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Davos 2023: Special Address by Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain

Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain speaking during the Session "Special Address by Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain" at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2019. Congress Centre - Congress Hall.

Sánchez calls on countries to redouble their commitment to liberal, democratic values and multilateralism. Image: World Economic Forum//Faruk Pinjo

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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez addresses a plenary at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos on Tuesday, January 17.
  • Says the world is facing four main threats: the COVID pandemic, the Ukraine war, and food and energy crises.
  • Says Spain has received more than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees and will do its part to ensure energy security in Europe and food security in developing nations.
  • Calls on leaders to redouble support for democracy, build interconnected, sustainable production chains, and rebuild politically and socially fragmented societies, with a focus on the wellbeing of people.

Coming back to Davos is a sign of a much-longed-for return to normalcy, as are the unmasked faces that I can see in the audience. Yet, today does not feel normal at all, does it? The world is trembling. Many of the certainties that we had just three years ago have now vanished. And the new ones that are supposed to replace them, have not emerged yet. Many citizens feel that something has broken and that the world is heading down a dark path.

There should be no doubt that Putin is the main culprit of this terrible detour. He attacked the rules-based international order, when the world was at such a low point, in the midst of a terrible pandemic. An act of cruelty that speaks only to his own weakness.

But perhaps we should put him aside for a moment and ask ourselves: what about us? Haven't we also made mistakes? Are we doing everything that we can to protect that international order based on openness, rules, and collaboration that Putin is trying to undermine and destroy?

Many international alliances have indeed strengthened after COVID and the invasion of Ukraine –particularly in the realm of defense. But are we not also seeing borders become more closed to both people and goods, and support for many multilateral organizations fade? Are we doing enough to fight inequality and social injustice, and to prevent further autocratic leaders like Putin from emerging? And, what is equally important, are we doing everything in our hands to tackle climate change, or are we using this crisis as an excuse to slow down the green transition?

I believe this to be right moment, and the right place, to ask ourselves these questions. And to realize that, if the answer is “no” to any of them, then it means that we need to wake up. Because there is much at stake. Much more than the performance of our economies on the next quarter.

Our present struggle is not only against Putin or the energy shortage. It is also against fear, mistrust, selfishness, xenophobia, and environmental disaster. And its outcome will define life in the West and beyond for decades to come.

That is why I think that we should do more. That we should use this opportunity to remake and strengthen our international architecture, to redouble our commitment to our liberal and democratic values, and to craft new rules and new leadership that will allow us to effectively overcome the great challenges of our time, such as climate change and inequality.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

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Four threats the world is facing

Since I am giving a speech, the only thing I can offer are words. But words can become something powerful. They can become promises. And here is mine: Spain will step up to the challenge. My country, my government, will be standing at the frontline with those nations committed to fight for a world driven by social collaboration and environmental responsibility, and not by fragmentation and short-termism.

And Spain will do this by actively engaging in the four main threats that the world is currently facing:

First, the pandemic, which unfortunately is not over yet. Spain is the fifth country in the world that has donated more COVID vaccines –more than 70 million doses. And we will keep doing so until countries in the Global South have the same access as those in the north.

Second, we will continue to help Ukraine in its struggle for freedom. Last year, Spain created the largest humanitarian aid package in its history for the Ukrainian people, provided military support worth more than 300 million euros, and received more than 150,000 Ukrainians refugees. This support will not stop until Putin withdraws his troops and Ukraine becomes once again the independent and prosperous country that once was. President Zelenski, we have your back.

Third, the international threat in which Spain will keep its commitment: the energy crisis. Last year my country voluntarily reduced its electricity consumption by 7.5% compared to our historic average, and its consumption of natural gas by 23%, and we have contributed to the European security of supply by increasing exports of electricity and gas to the EU to the limit of our capacity. We did so by doubling our imports of natural gas from overseas. And also by increasing our production of solar energy by 33% compared to the previous year, which makes us the fifth country in the world in wind energy production, and the eighth in renewable energy generation.

Now, we will continue to support our European allies. And we will do so by fostering greater interconnectivity, fair regulations, and clean energy, so this crisis serves to accelerate the green transition, and not to delay it.

In 2023,we will continue increasing our renewable energy production capacity in a significant way, and we will move forward in the construction of the first green hydrogen gas pipeline in the Mediterranean, and we will start building two mega plants of green methanol that will create up to 85,000 jobs and fuel the future vessels of the largest shipping company in the planet.

Spain has outstanding conditions for the development of this kind of energy. That is why we already host 20% of all green hydrogen projects worldwide.

Finally, we will also increase our commitment to food security. As you know, the world faces a global hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions. In just two years, the number of people suffering famine, or living at the brink of it, has increased from 135 million in 53 countries, to 345 million in 82 countries. In many developing countries, people are close to starvation due to shortages. And in many developed ones, many people are struggling to put good food on their table due to escalating prices. We need to act.

Despite its size, Spain is one of the largest food producing countries in the world, and the first organic producer in the EU. As such, we will continue to support the food supply chains. We will increase our agricultural production in balance with the environmental sustainability, and we will foster the development of modern agriculture in developing countries through a number of public and private cooperation projects.

But there is more we can do.

Double support for democracy

The best way to make sure that Putin and his allies don’t succeed in their attempt to destroy the liberal rules and principles that have driven the international order since the end of the Cold War, is to redouble our support to those very rules and principles. Not only with words, but with actions.

