Manel Manchón 22/2/2021
Pere Aragonès at the Palau de la Generalitat and Salvador Illa with Minister Miquel Iceta / EF
When there is a power vacuum, someone fills it quickly. In the case of the Catalan business community, it is a double process. This void exists, because the new Government has not yet been established, but there has also been a qualitative change: Foment has taken a clear step, since the presidency of Josep Sánchez Llibre, and also the Círculo de Economía, chaired by Javier Faus. The two institutions mark a priority for the next Catalan Executive: economic recovery, with a clear commitment to dialogue and using the parties who really want to “improve things in Catalonia.”
Foment, as an employer, maintains a big activity, focused on mobilizing direct aid to companies from the central government. Sánchez Llibre’s ability, his experience in Madrid – he was the CiU spokesperson in Congress in several legislatures – and his desire to turn the situation around, has led him to check all the requests that are made with the Government and large institutions, such as the Bank of Spain. And these aids, which Foment has calculated at 50,000 million, could arrive in the coming weeks, when the Vicepresident for Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, finalizes “a national plan”, in collaboration with the European Commission.
Bet on “improvers”
But these aids will fall on deaf ears without “stability” or “security” in Catalonia. The Foment Institute for Strategic Studies, directed by Jordi Alberich, insists that this issue is vital, and that without a change in the level of Catalan politics, economic recovery will be impossible.
Foment and the Círculo de Economía, which has focused on a debate on how to improve productivity in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain, agree that, given the circumstances, the best thing would be some kind of understanding between Esquerra Republicana and the PSC of Salvador Illa, which can be dressed with different formulas. It is about uniting the “improvers”, as the former first secretary of the PSC, Raimon Obiols, has pointed out, against the “worseners”, a sack in which Junts per Catalunya and the CUP are placed. That ideal, however, is now far away.
Tourism, the key in the short term
Sánchez Llibre, in his interview with Oriol Junqueras two days ago, who has taken advantage of his third provisional degree of imprisonment – pending the resolution of the appeal presented by the Prosecutor’s Office for the political prisoners to return to jail – made that preference clear. Junqueras knows it, and the Esquerra leadership as a whole, but the result of the elections ties the Republicans to the post-convergent ones, although the negotiations could lead to other combinations.
Foment has done its homework and does not stop offering to the Government collaboration, for example, in the vaccination campaign, so that the companies themselves do it to their workers. And it prepares reindustrialization plans with the use of European funds, so that these are, indeed, “levers that lead to a change in the production model”. The perception is that Catalonia “is at a key moment, and the whole of Spain as well, in a certain decline, as marked, for example, by the fact that there is hardly any information about Spanish companies or investment plans in the international press”, say sources from the employers’ association.
Europe won’t wait for long
The Círculo de Economía goes along the same lines, but, as a business lobby, tries to chart a path in the medium and long term, which goes through economic issues, but also to solve institutional and territorial bottlenecks. In recent weeks they have passed through the headquarters of the Circle, in person, the governor of the Bank of Spain, Pablo Hernández de Cos, even the economic vice president Nadia Calviño, or the president of the PP, Pablo Casado; but also former minister Josep Piqué or those responsible for the IVIE, the Valencian Institute of Economic Research, who warn about a Spain at three speeds, have also expressed their position.
What is intended, according to members of the Board of the Circle, is a roadmap, in which various reforms are drawn, so that Spain takes a leap in all areas. “This is the moment, taking advantage of what Europe demands and the aid that will come from Europe”, they say. And from the conviction, as MEP Luis Garicano also pointed out in the Circle, that northern Europe will wait for Spain, but not in the medium term if it has not resolved those barriers that prevent it from improving its productivity.
There is a third organization to push to achieve economic recovery, the employers’ Pimec. There everything is waiting for a momentous event: that Antoni Cañete, the candidate chosen by Josep González, president of Pimec in recent years, wins the elections against the ANC candidate, Pere Barrios.. That will be known after the elections this Tuesday. If Cañete wins, the independence movement will have suffered its first great defeat, in its attempt to assault the great economic institutions. In that case, the “improvers” will have an opportunity to remake the Catalan economy, which has a great Achilles heel. “The commitment to the service sector, to industries such as tourism, conditions recovery, but if it arrives this summer, with the vaccination campaign, the jump could be important”, say the same sources from Foment.
However, everything is subject to the composition of the next Government. “Everything has to be focused on recovery, with a solid government that puts aside the independence process, that acts in the neediest sectors and that generates confidence”, they point out. Who picks up the glove? The two economic institutions, Foment and Círculo de Economía, agree that Pere Aragonès is willing to carry out this task, also seeking the help of the Spanish Government. But with what partners?