CEOE established its international division at the end of 2018. How would you evaluate its first year of operations?
Our president, Antonio Garamendi, has been clear since the beginning of his mandate that he wanted to strengthen the international arm of the CEOE. The degree of openness of the Spanish economy, representing more than 66% of GDP, is 20 points higher than what it was in 2009 and nine points more than the highest point prior to the 2007 crisis. It is more international and open than Italy, the UK, or France. The number of companies that export on a regular basis has been expanding year after year, and Spain is one of the main recipients of FDI. However, the climate in which international economic and trade relations takes place has worsened. In the EU, developments such as Brexit generate great uncertainty, and within the national context, imports outweigh exports. Given these circumstances, CEOE International advocates intensifying efforts to identify new opportunities for Spanish companies abroad and correct existing barriers. After a year of operation, we can say that the activity of CEOE International has increased on the back of its proactive agenda that defends the interests of Spanish companies.
Digitalization is a topic much discussed in every sector as it has become an inevitability. What is CEOE International doing to help companies in this process?
CEOE has developed a roadmap to improve Spain's position in the international digital context, specifically within the framework of the European Digitalization Strategy, the 2025 Digital Plan. This incorporates more than 280 concrete proposals based on three crucial areas: education, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Given its cross-cutting nature, which encompasses all sectors and actors including civil society, business, and public administration, the plan entails a series of challenges, chief among which is increasing the digitalization of Spanish society by 10%. In turn, this could increase Spain's GDP by 3.2% by 2025 as well as raise the employment rate by 1.3%. The plan also aims to create 250,000 additional jobs, further develop the enterprise ecosystem, and double the number of start-ups by 2025.
Spanish companies are increasingly present in the region, particularly in the construction sector. What importance does the Middle East have for Spanish companies looking to expand globally?
The Middle East plays an important role in the internationalization of Spanish companies since it is a highly diverse market with great potential for growth. Large-scale projects are currently being developed there in priority sectors such as infrastructure, engineering, energy, transport, and the environment. Good examples include the largest solar park in the world in the UAE and large tourist complexes and infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia. The participation of Spanish companies in these projects is a great business opportunity that can also help consolidate Spain's position as a global leader. In addition, given the geostrategic position of the Middle East, it represents a good entry platform for both Asian and African markets that will encourage the expansion of Spanish companies even further.
Spain has some of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, estimated at 13.9% in February 2019. What does the CEOE propose to tackle this problem?
This figure of unemployment represents, without a doubt, our biggest concern; however, we should not overlook the important progress made in creating jobs. Over the last six years, we have generated 2.5 million jobs, more than any other country in the EU. The number of unemployed people has fallen from 6.28 million to 3.35 million, and the unemployment rate has declined from 26.9% to 14.7%. This is testament to the strong recovery of the Spanish economy, which is in its sixth year of economic expansion.