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Lifting of lockdown in Spain – full details of all phases for all regions

Full details of Spains four phases to lift lockdown restrictions – plus each regions current status



Full details of Spains four phases to lift lockdown restrictions – plus each regions current status

As all regions of Spain have now sent their proposals to the central government to determine how and if they can move to Phase One of the de-escalation plan from Monday 11 May, this report now also includes updates on the phase status for each region.

As there is a great deal of on-going information, the report is divided into four sections:

  1. Four Phase plan – introduction
  2. The phase status for each region
  3. Rules and measures for each phase
  4. Lockdown in Spain to date

1. Four Phase plan – introduction

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced his governments Plan for the Transition towards a new normality following the Coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday 28 April. It is to take place over four phases.

The prime minister said the plan to relax the restrictions would be gradual, flexible and adaptive. The de-escalation to a new normality officially started on Monday 4 May and will last eight weeks, until the end of June.

In the best-case scenario, this de-escalation phase will take a minimum of six weeks and the maximum duration we want to see is eight weeks for the whole of Spain, said Sánchez. By the end of June, we as a country will have entered into the new normality if the epidemic remains under control.

On Wednesday 6 May, the Spanish Congress also voted to extend the state of alarm lockdown in Spain until 24 May. The lockdown will continue whilst the country also continues with the four phase de-escalation plan of gradually lifting lockdown restrictions.

It is now the fourth extension of the lockdown that first started on 14 March (see Lockdown in Spain to date below).

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez in the Congress on 6 May 2020. (Photo

It is expected that further measures to gradually lift restrictions will be proposed over the coming days in addition to those currently listed below for all phases, depending on each region of Spain.

The four phase plan does not contain exact dates for the reopening of businesses, bars, hotels and restaurants. The de-escalation measures also depend on the on-going progress across the different regions of Spain to combat Coronavirus.

Each region of Spain needs to meet specific epidemiological criteria and the lifting of restrictions will also depend on the ability to maintain sufficient capacity in intensive care unit facilities, in case there is a sudden increase of infections again.

Each region must have the availability or capacity to install between 1.5 and 2 intensive care beds and between 37 and 49 beds for every 10,000 inhabitants within a five-day period.

Each region also needs to have the ability to carry out PCR tests on all suspected cases, and then isolating them and testing all of their contacts.

The governments plan is that each phase of the de-escalation will last for two weeks – yet starting with Phase Zero that will last for a minimum of one week.

Phase Zero started on Monday 4 May. Phase One will start from Monday 11 May. Phases Two and Three will then commence approximately at two week intervals thereafter, depending on the progress for each region. The new normality is expected from 25 June.

Schools will not reopen until September – but there could be additional learning support provided beforehand.

The central government in Madrid, in coordination with the regions, will have the final decision on when each of Spains regions and provinces can move towards each next phase. It means that the regions of Spain will move at different speeds.

Each region of Spain sent a proposal to the central health ministry this week in order to determine whether it should move to Phase One on Monday 11 May, and under what conditions (see below for details per region).

The Health Ministry will study the applications and try to reach a timetable agreement with each region, although the ministry will have the final say. The same process will take place for later moving to Phase Two or Three.

In section 3 below, we summarise the main measures that will be relaxed across Spain during each phase, subject to how each region or province manages with its progress in containing any further spread of Coronavirus. We are updating this information as soon as any new measures are officially announced.

Please note: at the moment, more official relaxing of restrictions to allow further passengers in private cars and other non-freight vehicles will come into effect from Monday 11 May, during Phase One (see below), and depending if the region has moved to that phase.

Important: the general rule for driving stipulated at the start of the state of alarm lockdown on 14 March was that only one person (the driver) could travel to buy essential products such as food, medicine or petrol. It seems this measure was interpreted differently across different regions – with some relaxing by the authorities to allow another passenger in the private vehicle if for essential reasons (to help care for an elderly or vulnerable person, for example).

At Spain in English we understand this to still be the rule during this current Phase Zero. Where a second passenger is allowed, and if that passenger does not live in the same household as the driver, then they must wear a face mask. The restrictions for private vehicles change further for Phase One (see below).

