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Home » Content » Foment del Treball (main Catalan employer’s association): the pact with Puigdemont in Madrid and the return of companies
Businessmen have been building bridges with pro-independence leaders for three years now. Catalan big business, the main protagonist of this flight, considers that the sine qua non condition for a return, even a gradual one, is a far-reaching global political agreement between the central government and the main political forces, including the Government of the Generalitat, which explicitly excludes referendums not agreed with the central power and unilateral declarations of independence. The businessmen and Junts agree that one of their objectives is to recover headquarters.

Manel Pérez, Barcelona, 6 August 2023

Pedro Sánchez meets with the president of Foment del Treball, Josep Sánchez-Llibre

 Àlex Garcia

The businessmen and Junts agree that one of their objectives is to recover headquarters

One of the deepest open wounds in the heart of the Catalan bourgeoisie as a result of the procés is that almost six years after the change of headquarters of thousands of companies, in the midst of the political crisis following the referendum of 1 October 2017, none of them, neither large nor small, has made the journey back to Catalonia. A reason for dispute within their own ranks and also for tension with a large sector of the pro-independence movement, led by Carles Puigdemont himself, the former president of the Generalitat who has taken refuge in Waterloo, who at the time branded it a betrayal.

Catalan big business, the main protagonist of this flight, considers that the sine qua non condition for a return, even a gradual one, is a far-reaching global political agreement between the central government and the main political forces, including the Government of the Generalitat, which explicitly excludes referendums not agreed with the central power and unilateral declarations of independence.

In his view, such a compromise would serve as a revival of growth and the recovery of Catalonia’s role as an engine of the Spanish economy, while opening the door to increased investment. Also, not least for the economic elite, it would make it possible to regain its political influence in Spain. That is why it is betting that Pedro Sánchez’s possible investiture pact will lay the foundations for this.

Business and politics

Businessmen have been building bridges with pro-independence leaders for three years now

Something very difficult, almost chimerical, according to many. Unleashing such a business return movement is one of the shared objectives between business leaders and the entourage of Puigdemont, leader and strongman of Junts, the party on whose vote in Congress will depend the new investiture of Sánchez as president of the Government, thus avoiding the holding of a new general election, according to the conversations held immediately after 23J and reported by sources consulted by La Vanguardia.

These contacts, channelled mainly through Josep Sánchez Llibre, the president of Foment, the major Catalan employers’ association, on the one hand, and Puigdemont himself, but also through people designated by the latter, on the other, make clear the business interest in consolidating political normality in Catalonia.

The employers’ leader is also keeping the major Catalan business leaders informed, who support the course of these prospective talks.

Political moves

The approach is easier with Junts than with ERC because of their vision of the economy.

The moves are more political than economic. Both parties want to lay the foundations for the resolution of the political conflict between Catalonia and the state. The electoral reality in Catalonia has changed drastically since the hot years of the procès-presidency, and although Junts’ parliamentary seats are decisive for Sánchez’s investiture, the Catalan socialists have consolidated their position as the leading parliamentary force, with 400,000 more votes than the two major pro-independence forces combined, in addition to the almost 500,000 votes of Sumar. ERC and Junts, for their part, have lost almost 600,000; more than 700,000 if the CUP is included in the tally.

Business leaders have taken note of this situation and are offering themselves to Junts as a lever or crutch to compensate for this political weakness, all the more necessary now that the electorate no longer seems to be largely behind the most unilateralist pro-independence proposals. Puigdemont is now centre stage as kingmaker for the investiture, but in a hypothetical legislature his role would be much more diluted due to his limited parliamentary weight.

Obviously, the businessmen are also aware of their own powerlessness to act and therefore also intend to clear the way for the germination of a political arm that they now lack. It is their own way of reconstructing the old tandem between Pujolism and the bourgeoisie, which was incipient with the result of the last municipal elections, the good result of Xavier Trias, the Junts candidate, to whom the bourgeoisie ended up giving its majority support, also through the vote.

Rejection of unilateralism

The condition is a political agreement that excludes non-agreed referendums.

Expectations dashed with the three-way pact between PSC, Comuns and PP that brought Jaume Collboni to the mayor’s office. A decision that generated tensions among the socialist leaders, first and foremost Salvador Illa and the bourgeoisie. Although this has not prevented contacts between the two parties from resuming after 23J, always with the idea of supporting the progress of the pact for Sánchez’s investiture.

Business representatives have been building bridges with pro-independence leaders, both from ERC and Junts, for almost three years. It moved behind the scenes to push for the pardon of the procés prisoners, led by Oriol Junqueras, the president of ERC. He also postulated from the outset, among other instances before President Sánchez, the search for a way out for Puigdemont that would ensure that he would not go to prison and therefore clear the way for the incorporation of Junts into normal political life.

Sánchez Llibre has been to Belgium at least twice to meet with Puigdemont. And from the evolution of these contacts, the protagonists want to extract positive indicators. From the initial refusal to make any move on his behalf for a pardon, which the former president conveyed to the employers’ leader in January 2022, when the latter went to explain what he was doing after meeting with the prisoners in Lledoners, to the more concrete discussion on the possible scenarios of a negotiation with the central government, in this case last May, on the eve of the general elections.

Another time

The electoral reality in Catalonia has changed drastically since the years of the ‘procés.

The approach is easier with Junts than with ERC. The former’s vision of the economy broadly converges with that of the business community. Both parties share their support for the expansion of El Prat airport, are in favour of significant tax cuts and generally agree that they feel comfortable with a more liberalised and deregulated economy. This proximity has materialised in different meetings with businessmen; even with La Caixa, the main reference of the Catalan economy, the galaxy directed by Isidro Fainé. As a result, sources close to both parties have agreed that “there is a situation of institutional respect”. With the Government of the Generalitat, headed by President Pere Aragonès, not only do they diverge on most of the issues mentioned. Nor have they managed to achieve a minimum climate of trust or proximity. The last meeting between several prominent businessmen and Junqueras, at the beginning of this year, brought this tension to the surface without any concrete rapprochement.

https://www.lavanguardia.com/economia/20230806/9153622/foment-pacto-puigdemont-madrid-retorno-empresas.html

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