That is why Spain has and will continue to increase its support to multilateralism. In times of uncertainty and difficulty like the one we are living in, countries tend to close themselves; to build walls and cut ties from the rest of the world, in the hope that isolation will protect them. But it never does. It only makes them weaker. I am certain that the best way to protect Spain and Spanish citizens is to protect the rest of the world’s population; that global problems can only be solved with global responses.

For this reason, since I became President, Spanish development aid has doubled, from 2,2 billion to 4,4 billion euros a year. And, in the future, it will continue to do so. Spain will go on to support developing countries and multilateral organizations with even greater strength and conviction than it did before, since now they are more necessary than ever. And let me say that this is not only what my government wants. This is what the Spanish citizens demand. Not in vain, according to the latest surveys, they are the most committed citizens in Europe to solidarity among nations.

Sustainable production chains

For the same reasons, we will also continue to advocate for an open and interconnected economy. It is clear that we need to rethink global trade and supply chains. Recent events have reminded us that production costs should not be the only criteria considered when deciding where to locate production chains. There are others, such as security and environmental sustainability.


How is the World Economic Forum ensuring sustainable global markets?

I believe that Europe must recover certain strategic capabilities that it shouldn’t have lost in the first place. Capabilities in key industries, such as defense, health, energy and food. And for this reason, this will be one of the main priorities of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which will take place during the second half of this year.

But, for Spain, ensuring Europe's strategic autonomy does not mean fostering a return to autarchy, nationalism or economic fragmentation. On the contrary. Spain is the 16th largest trading nation in the world, and the second-most visited. Our country has prospered by opening up. And that is what we will continue to do in the future, while we advocate at the same time for an EU more connected with the rest of the world, particularly with our friends in Latin America.

Our present struggle is not only against Putin or the energy shortage. It is also against fear, mistrust, selfishness, xenophobia, and environmental disaster. And its outcome will define life in the West and beyond for decades to come.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Lessons on building resilience from Spain

It seems that 2023 won’t be a good year for the global economy. It will be marked by uncertainty, high inflation, and the stagnation of some of its largest nations. Spain will inevitably suffer some of the effects of this context, but it is also showing magnificent signs of resilience and strength. At this moment, Spain has the highest employment level of its history, it continues to grow above the average of the eurozone, and it registers the lowest inflation rate of the EU.

In fact, all international organizations agree that Spain will be one of the Western economies that will better navigate this period of uncertainty and economic slowdown. And they predict that it will continue to grow and advance in the path of convergence and progress along which it has been advancing for the last thirty years.

We have:

  • a first-class network of physical and digital infrastructures;
  • a well-trained and highly educated work force;
  • a dynamic and cutting-edge private sector;
  • institutional stability;
  • a plan of structural reforms underway, that has already invested more than 43 billion euros from the Next Generation funds.

The global economy needs, today more than ever, reliable partners that can be trusted. And Spain will be one of them.

Fighting back reactionary forces

Supporting economic openness and multilateralism will be crucial to protect the global order that Putin is trying to destroy. But there is one more crucial thing that needs to be done: we have to fight the rotten seeds that Putin has planted in our own countries.

Let's not forget that the Russian autocrat is not alone in his reactionary aspiration of fracturing the world and turning back the clock. He has many allies in Europe. Now they hide their sympathies and connections with Putin, but just a year ago they were visiting him and praising his ways. We must prevent these political forces from reaching the institutions and destroying the EU from the inside.

The threat is very real. Especially in those countries where these far-right forces have the support of mainstream conservative parties, which are opening to them the very doors of government. We will fight them back. With the same determination that the Ukrainians are fighting the Russian forces. But with different weapons: democracy, transparency and effective policies.

And for me, this last point is crucial: it is time to deliver.

Rebuilding fragmented societies

In most Western countries, inequality is rising and social mobility has stalled. Our citizens are losing purchasing power. They are struggling to find a decent job, to buy a proper house, to provide good education for their kids. To many of them it is impossible to save for a well-deserved vacation, let alone to have a decent retirement or a private health insurance. Meanwhile, the number of billionaires keeps growing, and large multinational companies keep increasing their benefits, even at the backs of others.

How can we ask our citizens to put up with inflation a little longer, when some big companies pay zero taxes thanks to the fiscal paradises and the holes in the international regulation that we allow to exist? I am asking you, global elites, to help us change this situation.

A hundred years ago, when the world was still ruled by old aristocracies, it would have been naïve and pointless to do so. But things have changed. Today, many of you come from working- and middle-class backgrounds. You are leaders that have been democratically elected by your citizens; business people that made your own fortune through hard work. And that is why you know that the system is not fair. That is filled with injustices and inequalities.

Focussing on people

That it is time to fix it. It is time that our economy and politics focus again it what really matters: the well-being of the people. Because if they cannot deliver that, what’s the point of protecting them.

My government is committed to this goal. Over the past 10 months, we have devoted more than 45 billion euros of public funds to help citizens and companies deal with the inflationary wave and the energy crisis. We have mobilized all the financial and legal resources of the state to protect them; by cutting taxes, fostering free public transport, providing direct aids to SME and households, and acting on the electricity and the housing markets.

These measures have helped us to reduce inflation by five points in five months and to make this crisis a bit more bearable to many. Thus, we will continue to hold and expand them until prices moderate and decent life becomes affordable again.

The world is facing a major peril, whose threat goes beyond the Russian gas supply or the fate of Ukraine. We all must act to the limits of our capacity. Limits that should not be determined by the scale of our GDP or by old rules that we never approved. It should be set by the needs and rights of our citizens. Their welfare should be the measure of our success. So, let’s deliver.

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