Madrid policies 'harm Catalonia', local economy minister

Barcelona businessmen support separation from Spain

17 June, 18:26

    (by Elisa Pinna).

    (ANSAmed) - BARCELONA, JUNE 17 - Economy Minister of the Generalitat de Catalunya (local government) Andreu Mas-Colell told a group of foreign journalists on Tuesday that the regional economy would improve if it were independent of the central government. Mas-Colell is one of the most highly esteemed economists in the Western world and his name has repeatedly come up as a possible candidate for the Nobel Prize. In his office overlooking the popular Las Ramblas street in downtown Barcelona, the minister said that ''the region would have greater opportunities for growth if it were entirely autonomous.'' The centralized government of Madrid, he said, no longer works in the global market and ''weighs down the Spanish economy, as well as ours''. It is an issue of ''identity and self-government'' and not of the transfer of money from Catalonia coffers to national ones, he said. Taxes are by no means irrelevant, however: Catalonia, though it is only the fourth wealthiest region in Spain - after Basque Country, Navarra and the Madrid province - is forced to hand over about 8% of its GDP to the nation's capital. The taxes collected by Barcelona account for over 19% of the total revenue of the country but only 14% of spending is on the region despite the fact that 16-17% of Spain's total population live there. ''We have had to lower the salaries of Municipalitat employees, including teachers, by 7%. Nothing of the sort has happened in Madrid,'' he said. The minister added that even if the central government were to decide to cut Catalonia's tax burden to 4%, it would not be sufficient.

    ''We do not have any power and cannot do anything without the consent of the central government,'' Mas-Colell said, citing economic, infrastructure and education policies. Mas-Colell said that he was not concerned that the process for independence from Spain - which Catalans will be voting on during a referendum expected to take place on November 9 -may frighten away the approximately 5,200 foreign multinationals working in Catalonia. ''We will abide by all economic agreements. It is a lengthy, negotiated process, and at the moment I do not see any potential repercussions on foreign investment.'' Nor is he concerned that a Catalan nation might be expelled from the EU.

    ''We are staunch supporters of the EU and we trust Brussels more than Madrid,'' he said.

    Many large Catalan businessmen seem to agree.

    ''Danger of an uncertain future?,'' German Ramon-Cortes, head of the La Predera social foundation, scoffed. ''For us, the current certainty is that things are not going well.'' ''Economic decisions made by Madrid have been and continue to be wrong. They do not realize what businesses need and continue to use a twentieth-century approach,'' said Carles Sumarroca, deputy chief of the large infrastructure firm Comsa Emte.

    ''We entrepreneurs,'' he continued, ''need policies that support exports and innovation.'' Barcelona feels that it is ''looking towards the future''.

    ''Nationalism is Spanish, whereas Catalonia's independence movement is anti-nationalistic with post-modern roots,'' said Fernando Rodes, deputy chief of Havas, the fifth largest communications group in the world. Spain and Catalonia were separate entities for centuries, he noted. ''Today we vote for different parties, watch different television programs and even the Catalonia edition of the daily El Pais is different from the one sold in the rest of Spain,'' he said. ''But like in the case of all civil separations, we will negotiate everything and will probably continue to share the garden and many other things.'' (ANSAmed).

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