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A last-minute protocol change makes the Catalan President cancel a dinner with the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas is the most senior public figure in Catalonia, just after the King of Spain and the Spanish Prime Minister. However, at Thursday’s scheduled dinner with the main Catalan business association ‘Foment’ and the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a last-minute change in the protocol put Mas in second place. The Catalan President considered that “conditions had changed” and as a protest he announced he was not going to the dinner. Instead, the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment was representing him. ‘Foment’ has been ambivalent regarding Catalonia’s self-determination process, although it supports the claim for finding a negotiated way out of the current political situation by organising a legal referendum.

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17 October 2013 10:09 PM

by

ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, announced at the last-minute that he would not be attending a scheduled dinner with the main Catalan business association ‘Foment’ and the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. The reason was a last-minute change in the protocol arrangements that downplayed his status. The Catalan President is the most senior public figure in Catalonia following strict protocol rules: he or she comes just after the King of Spain and the Spanish Prime Minister. However, at Thursday’s dinner, a protocol change made just a few hours before the event’s start put him in second place, below the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy decided to delegate the Premiership powers to Sáenz de Santamaría for the evening because he was going abroad. Since Sáenz de Santamaría was acting as Prime Minister, Foment decided to change the protocol arrangements and put her ahead of Mas, giving her the privilege of delivering the final address in the association's Golden Medals annual ceremony. In the current context of tensions between Catalonia and Spain, with the Spanish Government downplaying and totally opposing self-determination claims from Catalonia, Mas did not want to put the Catalan Presidency through this, acting as a secondary guest in an event organised in Barcelona. Officially, the President of the Catalan Government considered that “conditions had changed” and therefore he reconsidered his attendance. Mas announced the decision to Foment’s President, Joaquim Gay de Montellà. Instead, the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment, Felip Puig,  represented the President of Catalonia.


In the last few weeks, tensions between the Spanish and Catalan Governments have increased considerably, after some informal contacts in August and early September. However, the Spanish Government has been sending signals in recent weeks and particularly during the last few days that it does not want to talk with Catalonia about its self-determination. On the contrary, the Spanish Government is approving decisions and laws that can easily be interpreted as an attack against Catalonia’s self-government and Catalan language.

Tension between both governments is significantly increasing

Two examples are, firstly, last week’s approval of the Education Reform, going against 30 years of Catalan School, attacking the language immersion principle, paving the road for creating two separate language communities and reducing the spread of Catalan language. Secondly, this week’s announcement to not transfer €1.7 billion to the Catalan Government in 2013, an announcement arriving 10 weeks before the end of the year and putting Catalonia’s Executive into serious financial trouble, having to delay payments to suppliers because of a lack of liquidity.

On top of this, the Catalan Government is also increasing the tension, with the publication on Tuesday of a report listing the “disloyalties” of the Spanish Executive towards Catalonia and the financial cost of those decisions. According to the Catalan Government, these disloyalties would cost €9.38 billion, which are to be added to the €16.5 billion that Catalan tax payers give away each year to pay for services and investments in the rest of Spain (equivalent to 8.5% of Catalonia's GDP)

The main business association has an ambivalent stance on Catalonia’s self-determination

Also in the last few weeks, the business association ‘Foment’ – which represents Catalonia’s largest business owners – has put some distance between themselves and the Catalan self-determination process. The coalition led by Mas, the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), has traditionally represented Foment’s interests, and the ties between the two organisations were significant. However, in the last year, when a large part of CiU and Mas have fully supported Catalonia’s self-determination process, ‘Foment’ has not felt represented by them to the same extent. However, the Catalan Government, Mas, CiU and other self-determination supporters have been trying to include ‘Foment’ on their side in Catalonia’s independence debate, while the business organisation was trying not to take sides on this issue.

In fact, the association representing the largest businesses in Catalonia is in quite an uncomfortable position in the independence debate, since the companies represented sell many of their products in the rest of Spain (although the share is gradually decreasing and now Catalan companies sell more products abroad than in the rest of Spain). Therefore, ‘Foment’ has been quite ambivalent regarding Catalonia’s self-determination process, although it announced that it was supporting a document calling for finding a negotiated way out to the current political situation by organising a legal referendum. In addition, Foment fully supports the claim for setting a specific Economic Agreement between Catalonia and Spain, increasing Catalonia’s self-government and granting all taxation powers to the Catalan Government.

However, the same day it was announcing its support for the document drafted by the CiU member and former President of the Catalan Parliament Joan Rigol, ‘Foment’ was refusing to join the so-called ‘Self-Determination Pact’. This pact groups several political parties and civil society organisations clearly supporting Catalonia’s self-determination process, and its mission is to determine how to allow Catalans to vote on their future. ‘Foment’ rejected an invitation to participate in the pact, saying that its own position was a business-related one and not a political one.

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  • The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría at Foment's event (by J. Molina)

  • The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría at Foment's event (by J. Molina)