic and British citizens decided. It showed—at the time of Brexit, many people thought that it could be a virus. And it has been the vaccination. No one today, no one is asking for an exit. And the political forces, very especially the extreme right-wing parties that had in their political programs an exit or their countries, they have completely obliterated. And now they just are saying, I want to get to power to transform European Union, but not to quit. 

TREVELYAN: Interesting. (Laughs.) 

And just a final question is, the world saw Spain’s women’s football team defeat the Lionesses at the World Cup. Congratulations. But then a revolution, it seemed, in relations between men and women in Spain followed after the team rose up because of the behavior of the president of the football federation. What does this episode tell us about the changing nature of Spanish society? 

ALBARES: First of all, we were and we are all very proud of our women’s national team in soccer. I was with my kids seeing the final. And we were all with our Spanish team T-shirt there. And the revolution, as you have put it, that came out in the next few days show what’s the face of the Spanish society. And it’s a society that believes in gender equality, that promote it, that doesn’t accept any more certain things that maybe a few decades ago were acceptable, or people had to accept even if they didn’t like. Enough was enough. That was the motto all during those days. 

TREVELYAN: Foreign Minister Albares, thank you so much for that. 

Now I’d like to open up the question-and-answer session. I’d like to invite members, both in person and on Zoom, to join our conversation with their questions. And just a reminder, this meeting is on the record. And we’ll start with a question for Foreign Minister Albares from here in the room. Who would like to ask? Don’t be shy. Sir. Perhaps if you could just say who you are, that would be very helpful. Thanks. 

Q: Sure. Adam Silverschotz. I’m a private investor. 

Would love to hear your thoughts on Spain’s relationship with China across two fronts. One, you talked about how this a special time for Spanish-Latin American relations to flourish. You know, Latin American economies doing well, kind of bifurcated U.S.-China context. And then vis-à-vis Europe, you have Chinese EV imports to Europe skyrocketing. I think in 2020 they were up twenty times, versus 2021. And Spain’s a large manufacturer of autos. So just talk about kind of your kind of competing constituencies and how you navigate the relationship with China in that context. 

ALBARES: There are several aspects in your question. The first, China’s a great power, whether you take it on population, economy. It’s a permanent member of the Security Council, so absolutely required to keep peace in the world, and very especially nowadays in Ukraine. So that’s a first approach that we do to China. When we talk with the Chinese authorities, we always ask them to help us, to use their influence on Russia, or even personally on Vladimir Putin, to bring peace to Ukraine as fast as possible. 

When it comes to trade, what do we ask? We ask China what we ask to all countries in the world, a level playing field. That’s what we want, a level playing field for our companies. That our companies are welcome in China, as they are welcome in Europe. And when it comes to Latin America, we have bilateral relations with Latin America. And we don’t look about what third countries do. We don’t do triangular operations, if we can call it that way. Latin America is too important for us. I don’t think that anyone from Latin America feels foreigner in Spain and no Spainard feels foreigner in Latin America. We have even a community, the Ibero-American community, within which we have our own dialogue. 

TREVELYAN: Thank you so much, Prime Minister. 

Do we have another question from within the room? Sir. 

Q: Thank you very much. 

The moderator prompted you, Honorable Minister, on the issue of climate. And you said that we have to do more, we have to fund more. But it’s very clear that governments don’t have the money to do it or, frankly, the will to do enough. And the private sector could do far more, but the two are not really sympatico or working to kind of leverage each other. What have you heard in the meetings this week that makes you more optimistic about the future, which you have referred to as we’re leaving—that we will be leaving to our children and our grandchildren? Thank you. 

ALBARES: Unfortunately, what makes me more optimistic in the fight against climate emergency this week, from our debates, is that everyone understand that we are really, really, really close to catastrophe. And everyone acknowledges the thing is so bad that we cannot wait any longer. So if we can put it that way, maybe if some people don’t do it by conviction, I have the feeling that they will do it out of selfishness, because at the end is our own lives that are at risk. 