ALSO READ: The new restrictions at Spains airports, ports and land borders

Madrid skyline (Florian Wehde / Unsplash)

2. The Phase Status for each Region

Here we give details of the phase status for each region, as well as updates as to when that region might move from one phase to the next. We also include the Coronavirus data for each region that we publish separately in our daily reports.

Please note: Spain has 17 Autonomous Communities (regions), each with its own regional government. These regions are divided into provinces (although some regions are one province only regions). Each province is further divided into municipalities, each with its own local council.

If the government states that citizens can only move within their province during the further relaxing of restrictions during Phase One (see below), it means between the municipalities of that province and not across the whole region.

The exact timing of the lifting of restrictions could also differ not only within each region or province, but also for each city or town. Readers should check with their local authorities for further information on what is permitted and when, as the enforcement of measures might differ from one municipality to the next.

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Latest Phase Status for each Region

All of Spains regions have now sent their proposals for the next phase of the de-escalation plan to the central Health Ministry.

Most regions have requested to now move from Phase Zero to Phase One, effective from Monday 11 May. The Health Ministry will have the final say on each region and it is expected to announce the decisions on Friday or Saturday.

The Spanish government initially set out plans for the de-escalation of restrictions to be carried out by province. However, Catalonia and Castilla y León have proposed that it should be done by healthcare zones. The Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has said he is willing to also study these options.

All data for Coronavirus infections and deaths below is taken from the Spanish Health Ministrys official figures released on 7 May.


Madrid is a one province region. It is the region that has been hit the worst by the Coronavirus pandemic. Latest figures released show that there are 63,870 confirmed cases in the Madrid region (86 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 8,504 people have died.

The latest update is that Madrid has requested to move to Phase One for the whole region. The decision, however, has been controversial and already provoked the resignation of the director of public health for the Comunidad de Madrid regional government, Yolanda Fuentes. [We will update further on this in our news reports].

The regional government in Madrid is governed by the right-wing Peoples Party (PP) with the Ciudadanos (Cs) party. The regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP), had doubts about moving to Phase One, yet vice-president Ignacio Aguado (Cs) insisted that the region was ready. Madrids proposal includes making the wearing of face masks compulsory in closed spaces.

Meanwhile Madrid City Council has announced that several small parks in the capital will reopen on Friday 8 May to provide more space for when people are allowed to go for walks and take exercise.

A total of 170 parks are reopening. The Casa de Campo, El Retiro park and Madrid Río will remain closed.

Barcelona (Willian Justen de Vasconcellos / Unsplash)


Catalonia has four provinces – Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Latest figures released show that Catalonia has 51,190 confirmed cases of Coronavirus (266 new cases in past 24hrs) and where 5,394 people have died.

The Catalan government has wanted to base the decision to move to the next phase not by province but by healthcare zone.

Alba Vergés, responsible for the Catalan health department, said earlier in the week that not all areas of Catalonia would necessarily move through the four phases of the de-escalation plan at the same time.

It has chosen to keep Barcelona, Girona and parts of Lleida in Phase Zero for now. It has instead suggested that three areas move to Phase One on Monday. These include the province of Tarragona and part of Lleida (Terres de lEbre, Camp de Tarragona and Alt Pirineu i Aran), which are at low risk of an outbreak.

There are nine healthcare zones in Catalonia. At Spain in English, we understand that only those with an asterisk* have been proposed to move to Phase One on Monday 11 May:

*Alt Pirineu i Aran in the western Pyrenees, including the Aran Valley.

*Lleida in the western part of Catalonia.

*Camp de Tarragona in the south, but not including the Ebre region.

*Terres de lEbre: in the southernmost part of Catalonia.

Central Catalonia: including the Igualada area, where the biggest cluster of Covid-19 was identified.

Girona: in the northeast, including towns in the Alt Maresme area, such as Calella.

Barcelona: the Catalan capital.

Metro area (north): remaining towns of Maresme county, the two Vallès counties and the cities of Badalona, Sant Adrià de Besòs and Santa Coloma de Gramenet.

Metro area (south): LHospitalet de Llobregat, as well as Alt Penedès, Baix Llobregat and Garraf.

Whilst Barcelona remains in Phase Zero, Barcelona City Council has reopened its beaches to the public from Friday morning.

