The Spanish Foreign Minister rejected proposals that the country is experiencing mass immigration, instead referring to the prospect on this issue and arguing that Europe needs new blood to compensate for the low birth rate.
Around 21,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Spain by sea this year, placing .
Last week, 600 people entered Europe by storming the fences separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and threw quicklime and excrement at police officers.
Josep Borrell insisted on Monday, however, that Spain’s problems were dwarfed by those of some Middle Eastern countries hosting refugees from the war in Syria. Speaking after a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, he said: “We’re trivialising the word ‘mass’.”
The Spanish minister said he recognised that events such as those in Ceuta “shock public opinion and the disorderly nature of immigration produces fear”, but that the problem was relative. Six hundred people was “not massive” compared with the 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Jordan.
“We’re talking about 20,000 migrants so far this year for a country of more than 40 million inhabitants,” said Borrell, a former president of the European parliament. “That’s not mass migration.”
Borrell also said the latest arrivals were under control, despite NGO warnings that many migrant reception centres in Spain were saturated. He also suggested migration could help Europe, where many countries have a low birth rate.
“Europe’s demographic evolution shows that unless we want to gradually turn into an ageing continent, we need new blood, and it doesn’t look like this new blood is coming from our capacity to procreate,” he said.
Borrell, who has previously lamented Europe’s “ostrich politics” on migration, was speaking after two of his political opponents called for a much tougher line on the issue over the weekend.
Pablo Casado, the new leader of the conservative People’s party, on Sunday: “What Spaniards are looking for is a party that says, very clearly, that there can’t be papers for everyone and that Spain can’t absorb millions of Africans who want to come to Europe in search of a better future.
“Because it isn’t possible, we need to start saying it isn’t, even though it’s not politically correct.”
His remarks were swiftly attacked by Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, who said his words, and those of Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini , were a threat to European democracy.
“Let’s be honest and responsible,” she tweeted. “Europe was founded to defend life and to say never again when it comes to racism and fascism. Are we democrats or not? Or Europeans? Normalising comments such as those from Casado and Salvini is the first step towards the destruction of Europe and democracy itself.”
Albert Rivera, the leader of the centre-right Ciudadanos party, attacked the Socialist government for its lack of action during a visit to Ceuta on Monday.
He accused it of double standards over its decision to welcome the 630 migrants and refugees aboard the rescue ship Aquarius into Valencia while failing to tackle the situation in north Africa.
“It doesn’t seem decent to me that the government says one thing in the port of Valencia when it’s not here in Ceuta,” he said. “We need to control our external borders if we want to travel around Europe without a passport.”