TREVELYAN: But the question was saying that governments don’t have the money. So how is it going to happen? 

ALBARES: Once again, as I was saying to the previous question that we were discussing, there are countries that will not be able to do it without international finance. It’s impossible for some countries. And we can do it. We can mobilize the correct amount of money to fight against this climate change. In Europe, it’s very clear. We have set target to have a carbon neutral economy in 2050. And we are moving towards that. European countries and European Union, we are ready to mobilize. We are going to Emirates soon, for COP-28. That’s an excellent forum and an excellent opportunity for everyone to commit and to have this north and south dialogue. I cannot speak on behalf of every country in the world, but in what concern Spain and European Union, we are ready. We are ready to make the effort and to put the finance. 

TREVELYAN: Thank you. 

And we have a question—a remote question. Let’s listen in for that. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Patrick Duddy. 

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. Thank you very much for joining all of us today. I’m a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, and former deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. 

I’m struck by the fact that you define the challenge of the Ukrainian-Russian war in much the same way that our own administration does. But I’m also struck by the fact that virtually none of the countries of the Global South have associated themselves with efforts to repulse the Russians. I would be particularly interested in hearing if you have had conversations with any of the countries of Latin America about their position on the conflict. And if you see any hope for marshaling support for the international effort to support Ukraine. 

TREVELYAN: Excellent question. 

ALBARES: Of course, I’ve had many conversations on Ukraine with countries of Latin America, with our brothers from Latin America. And I always explained them three things. The first is, this is a war in Europe, but this is not a European war. This is a war that involves everyone because the principles, the most basic principles of the United Nation(s) Charter, are at stake. This second thing, when I have conversation with them, almost no one challenges that we are in front of an unjust and an illegal war. The differences come when some of them, out of good faith, they say because this is a horrible war we have to put an end to this war no matter how. And I always explained them, that an unjust war cannot end with an unjust peace. That how we end this war, it matters completely. And that a just peace is a just within the principles of United Nation(s) Charter. 

And the third thing is we have also to understand that the spillover of the social and economic consequences of this war affects many countries that are already very weak. And we have to be there to help them, to help them when there is food inflation tension, when there is an energy supply tension, with our development cooperation programs. And that’s very, very important. They don’t have to feel—and that’s what we try our policy towards Latin America, also towards Africa. That, of course, we care and we put a lot of money and a lot of diplomatic effort to barge grain. But we don’t do it in detriment to what we do with them. 

TREVELYAN: Did you have a follow-up, Ambassador Daddy, for that? OK, we’ve lost him. Thank you very much. 

Another? Sir, at the front. 

Q: Jean Monier from McKinsey. 

You know, we talk about climate. Many of us that attended climate week found it very disappointing. But here in the U.S., we have IRA. We have—you know, we are funneling a huge amount of money for climate transformation. Why can’t Europe get an IRA? 

ALBARES: Europe has a very clear target on climate change. And for many years, and we must remember that if the Paris agreements even fall down and if we are able still to have the Paris agreement at the forefront, it’s only for one reason: Because Europe was there when everyone else, the United States as well at that time, was putting it down. So we have our own way to fight climate change and to help others. And it has proven very efficient so far. And for several years, it was the only way that existed in the world. 

TREVELYAN: Very good. 


Q: My name is Ethan. I’m an assistant editor at Foreign Affairs. 

I’m curious. Some NGOs have been alleging that the EU engages in refoulement, or de facto refoulment, with refugees from Libya, returning them back to the Coast Guard. So I’m curious, in your view, I think what do you think should change or it remain the same with the EU’s approach to migration in the Mediterranean. And what should Spain be doing? What’s Spain’s role? What role should— 

ALBARES: Sorry, I haven’t quite heard. 

TREVELYAN: I think the question was, so NGOs are alleging that that refugees from Libya are being turned away? Was that the question? 

Q: That’s the question, yes. So I guess what do you—how do you think the EU’s approach toward migration in the Mediterranean should remain consistent or change? 