People are only allowed to walk and practise individual sports – and only during the morning permitted exercise hours, between 6-10 am.

The beaches are reserved for accredited professional athletes during the evening exercise time slots of 8-11 pm. No lifeguards are working, and nor are there any showers or changing rooms available.

Basque Country

The Basque Country has three provinces – Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa. Latest figures show there are 13,041 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the Basque Country (33 new cases in past 24hrs) and where 1,383 people have died.

Health authorities there have said the whole region meets all requirements to enter Phase One on Monday.


Andalusia has eight provinces – Sevilla, Córdoba, Jaén, Granada, Huelva, Almeria, Cádiz and Malaga. Latest figures show there are 12,268 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Andalusia (32 new cases in past 24hrs) and where 1,294 people have died.

Andalusia has proposed that all of its provinces move to Phase One, with certain extra requirements for three specific healthcare districts. The regional president has also asked that swimming and sunbathing on the beaches of Andalusia should be allowed from 25 May during Phase Two, instead of in Phase Three, as proposed from the Madrid central government.

Valencia region

Valencia region has three provinces – Valencia, Castellón and Alicante. Latest figures show that there are 10,592 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the Valencia region (55 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 1,303 people have died.

Valencia has proposed that the entire region move to Phase One on Monday 11 May. It has also requested modifications in the timetable for when people can go out to take exercise, due to the warmer weather.


Galicia has four provinces – Lugo, La Coruña, Ourense and Pontevedra. Latest figures show that there have been 9,134 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Galicia (37 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 586 people have died.

Galicia has proposed for the whole region to move to Phase One on Monday.

Castilla y León

Castilla y León has nine provincesLeón, Burgos, Salamanca, Zamora, Soria, Valladolid, Palencia, Ávila and Segovia. Latest figures show that there have been 17,625 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Castilla y León (105 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 1,864 people have died.

Castilla y León has also proposed that the decision to move to Phase One should be decided by healthcare zones. The last news was that only 26 of its 247 healthcare zones meet the requirements to move to the next phase. [We will update with further details when we have them].

Castilla La Mancha

Castilla La Mancha has five provinces Guadalajara, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Toledo and Albacete. Latest figures show that there have been 16,184 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Castilla La Mancha (40 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 2,677 people have died.

Castilla-La Mancha has proposed that the entire region moves to Phase One on Monday. They have also proposed changes in the timetable for walks due to the weather.

Canary Islands

Canary Islands has two provinces – Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Latest figures show 2,235 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the Canary Islands (4 new cases in past 24hrs),and where 144 people have died.

The islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa in the Canary Islands, are already in Phase One.

The Canary Islands government has asked for the entire region to move to Phase One on Monday.


Murcia is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 1,501 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Murcia (3 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 137 people have died.

Murcia has requested the entire region move to Phase One on Monday. It has also asked for a change to the timetable for when children take walks, due to the weather.


Aragón has three provinces – Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel. Latest figures show there are 5,258 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Aragón (27 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 800 people have died.

Aragón has requested that the entire region move to Phase One on Monday.

Balearic Islands

Balearic Islands is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 1,929 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the Balearic Islands (8 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 201 people have died.

The island of Formentera in the Balearic Islands is already in Phase One.

The regional government has now proposed that Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca all move to Phase One on Monday.


Extremadura has two provinces – Badajoz and Cáceres. Latest figures show there are 2,877 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Extremadura (12 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 467 people have died.

Extremadura has requested that the whole region moves to Phase One on Monday.


Asturias is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 2,326 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Asturias (16 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 292 people have died.

Asturias has requested that the whole region moves to Phase One on Monday, with a further rural area moving on directly to Phase Two.


Navarra is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 4,983 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Navarra (17 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 480 people have died.

Navarra has proposed that the whole region moves to Phase One on Monday.


Cantabria is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 2,220 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Cantabria (7 new cases in past 24hrs) and where 200 people have died.

Cantabria has proposed that the whole region moves to Phase One on Monday.

La Rioja

La Rioja is a one province region. Latest figures show there are 3,986 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in La Rioja (6 new cases in past 24hrs), and where 338 people have died.

Cantabria has proposed that the whole region moves to Phase One on Monday.

