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Spain – Bus crash – Statement by Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (March 20, 2016)

I was extremely saddened to learn of the tragic toll exacted by yesterday’s crash in Spain involving a bus transporting European students on the Erasmus program.

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France and Spain

Political relations

Since 1985, our institutional bilateral relations have been marked by biannual French-Spanish meetings which have allowed our countries to form a close relationship (“Summit” chaired by the President of the French Republic and the Head of the Spanish Government, and a high-level meeting chaired by the French Prime Minister). The 14th bilateral summit, held in Paris on 1 December 2014, helped to highlight our broad agreement on the action to be taken within the eurozone to resolve the crisis (prioritizing investment, youth employment, etc.), to emphasize our shared priorities that Europe could finance energy and rail interconnection projects and to display our agreement on major international current affairs (Sahel, Syria, Iran).

Recent visits and meetings

Eight Ministers travelled with the President of the French Republic and the Prime Minister to the Madrid Summit on 27 November 2013. In December 2014, for the French-Spanish Summit in Paris, Mr Hollande received Mr Rajoy, who was joined by seven Ministers and two Ministers of State. On 4 March 2015, the President of the French Republic, with the President of the Spanish government, the Portuguese Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission travelled to Madrid to chair a summit on energy interconnections. Finally on 2-4 June 2015, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia were welcomed in Paris for their first State visit (following the postponement of the visit initially planned for 24-26 March which had to be cancelled after the Germanwings crash, in which about 50 Spanish nationals were killed).

Economic relations

France is Spain’s number one economic partner, with annual trade of over €60 billion.
In 2012, France recorded a sharp drop in its trade balance with Spain, which for the first time showed a deficit of €1.6 billion, compared with a surplus of €6.4 billion in 2007. The year 2014 saw a return to a surplus of our trade balance (€730 million) and 2015 confirmed this upward trend (€915 million). Despite its fall since 2005, transport equipment represents the largest trade volume between France and Spain. It has been in deficit for France since 2007 but significantly improved (+56.7%) in 2014 (€-1.7 billion compared to -€2.5 billion in 2013). The trade balance of the agri-food sector has recorded a deficit for France since 1999, despite showing a comfortable surplus in previous years. The deficit was stable compared to the previous year, at €1.4 billion in 2014.

The performance of our companies has remained stable since 2010, at around 11% of market share, following a major drop recorded in the early 2000s, while that of German companies (12.1% in 2014 compared to 11.2% in 2013) has increased. France thus remains Spain’s second largest supplier after Germany and its number one customer, while Spain is our third-largest customer (up two places compared with 2013) and our sixth-largest supplier.

In 2013, our balance of services showed a deficit of about €2 billion with Spain. The tourism sector is a major part of this. In 2014, six million Spaniards visited France, an increase of 12% on 2013. Spaniards are the third largest European nationality in Paris after British and Germans.

There is major investment in both directions: France remains the 3rd largest investor in Spain (behind the United Kingdom and the USA), with over 2,000 subsidiaries located in the country, employing 300,000 staff. French companies in Spain particularly stand out in certain specific markets such as retailing, cars and telecommunications due to their dominant market positions. Spanish companies are set up in over 1,300 locations in France, employing over 55,000 people.
Finally, as regards the financial sector, French banks are the main holders of Spanish public debt (5.4% of the total).

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Despite the crisis which has hit Spain, there is vibrant cooperation between France and Spain which is getting stronger every day via major trade in the areas of education, language and culture. A sign of this was the opening of a branch office of the Musée Pompidou in Malaga on 28 March 2015. The French cultural network in Spain is spread evenly throughout the country, with six Instituts français or branch offices (Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Zaragoza, Seville and Valencia) and 20 Alliances françaises. Although it is the second most widely-taught foreign language, the position of French is not yet fully established: it is not obligatory to learn a second European language in school.

Educational and linguistic cooperation

Over 2 million French people are learning Spanish and 1.3 million Spaniards are learning French. The French school network in Spain is the largest in Europe and the third-largest in the world, after Lebanon and Morocco. Spain has over 342 bilingual sections, teaching 27,000 students. Furthermore, France is the second-largest host-country for Spanish study-abroad students (over 6,000 in 2013-2014, on par with the United Kingdom). In 2008, an agreement on issuing a dual diploma certifying completion of secondary education (known as the bachibac agreement) was signed by the Ministers for Education from both countries. It sets out the terms for implementing a programme under which candidates can simultaneously receive the French baccalauréat and the Spanish bachillerato. The intergovernmental framework agreement on language, educational and cultural schemes in schools, signed on 16 May 2005 in Madrid, further consolidated the presence of bilingual French and Spanish sections.

Scientific and technical cooperation

Cooperation agreements link the main French research and development organizations such as the CNRS, INSERM, INRA and IFREMER to their Spanish counterparts. Collaboration within the framework of CNRS tools includes five international scientific programmes, two European Associated Laboratories (EAL) and 10 joint ventures with European or international research groups (GDRE-GDRI).

Other types of cooperation

Police cooperation

Police cooperation, including against terrorism, continues to deliver strong results. ETA is now weak as a result of arrests carried out both in France and Spain. In a press release on 20 October 2011, ETA announced the permanent cessation of its armed activities after 43 years of violence. However, this declaration did not result in the dissolution of the group nor the handover of weapons. The fight against the Islamist threat is another aspect of our cooperation.

Cross-border cooperation

As regards cross-border cooperation, for Spain interconnections are a major political and economic issue:

- Rail interconnections: On the Mediterranean, the 44km high-speed line between Perpignan and Figueras, a key part of the Madrid-Barcelona-Paris line, was opened in January 2011. Perpignan and Figueras are thus directly linked via an 8km cross-border tunnel at Perthus, enabling traffic to be reduced by 70%. In early 2013, extension works on the Spanish side were completed and travel time between Perpignan and Barcelona is now potentially 50 minutes. This high-speed Perpignan-Barcelona line was opened in December 2013. On the Atlantic side, the Dax-Vitoria high-speed line is in the final phases of construction. The Bordeaux-Spanish border route was defined at the end of March 2012, with the aim of launching the public inquiry in 2013.The French parliamentary commission known as “Mobilité 21”, however, recommended postponing the implementation of the project on the French side until beyond 2030.

- Electricity interconnections: an extra high voltage (EHV) line between Baixas and Santa Llogaia which doubled the electricity capacity was opened by the Prime Minister and President of the Spanish Government on 20 February 2015. Plans for an extra high voltage deep-sea line in the Gulf of Gascogne are also being studied.

- Gas interconnections: Spain, whose gas structure is running over capacity, needs to re-export the gas which it imports from the South towards the North via its six LNG terminals (of the 16 in Europe). It is for this reason that on the Atlantic side, reinforcement work is taking place on the Larrau and Biriatou gas pipelines (in Navarre and the Basque Country) to reach a capacity of 7.5 Gm3/year, or the equivalent of 20% of Spanish consumption, representing a tripling of the exchange capacity compared to 2010.

- Motorways of the Sea: the motorway of the sea between Nantes and Gijón (Asturias), operated by French shipowner Louis Dreyfus, was opened in September 2010. It had more users than expected, but had to suspend operations in September 2014. At a European level, resources are being sought to consider financing which will help support this project (which received start-up aid for two years). Another motorway of the sea departing from Vigo (Galicia) began in early 2015, serving Algeciras, Saint-Nazaire and Le Havre.

Updated: 26 February 2016



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