ALBARES: It’s not only my opinion, it’s the Spanish government opinion, we need a humane and responsible policy towards migrants. And we have to do it in European agreement. So we have to make sure that we are responsible with our borders, and that people go through regular migration scheme, and human rights of the migrants, even, of course, human rights of irregular migrants, has been respected all the time. And that’s the way Spain is doing it. And as I was saying, we have to be very clear on this. There are people that need our protection. And therefore, right of asylum must be there. It’s part of European societies, on how we view migration. 

Then there is irregular migration. And unfortunately for the irregular migrants, they must return at some point to their countries. But there must be also channels of regular migration, because the greatest incentive to not have irregular migration is to have channels of regular migration, at the end of the day. 

TREVELYAN: I think the Greek Coast Guard in particular are regularly accused of turning people away who are rightful migrants. What would you say to that? 

ALBARES: Well, I cannot speak on behalf of the Greek government. What I can tell you is that the Spanish authorities always respect human rights of any migrant, and that European Union policy it’s always respectful of their human rights. And in must be so. 

TREVELYAN: We have another question remotely, which will take. Thanks. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Mansoor Ijaz (sp). 

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Foreign Minister. 

Speaking of migrants and immigration in general, can you give us an idea of how your golden visa program has worked in Spain? Something which we’re actually, as a family, thinking of taking advantage of. But I’m just curious about how you’ve seen the type of people, the kind of people that have come through, and how you’ve seen the benefits to Spain coming from that. Thank you. 

TREVELYAN: Perhaps you could explain what the golden visa system is, Foreign Minister, for those who don’t know. 

ALBARES: The golden visa, it’s a type of visa meant for investors in which if you invest a certain amount of money, you can have a visa to Spain. It’s a program that started about a decade ago, and it has allowed certain people that want to invest and to live in Spain to do it. Of course, we have withdrawal this possibility, for instance, for Russians after the Russian aggression to Ukraine. So far, I’ve never heard complaints about this visa program, neither from the Spanish public opinion nor from the people that have applied for that visa. 

TREVELYAN: Sounds like you have another person interested in it. 

Madam, in the white jacket. Thanks. 

Q: Hi, Jessica with Council on Foreign Relations. 

I was wondering if you could comment on Spain’s—going back to the Ukraine issue—I was wondering if you could comment on Spain’s position on Ukraine joining NATO. What timeline does Spain prefer and what conditions are necessary for that? 

ALBARES: Well, this issue was discussing the Lithuanian summit. I was there. President Zelensky was there as well. The decision was taken a long time ago, in the summit in Romania, if I don’t mistake, 2008. So it’s very clear and the wording is there. We have to realize the complicated situation of Ukraine. We are talking about a country at war. But the engagement was already taken and hasn’t been withdrawn. 

TREVELYAN: Isn’t there a big NATO birthday next year? Is it the seventy-fifth birthday of NATO? 

ALBARES: Absolutely. And we’ll be here in the United States. 

TREVELYAN: Right. And is that an occasion at which Ukraine could be—more of a timetable could be laid out for Ukraine’s accession? 

ALBARES: Well, I think that a decision like that—I mean, it wouldn’t fit to an anniversary or not. It’s more about the situation in which Ukraine finds itself right now. What I hope is that when that anniversary arrives, Ukraine will be again a sovereign, independent country in peace, 

TREVELYAN: Indeed. Madam. 

Q: This may seem a little off the wall, but there are a number of reports that Atlético is for sale. And that would mean a foreign buyer, a non-Spanish buyer. The English are getting used to this, but how would that go down in Spain? And how would the government feel about that? 

TREVELYAN: Can you talk about the significance of Atlético? 

Q: Atlético is the second-largest soccer—football—team in Spain. (Laughter.) 

TREVELYAN: Thank you. 

ALBARES: (Laughs.) It’s the team that I support. (Laughter.) You know, the knowledge of a minister of foreign affairs doesn’t go as far as to know about the internal life of football clubs. (Laughter.) So it’s the first bit of information that I have— 

TREVELYAN: But, as a fan, how does this make you feel? 