Ceuta and Melilla

The cities of Ceuta and Melilla located in North Africa are also both one province regions. Latest figures show there are 109 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Ceuta (no new cases in past 24hrs), and where 4 people have died. Melilla has 119 confirmed cases (no new cases in past 24hrs), and where 2 people have died.

Both cities have proposed to move to Phase One on Monday. They have also have called for connections with the Iberian peninsula to remain closed.

2. The rules, regulations and measures for each phase

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (

Phase Zero – started Monday 4 May

Phase Zero is the preparation phase for the de-escalation – and is currently underway. It included allowing children out for daily walks and exercise from Sunday 26 April. It also included adults being allowed out for daily walks and exercise from Saturday 2 May.

There are set time slots for when people can leave their homes in towns with over 5,000 residents. Full details of when adults are allowed to take walks and exercise are published in Spains Boletín Oficial de Estado (BOE). Please also see further below.

New measures during Phase Zero

Face masks & public transport

New measures have been introduced by the Spanish government for this Phase Zero and also published in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE).

From Monday 4 May, it became compulsory to wear face masks on all public transport in Spain. The Spanish government has stated that it plans to hand out 14m face masks at major transport hubs during this week.

On public transport where all passengers have to be seated, no more than half of the seats should be occupied. On buses, the row directly behind the driver must remain empty.

On buses and metro carriages with standing space, the rule is that only half of seats may be used and there should only be a maximum of two standing riders per square metre.

From Monday restaurants and cafés in Spain were also allowed to open only for people to collect food, or for a takeaway delivery service.

Some businesses such as bookshops, hardware shops, hairdressers and workshops are also now reopening, but for visits by appointments only. Only one customer can be served by one employee at a time.

Many regions are permitting some stores of up to 400 metres in size to reopen – but for customers with an appointment only.

Purchases (not including food and other essential items) should be made within each persons municipality of residence. However, in smaller towns and where a certain item is not available, trips to nearby areas are permitted.

Establishments have to be cleaned twice a day, all work uniforms washed after their use, and bathrooms cannot be used unless essential. Fitting rooms have to be cleaned after each use.

Preference hours at these establishments is being given to people aged over 65 in Spain. They will have preference (but not exclusivity) between 10am and 12 noon, and from 7pm to 8pm. There will be restrictions on how many people can access the establishments at any one time. Please call or check online the establishments you want to visit for further details.

Restrictions for professional sports have also been lifted from Monday 4 May. Individual training sessions is now allowed, without time limits. Players in professional leagues are able to train individually at their clubs.

Athletes designated as high-performance by the Superior Council for Sports may train individually in the open air in their municipality. They may also access natural areas required for their activity, such as the sea, rivers or reservoirs. There is no limit on training times and coaches are allowed to accompany them. An additional person can also be in attendance in the case of paralympic sports.

Renovation and building work on private homes and business locations is now allowed again. This activity is only permitted if workers and residents or employees do not interact, either by having exclusive working areas or fixed time schedules for the construction workers.

Walks & physical exercise

Time slots for walks and exercise.
Time slots for walks and exercise.


Officially, walks for adults should be taken between 6am-10am or between 8pm-11pm. Two adults are allowed to take walks together, once a day during those times – but with no maximum time set for the period of walking. Adults should not walk further than a one kilometre radius from where they live.

Adults who do not live together have been told to maintain social distancing (a minimum of two metres) with others they see whilst out walking. People must not congregate in groups, and the walks and exercise must be within their own municipality of residence. Adults must not drive to a location to then commence a walk.

Those needing assistance or to be accompanied during walks, as well as those aged over 70, are allowed to take their walks between 10am and 12 noon or between 7pm-8pm.

In towns with under 5,000 residents, people are now allowed to take walks and exercise between 6am and 11pm. There are around 7,000 towns and villages in Spain with less than 5,000 inhabitants, representing approximately 12% of the population.

Physical exercise

All kinds of sports (jogging, cycling, skating) are also allowed during the same time periods as walking, as long as they are practised individually. This means that no team or group sports are allowed – yet two people can jog or cycle alongside one another, maintaining social distancing if they do not live together.

