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With the tacit assumption of other representatives of the economic world present in the room: among others, the president of Foment, Josep Sánchez Llibre; that of Sabadell, Josep Oliu, a combative opponent of a takeover bid with an uncertain end; and that of Puig, Marc Puig, a newcomer to the stock market. Guardiola summed up in a few words the effects on Catalan politics of the approval of the pardons, first, and of the amnesty, now. The latter, whose balsamic effects have already been expressed in the elections a fortnight ago, although its approval is still pending, it will be next week, and its full application will take months.

Manel Pérez, 26 May 2024

Deputy to the Director

President Pedro Sánchez during his speech at the Cercle meeting.

 Àlex Garcia

The living forces of the Catalan economy have formalised the turning of the page, after a long decade of the procés, which politics proclaimed on the night of the 12th, with the results of the Catalan elections.

This was staged at the annual meeting of the Cercle d’Economia. The Catalan bourgeoisie has left evidence of the end of the equidistance with which it had been developing in Spanish politics, between popular and socialist parties, during the abrasive crisis that settled in Catalonia between 2010 and these last elections.

Jaume Guardiola, the president of the Cercle, received Pedro Sánchez, president of the Government, with a phrase that said it all: ‘Institutional normalisation [in Catalonia] is related to your government’s action and we want to thank you publicly’.

With the tacit assumption of other representatives of the economic world present in the room: among others, the president of Foment, Josep Sánchez Llibre; that of Sabadell, Josep Oliu, a combative opponent of a takeover bid with an uncertain end; and that of Puig, Marc Puig, a newcomer to the stock market. Guardiola summed up in a few words the effects on Catalan politics of the approval of the pardons, first, and of the amnesty, now. The latter, whose balsamic effects have already been expressed in the elections a fortnight ago, although its approval is still pending, it will be next week, and its full application will take months.

This is the assessment that the economic elite has made of the Sánchez government’s Catalan policy. With it, he has put an end to the equidistance that the PP criticised him so much, especially its last Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy accused him for years of remaining undefined during the procès-martial, as distant from the pro-independence movement as he was from the Spanish government.

An unusual eloquence last Friday in these latitudes; always taking care of form to avoid offence and the ever-present danger that a change of government might leave the flattery launched by carelessness to the one that soon after might end up being the loser in a bad position.

It was already possible to see some businessmen in Hamlet mode wondering if they should return the headquarters.

That welcome to Sánchez incorporated a tacit, almost explicit, reproach to Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the president of the PP, who the day before addressed the same forum with a high degree of tension and reproach. If anyone in the room had taken his speech at face value – it must be presumed that this must have been the Galician’s intention – they would have run off in search of a tranquilliser.

Feijóo did not take into account Guardiola’s introduction, in which he described the situation in Catalonia in optimistic tones: the electoral campaign has developed without tension, political normalisation is a reality, the danger of unilateralism has disappeared from the agenda. He only failed to add – he probably did not do so out of politeness – that the prospect of a future government of the Generalitat presided over by the socialist Salvador Illa almost fulfilled his always measured aspirations. Without ruling out a strange version of socio-vergence which, however, politicians have dismissed from day one. So much so that in the corridors of the desolate Palacio de Congresos it was already possible to find a businessman of pedigree in a Hamlet-like state, questioning himself about the advisability of returning his company to Barcelona. Not yet, he concluded, for the moment.

Feijóo seemed not to hear the presentation and launched into the prepared speech. A sort of summary of his heated debate the previous day in Congress with Sánchez. Perhaps he was already immersed in the atmosphere of the rally to kick off the European election campaign, to which he was rushing after his time at the Cercle. He made a single reference to the amnesty and to signify it as the only element of cohesion of the majority that invested Sánchez. However, he was careful not to urge the audience to attend the protest against the law that he has called for today at the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid.

Predictably, the audience was disappointed, despite the PP leader’s traditional reminder that if his people were in charge they would pay far less tax.

The following day, Sánchez did not offer a relevant speech either. He summarised what he considered to be the brilliant achievements of his government’s policies, avoiding his parliamentary turbulence, and presented himself as a standard-bearer for European integration and the fight against the extreme right. This did not go down well.

But as he opted to use a calm tone, without stridency, in his initial speech, before answering Guardiola’s questions, he did not mention either the PP or the bickering that the PP and his party engage in every day in Congress and through the media, and he was careful not to puncture the prevailing optimism. It was enough and more than enough for him to beat the leader of the opposition by a wide margin and to connect better with the audience. He did not arouse enthusiasm, but he brought peace of mind. And he made it clear that the future in Catalonia lies in a Government of Illa: pay no attention to those who propagate that in order to save the Spanish legislature, his government could give way to Carles Puigdemont.

The PP accused the elite of equidistance. In the Cercle, it supported the government against the PP.

As a symbolic preamble to the last day of the conference, business optimism received a significant psychological boost when the new operation of the fashionable duo, Isidro Fainé and Ángel Simón, president and CEO of the investment arm of La Caixa, respectively, was announced. The purchase of almost 10% of ACS, the country’s leading construction company and infrastructure manager, whose main shareholder and chairman is Florentino Pérez. Alliance, not clash, with the personification of Madrid’s economic power. La Caixa, whose headquarters are barely two kilometres from where the Cercle was meeting, is already the largest shareholder or significant investor in six large Spanish Ibex35 companies. Catalan finance is making a strong comeback. The turning of the page is also taking place in this area. Not only in politics.

https://www.lavanguardia.com/economia/20240526/9676642/equidistancia-burguesia-catalana.html

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