ALBARES: But I was born in Madrid. I support Atlético Madrid. And, of course, I wish Atlético Madrid to be in Madrid all the time. I didn’t know about this. I haven’t—I have never heard even about that, this possibility. 

TREVELYAN: Shock in the ranks of Atlético fans, clearly. 

ALBARES: But I will check right away. (Laughter.) Just in case. 

TREVELYAN: Any other questions not about the sale of Atlético. Sir. (Laughter.) 

Q: Thank you. David Nachman, retired lawyer now teaching at the Yale Law School. 

Many commentators ascribe the rise of nativist right-wing sentiment in this country to the failure of neoliberalism to deliver fruits to—actually, the failure of neoliberalism insofar as income inequality has risen so much, and so much of our industrial working class feels left behind by the changes in modernity. Is this something relevant to the European situation, insofar as the rise of right-wing parties are concerned? Do you—what is your theory as to the rise over the past ten, twelve years of that sentiment in Europe? And what concrete economic steps is the European Union doing, qua a union, to address the fundamentals in a way that will counter the rise of right-wing sentiment? 

ALBARES: Yeah, I agree a lot what you just said. And there are several things. In order to have democracy, you need to have social cohesion. It’s impossible to have democracy without social cohesion. The more the gap, the income gap, increases, the more tension you put in democracy. And then you allow the extreme right-wing forces, populist forces, to go there and to give, I have this solution, the easy solution, for you. Once again, going back—and I think that’s why European Union is leaving a very challenging time, a turning point, but at the same time a very good time for European building. It’s because anyone in Europe realizes and remember how Europeans, we’ve tackled the financial crisis, and how we have tackled COVID and Ukraine and aggression.  

And we have realized that when we mutualize benefits and cost, when we are together, when we show solidarity, not only it’s good for every single citizen, but it’s good for European Union in the way that we get faster and in better shape out of the crisis. And the social model makes that at the end the market is not an end for us in Europe. It’s a means. A means of redistribution, a means of getting closer to the all benefits to all citizens. But, yes, to go back to your question, not only it gives fuel to extreme right-wing parties, it is that democracy needs social cohesion. Without cohesion in our societies, it’s very hard to have a real democracy. 

TREVELYAN: How would you assess the strength of the extreme right politically in Spain currently, Foreign Minister? 

ALBARES: Well, in the last election they got a little bit more than thirty-six. They went down. But it’s a political force. And what’s really worrying in Spain, it’s, of course—of course, what’s—the extreme right is a cancer in Spain and in Europe. But the real problem in Spain is that the right-wing party has copy/paste the methods and the way of doing politics of the extreme right, and is willing to do alliances and coalition governments as soon as they can. In the last regional election—and, you know, Spain is a very decentralized country in which regions are very powerful. They have—they collect taxes, they have their own parliament, their own governments. Everywhere where the right-wing party has been able to do it, it has made a coalition with the extreme right, accepting all the priorities and principles of the extreme right. And if they could have done it, we would have today a government with extreme right and extreme right minister in the government of Spain. Fortunately, they have zero chance of doing it. 

TREVELYAN: Interesting. Any more questions from the floor? No. Do we have—do we have any other questions on Zoom either? No? Well, in that case, I will have to ask one of my own while everybody regroups. 

But, Foreign Minister, I’m just interested to know, what was your—you know, your sense of the world order this week. You get—you’re in a unique position. You have all these meetings, these huddles. You see world leaders. If you—last year was so febrile. It was shortly after the invasion of Ukraine. But this year, how did it seem to you? 

ALBARES: There are two issues that have been around the table the whole week. One has been the Sustainable Development Goals. Anything related to multilateral and international finances, climate change, all those issues. And in all those issues, I felt that there is political will. We want to advance it. And we know that to do it multilaterally is the good way of doing it. And then unfortunately, one more year, the other issue has been Ukraine, the Russian aggression, anything around fighting impunity in Ukraine. And unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, which means that United Nation(s) has a little bit, to be diplomatic, the hands tied on this. And this is really heartbreaking for me to see. 

