Mobile World Congress begins in Barcelona amid political controversy
The King of Spain’s arrival is met with protests in the streets and institutional boycott by major figures of Catalonia
The Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona amid great political controversy. After months of unprecedented tension over Catalonia’s push for independence, the biggest event in the mobile industry will hardly be an oasis of collaboration between institutions in Catalonia and Spain—especially since the head of the State, King Felipe VI, is visiting Barcelona for the first time since last October’s referendum and declaration of independence.
The king’s arrival has been met by protests in the streets and the boycott by major political figures in Catalonia. Neither the city’s mayor, Ada Colau, nor the Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, attended the official welcoming reception. On Sunday, police cordoned off the Palau de la Música, the concert hall where a welcome dinner for the Mobile World Congress was taking place. Hundreds of pro-independence supporters gathered in the area to boo Felipe, and some neighbors loudly played the Spanish national anthem. Earlier in the day, hundreds of unionist supporters gathered to greet the king’s arrival waving Spanish flags.
“The institutional cooperation with clear goals and for the benefit of all is an obvious key of success"
Felipe VI · King of Spain
In a speech, King Felipe did not explicitly respond to the less-than-warm welcome. Yet, he did stress that “the institutional cooperation with clear goals and for the benefit of all is an obvious key of success [for the Mobile World Congress].”
More than 108,000 people from nearly 200 countries are expected to attend this year’s edition of the congress. More than 2,300 companies will be exhibiting their latest technological innovations, including major tech firms such as Sony, Huawei, Google, Samsung, LG, and Nokia. The estimated economic impact of this year’s edition is 470 million euros and 13,000 temporary jobs.
The Spanish government criticized Catalan politicians for boycotting the king, and dismissed their attitude as “irresponsible and sectarian.” The executive in Madrid warned that political skirmishes could endanger the continuity of the congress in the city.
The general director of the Mobile World Capital Barcelona foundation, Carlos Grau, said on Sunday that the political animosity would not, however, do so. “We’re not affected by it,” he said. Grau stressed the “solid compromise” to maintain the location in Barcelona until at least 2023.
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau said in a radio interview that she had a short conversation with Felipe during the welcome dinner. She told him “that he needed to understand that the situation was unprecedented, very difficult, because his discourse on October 3 was perceived as lacking empathy.” The mayor was referring to a speech in which Felipe was seen by some as explicitly taking sides in the institutional clash between Catalonia and Spain, and overlooking police violence against Catalan voters. “Things can be done in a lot of different ways, and many of us expected a speech that was more conciliatory,” said Colau.