The distance restrictions of one kilometre from home do not apply to individual exercise activities, as long as people remain within their municipality. Sports facilities and gyms remain closed.

Physical activity must be carried out in a continuous manner avoiding unnecessary stops on roads or in areas of public use, it is stated in the BOE. If a stop must be made, it must be strictly for the time necessary.

Those people practising individual sports activities must also not drive to any location to start the activity.

Beaches and water sports

Most beaches remain closed in Spain, but some are open for walking and running on the sand. Some coastal municipalities are also allowing people to swim, and use paddle and surfboards, as well as kayaks – but readers should check with their local authorities as to what is allowed in their own area. The tweet shown below from the town council in Sitges (Barcelona), for example, states that beaches there are already open for sports, but that lying on the sand and sunbathing are not yet allowed at this stage.

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Storm Filomena: Spain sees ‘exceptional’ snowfall




Storm Filomena has blanketed parts of Spain in heavy snow, with half of the country on red alert for more on Saturday.

Road, rail and air travel has been disrupted and interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the country was facing “the most intense storm in the last 50 years”.

Madrid, one of the worst affected areas, is set to see up to 20cm (eight inches) of snow in the next 24 hours.

Further south the storm caused rivers to burst their banks.

Four deaths have been reported so far as a result of Filomena. Officials said two people had been found frozen to death – one in the town of Zarzalejo, north-west of Madrid, and the other in the eastern city of Calatayud. Two people travelling in a car were swept away by floods near the southern city of Malaga.

As snow fell on Madrid on Friday evening, a number of vehicles became stranded on a motorway near the capital.

The city’s Barajas airport has closed, along with a number of roads, and all trains to and from Madrid have been cancelled.

Firefighters were called in to assist drivers who had become stuck. In some areas the military were called in to help clear roads.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez urged people to stay at home and to follow the instructions of emergency services. King Felipe and Queen Letizia took to Twitter to urge “extreme caution against the risks of accumulation of ice and snow”.

The country’s AEMET weather agency said the snowfall was “exceptional and most likely historic”.

A number of people were seen making the most of the snowy scenery, walking through Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square.

Large parks in Madrid have since been closed as a precaution, AFP news agency reports.

One man was pictured skiing along the Gran Via, the capital’s famous shopping street.

In Cañada Real, the largest shanty town in western Europe, residents were seen creating a bonfire to keep warm.

The cold weather is set to continue beyond the weekend with temperatures in Madrid predicted to hit -12C on Thursday.


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Spain, UK reach ‘preliminary agreement’ that will see an end to the border with Gibraltar




The border that separates Gibraltar from La Línea de la Concepción, which is known in Spanish as La Verja and was closed for 13 years (1969 to 1982), will cease to exist in six months’ time. Spain and the United Kingdom have reached a “preliminary agreement” to avoid the British Overseas Territory from becoming a hard border of the European Union. The two delegations, headed by the Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya and her British counterpart Dominic Raab, were negotiating the deal late into Wednesday night, with just hours to go before Brexit becomes a reality, and the United Kingdom definitively leaves the European Union at midnight tonight.

According to the Spanish minister, who gave a press conference today from La Moncloa, the prime ministerial palace, Gibraltar will be joining the Schengen area, a European free-travel zone that is made up of 26 countries (22 from the EU, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein), meaning that the border to enter the British Overseas Territory will no longer be at La Verja, but rather at Gibraltar’s port and airport.

During the so-called “implementation period,” which will last for four years, these border controls will be headed up by the European border agency Frontex, but Spain will be responsible for the Schengen rules being observed in Gibraltar. That means that the European agents will have to render account to the Spanish authorities regarding who is permitted to enter the area and the policy of conceding visas. Anyone traveling to Gibraltar from Spanish territory will not require a passport, but British arrivals will, given that the United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen area.

The deal, which sources from La Moncloa described as “historic,” has been subject to negotiations between Spanish and British delegations since June, with Gibraltarian representatives forming part of the latter. But a final sprint was needed to get it across the line ahead of the Brexit deadline. The text has already been sent to Brussels and must now be enshrined in a treaty between the UK and the EU, given that the European Commission is the competent authority on the issue. The deal would not have been possible had Spain not managed to secure a veto over the future relationship with Gibraltar during the Brexit negotiations.

