Language learning, cross-border hospital, boosting tourism: Spain and France's Treaty of Barcelona

Friendship agreement signed in Catalan capital aims at strengthening ties in environment, security, culture, and defense 

French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during their summit in Barcelona, January 19, 2023
French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during their summit in Barcelona, January 19, 2023 / Jordi Borràs
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

January 19, 2023 03:30 PM

January 20, 2023 09:29 AM

Under the name of Barcelona, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a treaty of friendship in the Catalan capital on Thursday to strengthen ties between both countries in different regards including the environment, culture, and defense.

Among the topics agreed on at a meeting in Catalonia’s National Art Museum (MNAC) is the will to promote learning the language of the neighboring country and to use it on a daily basis in cross-border regions.

Spain-France summit in Barcelona

"Barcelona is an example of avant-garde spirit, solidarity, diversity, social commitment, and of the defense of the cultural heritage," Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez said.

"I am happy with the success of this summit in a year that Spain gets the Council of the European Union rotating presidency" from July 1, he added.  

Barcelona was also one of the topics Macron touched upon, as for him the summit and the signing of the friendship treaty takes place at a "very good moment. We have made great politics as we have signed this agreement in a museum with pieces of modern art," the French leader said.

In this treaty, "there are very useful solutions for our citizens," he added.

Border areas are a crucial part of this treaty as both cabinets agreed to create public services in the areas of health, environment, security, energy, education, culture, and transport for those living near the border.

One of these already existing services is the cross-border hospital in the northern Catalan area of Cerdanya, in the Pyrenees, the first of its kind in Europe. Both executives decided they will try to improve access to the health center and to have professionals of both nationalities in the building as "it works very well," Sánchez said.

Security is another area where both executives want to improve relations, but this is not limited to migration. The subject of European arrest warrants was also addressed, and both cabinets agreed on improving the efficacy of these instruments.

The cabinets have confirmed they will continue their cooperation and coordination on protecting endangered species, especially the western capercaillie grouse and the bear population in the Pyrenees.

Tourism, key to both economies

Regarding the importance of tourism for both economies, the two countries agreed to improve cooperation, especially in exchanging techniques and good practices to foster a tourism model that is respectful to the cultural, architectural, and natural heritage of each nation.

Last year, Spain received more visitors from France than any other country, just ahead of Germany and the United Kingdom.

But while visitors can reach Spain by various different means, borders are a key part of the foreign policies of both nations. 

The Treaty of Barcelona demonstrates the will of both cabinets to “preserve the Schengen area and freedom of movement.” Something, however, that has not been happening recently, as France has kept up to eight secondary cross-border roads closed for the past few years. 

One of the reasons behind this closure is the high terror alert in France, which prompted the government to keep borders closed after first making the decision during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, another reason is migration, a topic that was discussed at the summit with officials deciding to create a French-Spanish working group on migration with the aim of handling the cases of migrants crossing the border, seeking asylum, integrating into their new societies, and illegal migration.


The “richness of culture and linguistic culture” of both countries also plays a significant role in the Treaty of Barcelona. 

One of the sections of the treaty is targeted at intensifying both sides' cooperation in cultural heritage and the culture sector in general. One of the main focus points will be the film industry and other digital projects. 

Museums will not be left aside either, as cooperation among institutions will be crucial in the future, and officials confirmed that artists will be able to keep moving across borders, maintaining a long-lasting tradition. 

While learning is crucial in this treaty, science is also part of the future. The goal is to launch a scientific Spanish-French award called the Betancourt-Perronet with grants and subsidies available for those working in the field.


Both cabinets reiterated their commitment to the recently announced H2Med green energy pipeline project, guaranteeing that the two administrations will collaborate with officials from energy companies and the European Commission in order to obtain as much subsidization as possible. 

This project is part of their expressed desire to increase their industrial contribution to the European Union’s GDP, while also developing a circular economy with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels as established by the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016.

Barcelona, part of history

Barcelona has become part of the history between France and Spain on Thursday as it is the first time the two nations signed a treaty of friendship. 

"Having Barcelona as a name is an homage of respect, of consideration, and admiration for the city of Barcelona," the Spanish PM said during the press conference. 

"We are in this beautiful place and the treaty will set the energy policy of the future, as we are pushing for the hydrogen energy and the H2Med green energy pipeline," the leader said.

"In fairness, it makes sense that Barcelona has been complaining in recent years that the Spanish government has not shown enough commitment to the city. And this is what we are doing, with enormous respect for its citizens and its institutions," the leader concluded.