Interview with Marcos Alonso Alonso, Ambassador Permanent Representative of Spain to the European Union


Ahead of Spain’s upcoming Presidency of the EU, we caught up with Marcos Alonso Alonso, Ambassador Permanent Representative of Spain to the European Union. We asked him about Europe’s responsibility to tackle statelessness and the potential to progress this agenda through Spain’s Presidency, as well as his reflections on the EU’s response to the Ukraine crisis one year on.

Marcus Alonso Alonso
“[…] experiences and testimonies of stateless people make it clear why action is needed.”
- Marcos Alonso Alonso, Ambassador Permanent Representative of Spain to the European Union
  1. Why has Spain more than many other countries been so motivated to address statelessness – recently acceding to the 1961 Convention, and last year introducing a Royal Decree to improve the protection of stateless people – why was it important for Spain to take this action?

Spain is committed to honouring its international and national obligations regarding statelessness. This is motivated by firstly, our own history; secondly, our consolidated multilateralism and international human rights approach; thirdly, a continued caseload on applications of stateless persons in Spain; and, finally, the extraordinary advocacy work carried out by civil society organisations and networks such as the European Network on Statelessness.

Regarding our history, our longstanding ties with certain communities and refugee groups have kept statelessness close to our policies and to our hearts. Article 13 of our Constitution references statelessness, and immediately following the end of Franco’s dictatorship, statelessness became a key element regarding international protection and nationality acquisition schemes in Spain.  Moreover, Spain is a true believer in multilateralism and in an international approach to human rights. Spain is party to most of the international human rights-related conventions, including the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. We consider addressing statelessness to be a key component of human rights protection and promotion.

Spain was among the first countries in Europe to introduce a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) which has handled over 14,000 applications since it was set up two decades ago. The Spanish legal framework on statelessness is robust, providing for a specific statelessness determination procedure with specific guarantees. In March 2022 we passed a Royal Decree which provides access to our asylum reception system for all applicants of statelessness status, thereby fixing a gap in the previous framework. Additionally, the legal instruments on acquisition of Spanish nationality include many provisions to avoid statelessness.

  1. At an event we held in Brussels last October, we screened this short film featuring our stateless changemaker Lynn Khatib. You responded by saying, “it’s obvious but it’s not obvious”. Can you tell us what you meant by this?

First of all, let me thank ENS for the invitation to participate in the October event and reiterate my congratulations to ENS on its 10th anniversary. The advocacy and awareness-raising work that you have been doing over the last decade is impressive, and the #StatelessJourneys campaign and Lynn’s video are good examples of this. My spontaneous response to this video during the event referred to how the experiences and testimonies of stateless people make it clear why action is needed. More action is required to better determine statelessness, to provide safeguards in the nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness and to develop specific programmes to protect vulnerable groups, including children.

  1. We have been repeatedly disappointed that no EU Presidency has prioritised statelessness since Luxembourg secured dedicated European Council Conclusions back in 2015. What opportunities do you see to address statelessness during Spain’s Presidency later this year?

The Spanish Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2023 will be a key moment for EU migration and asylum policy because the rotating Presidencies and the Parliament agreed in September 2022 on a roadmap to conclude the Pact on Migration and Asylum by March 2024. Expectations on Spain, a recognised and openly Pro-European Government, to find compromises and develop a European approach are high.

Spain was particularly supportive of the 2015 Council Conclusions you refer to. However, we must acknowledge that Council Conclusions while important. are non-legislative and non-binding. Therefore, equally important is to succeed in securing a balanced set of EU Regulations and Directives, of binding rules, which properly address statelessness.

I am convinced that seminars and activities such as the one organised by ENS last October, in which I was delighted to participate, are useful to show our strong commitment regarding statelessness. ENS’s upcoming conference on statelessness in Madrid this June will provide another important opportunity at which the Spanish government will participate. Preparations for our Presidency are still ongoing but we will explore possible specific actions to complement and support all these efforts.

  1. Addressing the particular protection needs of stateless refugees is an important horizontal issue with regard to the EU Asylum & Migration pact. What do you envisage will be the role of the Spanish Presidency in progressing negotiations on the Pact, both generally as well as any specific opportunities to include statelessness-related amendments?

Migration and asylum have a European dimension and require a truly effective and common European legal framework and operational approach. As mentioned already, the Pact on Migration and Asylum has been identified as one of the priorities under our Presidency.

In this regard, we want to ensure that the right balance is struck among all the files of the Pact safeguarding the principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility enshrined in article 80 of the TFEU. We deem that further steps need to be taken so as to develop a common and balanced European system, both in legal and in practical terms. Convergence in law and convergence in practice are of utmost importance. Building on the Swedish Presidency results, Spain will work tirelessly with the Council and the Parliament to progress negotiations on the legislative files of the Pact.

In this context, statelessness is a key cross-cutting element of the different files which form the Pact. In our view, it is essential to streamline the references and the specific guarantees and content relating to statelessness.

  1. One year after the outbreak of the war against Ukraine, how would you reflect on the EU‘s response to this conflict - including how European countries have addressed particular issues affecting stateless people forcibly displaced from Ukraine?

The illegal and unjustified war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine was followed with a robust and united EU response. Beyond migration, there were unprecedented responses as well in the field of civil protection, sanctions, humanitarian aid, economic assistance, security, investigation and prosecution of war crimes, among others. A crucial component of that response was the unanimous decision by the Member States to activate the Temporary Protection Directive. On 4 March 2022, just one week after the start of the war, millions of displaced persons fleeing the Russian aggression against Ukraine were given protection and access to the labour market, education and vocational training, healthcare, and accommodation in the EU. Temporary protection has already been extended until March 2024.

In addition, Spain decided from the very first day to expand the scope of temporary protection to stateless persons and third-country nationals fleeing Ukraine, including those who were already in Spain. Despite being at the furthest geographical point of the EU to the Ukrainian border, our country has granted temporary protection to more than 168.000 persons, ranking fifth in the overall EU and Schengen-associated countries’ figures. Spain provided immediate protection by engaging specialised teams and infrastructure to effectively and efficiently manage the applications and reduce formalities to the minimum.

An essential factor of the successful response by the EU was the unanimous decision by Member States to suspend the transfers of beneficiaries of temporary protection to the countries of first entry. In this sense, the Member States showed unprecedented solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility enabling beneficiaries to be protected and settle across the EU. We believe that lessons should be drawn from this response and the implementation of these measures in the context of the negotiations of the Pact, in order to shape more effective and efficient solidarity and responsibility schemes which are truly European.

  1. In today’s often difficult and challenging world, what keeps you hopeful for the future?

I am an optimist by nature, I would even say an incorrigible optimist. We indeed live in difficult and challenging moments, but at the same time, the EU and the Member States have shown in the past and recently as well, that we are stronger when we act together and remain united.

The solidarity shown by people across the EU, as well as the efforts provided by Member States, stakeholders and communities in response to the Ukraine conflict over the past year keeps me optimistic. I hope that we can act in unity to conclude the negotiations of the Pact on Migration and Asylum, in order to provide permanent and sustainable solutions for future crises as well as to structural migration challenges, including those relating to statelessness.

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