The Spanish foreign minister highlighted the fact that the measures agreed with the United Kingdom will be adopted “without prejudice to the inalienable claims of both sides in terms of the sovereignty [of Gibraltar], which have been safeguarded.”

While the necessary steps are taken to finalize the treaty, something that is forecast to take six months, “arrangements that are allowed by Schengen to ease the controls at La Verja” will be applied, in order to ensure that mobility (which is already greatly limited due to the pandemic) be “as fluid as possible,” in the words of the minister.

González Laya did not offer details about how Spain would exercise its responsibility over the Gibraltar border, nor whether, after four years, Spanish police would be stationed in the port and the airport of The Rock, as the territory is commonly known. She only went so far as to say that at the end of this period, a round of consultation is planned, and that the role of Frontex is to “assist the Spanish authorities” and to serve as a “confidence builder” – that’s to say, dispel any misgivings on the part of the Gibraltarians.

As well as forming part of Schengen, Gibraltar will be able to benefit from other EU policies, such as a customs regime for the trade of goods, always with the intermediation and support of Spain, and guaranteeing loyal competition in terms of taxation, environmental issues and work relations. This will create a paradox whereby Gibraltar – 96% of whose inhabitants voted against Brexit in the 2016 referendum – could be more integrated in the EU now that it is out of it than when the UK was part of the bloc, given that it was not part of Schengen, nor the customs union or common market.

In theory, the nearly 10,000 Spaniards who work in Gibraltar (two-thirds of the 15,000 cross-border workers, had their access via La Verja guaranteed, even if there had been no deal, provided they figured on a registry that would have let them come and go just by showing an ID card such as the Spanish DNI.

The problem is that a hard border would have seen the end of many of these jobs in Gibraltar, as well as depriving the nearby Spanish population of customers with high spending power. As such, on Monday, the mayors of eight Spanish municipalities in the neighboring area called on the governments in Madrid and London to reach an “urgent and positive” deal that would put the “interests of the citizens above any other aspect.”

For her part, González Laya said on Monday that Spain was willing to “raise La Verja” to facilitate the free circulation of people with Gibraltar, but warned that if there was no deal, it would be “the only place where there was a hard Brexit.”

The Rock was expressly excluded from the Brexit deal reached between the UK and the EU on December 24, meaning that its future was entirely dependent on the results of the negotiations between Madrid and London.

Via a statement, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab celebrated the deal, saying that “working side by side with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, and following intensive discussions with the Spanish government, we reached agreement on a political framework to form the basis of a separate treaty between the UK and the EU regarding Gibraltar.” In the meantime, he continued, “all sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the Transition Period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.” Raab reiterated his government’s firm commitment to “Gibraltar and its sovereignty,” and thanked his Spanish counterpart for her “positive and constructive approach.” He concluded saying: “We have a warm and strong relationship with Spain, and we look forward to building on it in 2021.”

Writing via Twitter, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that the deal was the start of “a new era,” saying that the preliminary agreement will “allow for barriers to be eliminated and to move toward an area of shared prosperity.” He also thanked the negotiators from the Foreign Ministry.

British Prime Minister Borish Johnson also published a tweet on Thursday afternoon, welcoming the deal.

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The Spanish prime minister’s migration journey




Separating the destinies of Abdoul, a 16-year-old from Sierra Leone, and Moroccan Yassin Esadik, 23, is an abyss of two-and-a-half years. The former disembarked from the Aquarius rescue ship in Valencia in June, 2018. The red-carpet treatment rolled out in the port meant there were 600 journalists on site, humanitarian aid and a coordinated administration focused on accelerating the procedures to process the migrants’ arrival.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the end of October, Esadik arrived in the overcrowded Arguineguín dock in Gran Canaria, where migrant arrivals had been accumulating for 20 days. Sandwiches were handed out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there was a lack of water and hygiene, journalists were kept behind a barrier and an overwhelmed system meant that he was unlikely to be able to leave the island until he was deported. It’s not just time that separates the fate of these two young men; nor is it exactly an ideological shift. It is realpolitik.

