BARCELONA (Reuters) - Spain is committed to a joint European response to illegal migration, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday, hours before EU leaders meet in Brussels for an informal summit on the issue.
Sanchez pushed migration up the agenda shortly after he took office earlier this month by accepting the Aquarius, an NGO boat carrying 629 migrants that was blocked from docking in Italy and Malta, sparking an international crisis over how the EU deals with illegal immigration.
"There cannot be a unilateral response. With the Aquarius we made a gesture of solidarity but a humanitarian crisis is one thing and migration policy another. And that migration policy must have a joint, European response," Sanchez told El Pais.
The current crisis over migration policy can be traced, in part, back to a lack of European "solidarity" with countries such as Italy that have borne the brunt of illegal immigration, Sanchez said.
On Saturday, a day after the interview was conducted, Sanchez met his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris, where both leaders showed support for a plan to process asylum applicants in closed centres on European soil.
Sanchez also outlined his legislative agenda in his first newspaper interview since taking office following a dramatic ouster of conservative former PM Mariano Rajoy.
Sanchez, whose Socialists have only 84 seats in a 350-seat parliament and may struggle to overturn whole legislation passed by the previous government, suggested reforming previous laws and introducing new legislation to protect vulnerable workers.
In particular, he referred to workers in food delivery company Deliveroo and those in the so-called "gig economy".
Spain would increase social security contributions to fund the struggling pension system, Sanchez said.
Among other policies discussed were a proposal to introduce euthanasia by 2020, measures to tackle the gender pay gap and the removal of the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco from a Civil War memorial site near Madrid.
DIALOGUE WITH CATALONIA
Sanchez, who is due to meet Catalan leader Quim Torra on July 9, said his administration would seek to reduce tensions with the restive region, following a failed secession attempt last year.
"The times when the government exacerbated problems with Catalonia are over. We need to go step by step, rebuilding confidence and the loyalty which has broken down over the course of years of conflict between Madrid and the Catalan regional government," he said.
Sanchez said jailed separatist leaders currently awaiting trial in Madrid on charges related to the failed breakaway would be moved to facilities in Catalonia, a key demand of the Catalan pro-independence government. It is not clear when the move could take place.
"My position is that the most reasonable thing would be, once the initial investigation is complete, for [the prisoners] to be moved. The reasonable solution is that the prisoners, and especially those in pre-trial jail, be close to their families and their legal teams," he said.
(Reporting by Sam Edwards; editing by David Evans)