TREVELYAN: What do you think that does to the credibility of the U.N. Security Council? It’s still the permanent members are still the victims of World War Two, the Security Council has resisted expanding, and the fact that the council is supposed to ensure international peace and security and yet an aggressor is sitting on it. Does this undermine the credibility of the world body? 

ALBARES: Certainly. And, at least, we could—the least we could say is that we have to reflect what to do about this. This is a situation that is completely unacceptable. Spain has been part of the reflection for many, many years about how to make Security Council more representative of today’s world. Because it was—it is a reflection of the world of 1945, and things have changed. But I think that the situation in Ukraine has added a new layer. We cannot allow that a permanent member of the Security Council, whose main responsibility is peace and security around the world, openly violates and gets away with it. And a lot of the reflection around crime of aggression, creating a code to judge the war crimes in Ukraine. It’s also about that. 

TREVELYAN: It is—it’s complicated. 

On the climate change issue, Barbados’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley has proposed this Bridgetown Initiative to reform global financing. And Barbados, of course, is a country which is very much at risk from high sea levels and hurricanes, and then would have to take on greater debt in the event of extreme weather. Do you think the Bridgetown Initiative, which would essentially reform the way the IMF and the World Bank lend, what chance do you think it has? 

ALBARES: I think, I mean, it could be that initiative, or we could work around initiatives, that could meet the same objective. What’s important, and there have been several questions about it today, we all know today what we have to do. And we all know what we really have to avoid, unless we want to go to catastrophe. So about that, more or less, we have a consensus. Now it’s how to reach it. A part of reaching those targets, a big part of that, is to find the right amount of money and finance for countries that simply they cannot meet the targets if they have to do it with their own means. So yes, of course. Of course, it’s in the good direction, the initiative. 

TREVELYAN: And how confident do you feel about the COP-30 negotiations? 

ALBARES: Oh, it’s a complicated question, because every time I have big hopes on COP, and then at the end I say we could have done better. I cannot speak on behalf of every country of the planet. I only can speak on behalf of Spain. Definitely in Spain once again, as we are doing in every COP, we are going to put everything at the stake to try to go as fast and as far as possible. 

TREVELYAN: Thank you. And we have a question—a remote question. Let’s listen in. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Mai’a Cross. 

Q: Hi, I’m Mai’a, professor of political science at Northeastern University. 

And I’m aware that Spain very recently created its own space agency and has also signed on to the Artemis Accords with the United States. I was wondering if you could say a little bit about what Spain’s goals are in terms of space—the space industry or space exploration? 

TREVELYAN: Great question. 

ALBARES: Very quickly, yes, we created our national agency. And when we visit with President Biden in the White House, that was one of the outcomes, this agreement also with NASA. We are very much aware that the future is in space. And that a lot of the challenges that we are finding today could have a solution or a partial solution thanks to the space. And we want to be part of global solution. And therefore, we feel that creating the national agency, cooperating with NASA, it’s part of developing our part to be part of that global solution and exploration of the space. 

TREVELYAN: I saw with my son the other night, the Starlink satellites in the sky, which is an extraordinary sight. I’ve never seen that before. Are—is satellite technology part of Spain’s interest in this space program? 

ALBARES: Of course. And we have launched several satellites. And we want to develop that more. I mean, we have been talking about things that happen here, on the Earth. And, of course, that’s where our everyday life happens. But there is a lot of there in the space. And definitely the future, it’s also in the space. 

TREVELYAN: Well, we’ve seen the extent to which Elon Musk has been, in effect, controlling what the Ukrainians can do via Starlink in the war. It’s fascinating. 

Well, Foreign Minister Albares, thank you so much for joining us. We are privileged to have heard the perspective from Spain and from the heart of Europe. And we wish you safe travels back to Madrid. And thank you for being with us. Thank you. 

ALBARES: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) 


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