Marc Bassets / Carlos E. Cué
París/ Montauban 15/3/2021
Emmanuel Macron and Pedro Sánchez star on Monday in a summit of great symbolic content for the common history of the two countries, which will have its culminating moment when both visit the grave of Manuel Azaña together in Montauban. It was in this city in the south of France where the last president of the Spanish Republic, ill, exiled, persecuted by the agents of Franco’s Spain, and harassed by Vichy France, died on November 3, 1940 at the age of 60. It will be a gesture of historical significance: the first time that the French and Spanish presidents pay tribute to Azaña in front of a tomb that symbolizes the exile and the persecution of hundreds of thousands of Spaniards at the end of the Civil War.
Sánchez already traveled to this tomb last year with representatives of the Spanish exile and the Government has promoted a large exhibition in the National Library where is located the table where Azaña signed his resignation as president of the Second Republic, and which was inaugurated by the King Felipe VI, in another symbolic gesture of recognition to Azaña by the current head of State. In fact, Sánchez could not inaugurate that exhibition with the King in December, as planned, because he had to maintain a quarantine after having lunched with Macron, who fell ill with Covid-19 shortly after.
The tribute will put an end to a summit – the first Franco-Spanish since 2017, when Mariano Rajoy and François Hollande led the two countries – marked, among other issues, by the differences between Madrid and Paris due to the unilateral closures of border crossings by part of France in recent months. Another sensitive issue for Spain is the European vaccination passport, key to saving the tourist season. And there are also differences: Sánchez is one of the greatest defenders of it but he will have to try to convince Macron, who still does not see it clearly. Vaccination is progressing slowly throughout the EU and in France the data on infections continue to worsen despite the fact that all bars and restaurants are closed and an iron curfew is maintained at 6:00 p.m.
The most tangible result of the meeting, in which the main ministers of both governments will participate electronically and only the leaders will participate in person, will be the signing of the dual nationality agreement, the first that Spain signs with another EU country. The agreement will allow binational citizens to hold French and Spanish passports at the same time. In France dual citizenship is legal; this is not the case in Spain, which until now made it necessary to renounce the French passport if the Spanish was adopted, although binationality was accepted as a real situation in fact it was not covered by law.
Macron and Sánchez have met multiple times since the former came to power in May 2017 and the latter in June 2018, but the traditionally annual summit, held for the twenty-sixth time, had been postponed for multiple reasons, including the successive elections in 2019 in Spain and then the pandemic. The Montauban summit will now consist of a face-to-face meeting between the two presidents, followed by a lunch and finally a plenary session in which the ministers will intervene. For Spain, the four vice presidents and the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Defense, Justice, Transport, Labor, Education and Universities will intervene.
Among the issues they plan to address include, in addition to bilateral issues, the European relaunch plan and energy and digital transition projects, joint defense industrial projects, and the reform of the Schengen area of free movement and the common migration policy. Sánchez also wants to discuss issues related to the large European recovery fund and the possibility of using it for large electrical and rail interconnection projects between the two countries.
One of the most delicate issues is the closure, decided by France, of up to 19 border crossings, a gesture that has caused concern in Spain and in municipalities on both sides of the border. The decision to close the border posts “occurred in a context of the fight against terrorism and in a health context and, in addition, with the desire to control migratory flows, because many migrants enter through Spain and go up to France,” justified the Friday a source from the Elysee Palace, which required anonymity. The summit could address the creation of a joint commission to study the effects of closures on the daily lives of cross-border populations.
“From the Government of Spain we respect the decision of the French Government, but we obviously understand that […] the protection of the free movement of citizens within the Schengen area is an identity principle of the European Union and that the substantial element must be the protection of the external borders of the European Union ”, said last week, in an appearance in the Spanish Senate, the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska. Sources from La Moncloa assure that Sánchez will demand from Macron that the Schengen area is respected and all closed steps are reopened.
The highlight of the day will be the displacement and the photo of Macron and Sánchez in front of the tomb of Azaña, who arrived in Montauban in the summer of 1940 after a tour of France, which had just been defeated by Nazi Germany. Montauban’s election to the summit represents “a way of commemorating […] a common memory, that of the very numerous Spanish republicans who took refuge in France at the end of the Civil War and who, in many cases, joined the the French resistance and contributed to the liberation of France,” said the aforementioned source from the presidency of the French Republic. In La Moncloa they especially emphasize that France has agreed to do the summit in such a symbolic place for Spain and they point out that the Spanish exile in France is still alive 80 years later because there are very important people from the neighboring country who are children or grandchildren of exiles, without going further afield the mayor of Paris, the socialist Anne Hidalgo. The very celebration of the summit in the middle of the third wave in France is a relevant political gesture that demonstrates the special relationship between the two countries and the two presidents, they point out in the Spanish Government.