France and Spain


Political relations

The pace of our bilateral institutional relationship has, since 1985, been set by bi-annual French-Spanish meetings (“summits” chaired by the President of the Republic on the French side and the President of the Government on the Spanish side, and High-Level Meetings, chaired by the French Prime Minister), which have helped forge a strong relationship between our two countries. The 24ᵗʰ bilateral summit, held in Paris on 1 December 2014, helped demonstrate our considerable converging positions on means of bringing the eurozone out of the crisis (priority for investment and youth employment, etc.), highlight our shared belief that Europe should finance energy and rail interconnection projects, and illustrate our similar views on the major international issues of the time (Sahel, Syria, Iran).

Visits and meetings

Eight Ministers accompanied the President of the Republic and Prime Minister at the 27 November 2013 summit in Madrid. In December 2014, for the Franco-Spanish summit in Paris, Mr Hollande received Mr Rajoy, who came with 7 Ministers and 2 Secretaries of State. On 4 March 2015, the French President, Spanish President of the Government, Portuguese Prime Minister and European Commission President met in Madrid to chair a Summit on energy interconnections. Lastly, from 2-4 June 2015, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia were received in Paris for their first State visit (initially scheduled for 24-26 March but postponed following the crash of the GermanWings plane carrying some 50 Spanish citizens).

Economic relations

France is Spain’s top economic partner, with annual trade totalling more than €60 billion.

In 2012, France’s trade balance with Spain worsened considerably, with a deficit for the first time of €1.6 billion, having posted a surplus of €6.4 billion in 2007. In 2014 our trade surplus was restored, at €730 million, and 2015 confirmed this upward trend (€915 million). Transport equipment is the main trade between France and Spain, despite regression since 2005; in this area, we have had a deficit since 2007 but this improved considerably (+56.7%) in 2014 (-€1.7 billion, compared to -€2.5 billion in 2013). France has had a trade deficit in the agrifood sector since 1999, having previously produced a comfortable surplus. This deficit was stable compared to the previous year in 2014, standing at €1.4 billion.

The positions of our businesses remain stable since 2010, at around 11% market share, after considerable erosion in the early 2000s, while the market shares of German companies have grown (12.1% in 2014, compared to 11.2% in 2013). France thus remained Spain’s second-largest supplier in 2014, behind Germany, and its leading customer, whereas Spain is France’s third-largest customer (two places higher than in 2013) and sixth-largest supplier.

In 2013, our balance on services posted a deficit of about €2 billion with Spain. The tourism sector is a major component of that. In 2014, six million Spanish tourists visited France, a 12% rise on 2013. The Spanish are the third largest European contingent of visitors to Paris, behind the British and Germans.

There is considerable investment in both directions: France remains the third-largest investor in Spain (behind the UK and USA), with more than 2,000 subsidiaries there employing more than 300,000 people. French companies in Spain stand out through their key roles in certain specific markets like supermarkets, the automobile industry and telecommunications. Meanwhile, Spanish companies have more than 1,300 sites in France and employ more than 55,000 people.

Lastly, concerning the financial sector, French banks are the leading holders of Spanish public debt (5.4% of the total).

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Despite the crisis in Spain, cooperation between our two countries is dynamic and on a large scale in the educational, linguistic and cultural sectors. On 28 March 2015, a satellite of the Pompidou Museum was inaugurated in Malaga, and is emblematic of this cooperation.

The French cultural network in Spain gives us a balanced presence across the country, with six Instituts Français (French Institutes) or satellites (Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Zaragoza, Seville and Valencia) and 20 Alliances françaises. Although French is the second most-taught foreign language, its position remains fragile, as a second European modern language is not compulsory at school.

Educational and language cooperation

Almost 2 million French people are learning Spanish, and 1.3 million Spanish people are learning French. The French school network in Spain is the largest in Europe and third-largest globally, behind Lebanon and Morocco. Spain also has 342 bilingual sections with 27,000 pupils. Moreover, France is the second-largest destination for Spanish students in mobility programmes (more than 6,000 in 2013-2014, neck-and-neck with the UK). In 2008, an agreement on a dual certification at the end of secondary studies (known as the Bachibac Agreement) was signed by the respective Education Ministers. It sets down arrangements for the creation of a curriculum allowing candidates to obtain both the French and Spanish baccalaureates. The intergovernmental framework agreement on linguistic, educational and cultural schemes in schools, signed in Madrid on 16 May 2005, consolidated French bilingual sections.

Scientific and technical cooperation

Cooperation agreements are in place between the major French research and development bodies (e.g. National Centre for Scientific Research – CNRS, National Institute of Health and Medical Research – INSERM, National Institute for Agronomic Research – INRA, and the Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea – IFREMER) and their Spanish counterparts. Collaboration in the framework of CNRS tools concerns 5 international scientific cooperation programmes, 2 associated European laboratories (LEA) and 10 joint participations in European and international research groups (GDRE/GDRI).

Other cooperation

Police cooperation

Police cooperation, and particularly counter-terrorism, continues to produce very good results. The weakness of ETA is the result of arrests in both France and Spain. On 20 October 2011, an ETA communiqué announced a definitive end to its armed activities after 43 years of violence. However, this declaration involved neither the dissolution of the group or the surrender of weapons. The fight against Islamist terrorism is another thrust of our cooperation.

Cross-border cooperation

In cross-border cooperation, interconnections are a key political and economic question for Spain:

  • Rail infrastructure: on the Mediterranean side, the 44-kilometre high-speed rail link between Perpignan and Figueras is a key section of the Madrid-Barcelona-Paris route and was inaugurated in January 2011. Perpignan and Figueras are thus linked by a direct, 8-kilometre cross-border tunnel at Le Perthus, which has enabled a 70% increase in traffic. Lengthening work on the Spanish side has been completed since 2013, and Perpignan is now potentially 50 minutes from Barcelona by train. The inauguration of this high-speed line from Perpignan to Barcelona took place in December 2013. On the Atlantic side, the “Dax-Vitoria” high-speed line is in an advanced construction phase on the Spanish side. The Bordeaux-border section was decided in late March 2012, with the aim of beginning the official inquiry in 2013. However, the French parliamentary report “Mobilité 21” recommended postponing the project’s implementation on the French side beyond 2030.
  • Electrical interconnections: an extra-high voltage cable between Baixas and Santa Llogaia, doubling electricity capacity, was inaugurated by the French Prime Minister and the Spanish President of the Government on 20 February 2015. An extra-high voltage submarine cable is being studied for the Bay of Biscay.
  • Gas interconnections: Spain has a structural gas surplus and needs to re-export the gas it imports from the South and from its 6 LNG terminals (of 16 in Europe) towards the North. On the Atlantic side, work is currently underway to reinforce the Larrau and Biriatou pipelines (in Navarre and the Basque Country) to bring up capacity to 7.5Gm³/year, or the equivalent of 20% of Spain’s consumption. That is three times the exchange capacity in 2010.
  • Maritime highways: the Nantes-Gijon (Asturias) maritime highway, operated by the French company Louis Dreyfus, was inaugurated in September 2010. It saw greater traffic than expected but had to suspend its activities in September 2014. Means are being sought at European level to identify funding that could support the project (which received starter financing for two years). A second maritime highway from Vigo (Galicia) was launched in early 2015 to serve Algeciras, Saint-Nazaire and Le Havre.

Updated: 7 November 2016