Editorial, 9 February 2023
In an extensive report, the British newspaper analyses the causes of the Catalan capital’s loss of steam as a European benchmark.
“Politics has fostered a deep malaise in a city that is one of the most visited in Europe. Street crime is on the rise and many businesses have left”. This is the summary of the vision synthesised in an extensive report by the ‘Financial Times’ on the city of Barcelona entitled: “How Barcelona lost its way”. An article in which businessmen, politicians, foreign investors and neighbours parade in declarations. A reading that synthesises the multiple factors that have coincided to reach the general feeling that Barcelona has not only lost economic and tourist steam, but even worse: it has lost part of its pride as a city.
“Catalonia has attracted between 6,000 and 9,000 million euros of external capital in each of the last few years, Madrid, 98,000 million in 2018.”
The independence referendum and all the political turmoil it generated, as well as the policies of Mayor Ada Colau, are the ones that take the brunt. It is to her that the business darts are directed. Not for nothing does she herself admit to the ‘Financial Times’ that her task has been to some extent to tame the “capitalism gone mad” that she inherited from her predecessor, Xavier Trias. “We are no longer in a city that is all about property speculation, full of cars and pollution, with tourism out of control,” she says in the report. “We have re-established order and are committed to economic diversification”.
But the figures speak a different language. “Although Catalonia has attracted between €6bn and €9bn of foreign capital in each of the last few years, those figures are down sharply from more than €16bn in 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Industry. The Madrid region, by contrast, saw a record 98 billion euros of investment in 2018,” the English newspaper notes.
More data: since the referendum, more than 8,200 companies have moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain, half of them in Madrid. CaixaBank, Banco Sabadell, Naturgy, Cellnex or Grupo Planeta are given as examples. “. “Companies are voting to leave. They don’t demonstrate by standing in the street and shouting. They do it by saying no to the next investment and the next one”, says Pau Guardans, founder of Único Hotels and personified example of the exit of capital from Barcelona, to the ‘Financial Times’. This extensive analysis begins with his decision and motivation to get rid of the Grand Hotel Central in Barcelona, an asset worth 93 million euros, in 2021. The pandemic did not help much either, which the newspaper describes as “generalised despondency”.
In addition to Guardans, other people who speak include Jordi Casas, chief of staff at ‘Foment del Treball’; Michael Goldenberg, US CEO of Value Retail Management; Salvador Illa, leader of the Catalan Socialist Party; Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona…. And in a way, also the locals. “Many residents who claim to love the city lament that something is wrong, whether they detect it in the street thefts, the littered avenues and clogged traffic, or the lack of new infrastructure and cultural attractions”. And it picks up on the survey published by the city government in December in which two-thirds of residents said conditions in Barcelona had worsened in the last year and identified their biggest problem as insecurity.
A withering report from the perspective of the British newspaper that conveys to the reader the sensation of a city where, despite the fading of the Covid-19 hangover that so many cities suffered, it still hasn’t found its way: “It has lost its energy”.