In the case of Abdoul, a then-unknown humanitarian rescue ship gave Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez the opportunity to declare his intentions to the European Union as soon as he took power in June 2018. The Aquarius was the first ship to become embroiled in a humanitarian crisis due to the closed port strategy of the Italian interior minister at the time, Matteo Salvini. While Europe looked the other way, the vessel was left in limbo for eight days. Implicit in Sánchez’s gesture was the message that Spain could lead the approach of Europe’s southern states to migration, could manage the flows and control borders while respecting human rights. But reality soon chewed up that message and spat it out.

Another incident involving a ship that has long been forgotten showed how quickly Spain ditched this role. In late November 2018, the Alicante fishing boat Nuestra Madre Loreto was left in limbo for 10 days after rescuing 12 migrants off the coast of Libya. Once again, neither Italy nor Malta allowed it to dock, and Sanchez’s government, in contrast with its previous message, tried to resolve the crisis by forcing the ship to leave the migrants in what it considered the closest and safest port – Libya, a chaotic country, according to migration experts, where migrants are extorted and abused. The captain of Nuestra Madre Loreto, Pascual Durá, refused and set sail for the Spanish coast. The crisis was only resolved at the last minute when Malta allowed the boat to dock on the condition that the migrants were subsequently taken to Spain.

Since that incident, there has been a U-turn in Spain’s migration politics. The vast majority of the Aquarius migrants plus those rescued by the Catalan NGO ship Proactiva Open Arms arriving in Spain in 2018 have had their request for legal residency rejected; Spanish rescue boats have been forbidden to trawl the central Mediterranean and the Maritime Rescue service has also had its hands tied. For the time being, the coalition government has agreed not to stop immediate deportation, and the enclosure in Ceuta and Melilla is being maintained and is now being tried in the Canary Islands.

“Spanish migration strategy is more stable than it seems,” says Gemma Pinyol, director of the Instrategies think tank. “There are some changes in the narrative depending on who is in power, but the border control policies, which are the ones that continue to be imposed, haven’t changed that much. We need to take a good look and promote serious debate on migration. We can discuss which model is better or worse, but we must seek a comprehensive mobility policy.”

While Spain has been spared Europe’s migratory crises until recently, over the past two and a half years it has been left to face unprecedented situations practically alone. In 2018, irregular entries rocketed by more than 64,000 and, a year later, the number of asylum applications rose to 118,000, collapsing an already precarious system. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, the Canary Islands is bearing the brunt of the situation, leading to migrant macro-camps such as were set up in the Greek islands.

Thanks to the European Union and its interior ministers, the chance of Spain leading a migration approach of its own has dwindled. “From the Pyrenees down, Europe only cares about two words: secondary migrations,” says a member of the current administration, referring to the obsession with stopping the transit of migrants to the rest of Europe through Mediterranean countries.

In fact it is the demands of European countries to the north and east of the continent that have done much to curb Spain’s early initiative. “There has been a total rejection of what was originally proposed and a lack of leadership,” says a spokesman involved in national immigration policy. “There was a positive, serious, orderly approach; obviously not perfect, but, on paper at least, the line on immigration policy was clear. In practice, it turns out to be something else; you do what [Spain’s interior minister] Fernando Grande-Marlaska says.”

The new migration agreement currently being negotiated in Brussels rules out a solidarity-based distribution of immigrants and instead focuses on border controls, putting aside the debate on legal migration models and an adequate response to the demographic needs of an aging continent. “In Europe, the view of immigration is strictly about limiting and repressing it,” says political scientist Sami Naïr. “There is no prospective concept of what could be a great Mediterranean policy between the two shores, nor a true policy of cooperation. I have been advocating for years that limitation is necessary, but it has to run alongside proposals that offer stability to the populations of the countries of origin.”

Meanwhile, Spain still harbors a certain transformative impulse inspired by Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration José Luis Escrivá, who advocates attracting foreigners to the labor market legally as a way to save the welfare state and mitigate Spain’s the demographic decline. Escrivá is committed to making procedures more flexible, attracting talent and facilitating the inclusion of foreign minors. But the minister is more or less on his own and the impact of these initiatives is slight within the context of the great immigration conundrum. Now, the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered unemployment, complicates policy further. Once again, it is realpolitik.


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