Manel Pérez, Elisenda Vallejo, Barcelona 16 October 2022
Jaume Guardiola, at the headquarters of the Cercle d’Economia – Mané Espinosa
The president of the Cercle d’Economia considers a round table for dialogue between the Catalan parties to be “essential”.
Jaume Guardiola, the new president of the Cercle d’ Economia after the elections last July, stresses his concern about the political situation in Catalonia. “Catalonia is still very entangled in the national axis and opportunities are being lost,” he stresses. CEO of Banc Sabadell (2007-2020) and previously a senior executive at BBVA, Guardiola considers it “essential” to establish a round table for dialogue between the Catalan parties and offers the Cercle to help.
“The enlightened Catalonia that wanted to move Spain today is just a fiction”.
How do you see the current political situation in Catalonia?
In the Cercle we have not had the opportunity to make a collective assessment, but I think we share the same concern. Catalonia is still very tangled up in what we call the national axis, which ends up conditioning all political decisions. And meanwhile, life goes on and opportunities are lost. And I will give an example, which is renewables. For ten years we have not carried out a single project. We have gone from being a pioneering community in this area to being the last in Spain. People talk about whether there is decline, decadence, and with the figures for total GDP and in relation to Spain, we don’t see it, just a little in the Madrid-Catalonia battle. But the risk is that all this inaction in recent years will end up translating in the medium term into a loss of competitiveness. And I believe that this clear line between constitutionalist and sovereigntist Catalans is actually much more blurred. On the constitutionalist side, many are aware that Catalonia needs to change its status quo, that the financing model is not adequate, that there is an infrastructure deficit, and that the distribution of power is not correct. And on the pro-sovereignty side, many believe that we need to get down to work and not focus all day on the national axis.
The feeling is that the Cercle was very comfortable with the convergent governments. Now it would seem that it has no political representation. Do you agree?
Yes, it does, we are in permanent interaction with the political representatives. Yes, there was a moment, the most stressful moment of the procés, when we lost the dialogue. I experienced this as a representative of Banc Sabadell. Since we have entered this phase of normalisation, if I can put it that way, the Cercle has held productive meetings with many people from the Government. We were comfortable with Pujol’s, Maragall’s and Montilla’s government, and we are also comfortable with them now. I am much more concerned about the feeling of being stuck in a loop that we don’t know how to get out of.
Do you think we can consider the procés to be over?
A transversal movement was achieved between two parties that defended a position and now it has been shown that it is chemically impossible for them to govern together. Therefore, the procés as it was conceived as it was conceived is over. If anything, it has reached another phase.
What would be the Cercle’s proposal to overcome the inaction you denounce?
The day I was elected president, I quoted Vicens Vives when he said that there are moments of recomposition of the country. And this is one of them. I do not deny that a negotiating table between the Government and the Government is necessary. But it seems to me that a negotiating table between the Catalan parties is much more essential, and the Cercle will do everything it can with this in mind. We cannot waste any more time.
Reviewing the historical leitmotifs of the Cercle, economic liberalisation, European integration and inclusive economic development?
And democracy! In the 21st century we have to defend the model of liberal democracy because it is once again in danger and very close to us: we see Sweden, we see Italy, we see the United States…
Would you add any other leitmotiv linked to the Catalan reality?
Catalonia and the territorial model have been very present in the life of the Cercle. Now we are faced with paradoxes, such as that the concept of turning the page and not appearing autonomist has meant that we no longer claim the imbalances in financing and infrastructures. Or they are claimed by civil society from time to time, but there is no collective action, although the problem remains exactly the same as when the procés began. The Cercle believes that the funding model as it is designed does not work, that the situation is already affecting the welfare of the Catalans, and we want to demand a different model of state. It will cost a lot. The tradition of the enlightened Catalonia that tried to move Spain is today only a fiction with very little chance of success because Spain is already very much in place. It is a democratic, well-functioning and competitive country with highly educated international people.
Has Catalonia lost its capacity to influence Spanish politics?
Yes, and that has to be recovered.
Civil society and its institutions have to find a way to do so. And the Cercle has to make an effort to explain this in Madrid.
What are the strengths of the Catalan business fabric today?
It is very resilient, despite all the structural difficulties and the lack of support from the regional, central and municipal governments. There is the emergence of the new economy, linked to the digital sector, but also to health sciences to the health sciences, the fact that we have a university ecosystem here that competes university ecosystem which competes internationally, research centres, technology parks, the supercomputer, the supercomputer, the ALBA synchrotron… a whole accumulation of assets that of assets that puts us in a very good position. We have the attraction of Barcelona, which makes many people to settle here. And then the geopolitical crisis is leading us towards a European reindustrialisation in which Catalonia is ahead of Spain as a whole.
And the weaknesses?
One of the problems is administrative bureaucracy; we are at the bottom of the ranking in terms of the number of days it takes to obtain all kinds of permits. In this aspect we have always been more agile than Spain as a whole, but today everything is slower than ever. Cecot denounced a few days ago how much it costs to install photovoltaic panels on industrial roofs, for example. And secondly, the lack of strategy. Or rather that many strategic plans are made, but you look at them three years later and they have not been made, because once again the national key has dominated the agenda.
Will it be possible to expand the airport?
I think so. The question is whether we will be able to have the airport that the country needs and that necessarily involves generating intercontinental flights. And if we don’t, we will lose the opportunity to have a country based on the knowledge economy and which aspires to have well-paid jobs. There are no 100% closed positions. There was a lack of debate last year, in a process that was a bit rushed at the end. But let’s leave it to the experts to draw up the way to do it.
In tax policy, the government has finally solved the competition between communities by equalising at the top. What do you think?
Taxation has become a farce. It starts with Madrid, which has a privileged position and is taking advantage of it to lower taxes. Andalusia joins in, but it is the community that receives the most from the others, and on top of that it makes a direct appeal to the Catalans! What a different mental framework you have to have to not see that this is offensive. Then the Galicians, Sevilla, Valencia? And the Government finishes it off with a general tax. A farce. And with such a central issue in the construction of a State as taxes. On the other hand, I am against wealth tax, because it is a double burden and punishes savers.