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Baden-Württemberg Vice President: “It’s up to the Catalans to decide if they feel better in Spain or on a stand-alone basis”

Nils Schmid, Vice President of Baden-Württemberg and regional Minister for Finance and the Economy, said in an exclusive interview with the CNA that Catalans are the ones who have to decide whether they want to remain within Spain or to become independent. This process should “of course […] be based on a referendum”. The Leader of the Social-Democrats (SPD) in this state also added that his party is proposing to include the possibility of holding referendums at national level in Germany, which is currently not envisaged by the German Constitution. However, he “cannot imagine” an independence referendum for Baden-Württemberg. On other issues, Schmid pointed out that “fiscal consolidation is not enough” and has to come with “structural reforms” and policies to stimulate growth. He also welcomed Catalans who are going to Germany to find job opportunities.

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01 October 2013 09:52 PM

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Laura Pous / Albert Segura

Barcelona (ACN).- Nils Schmid, Vice President of the Baden-Württemberg Government, stated in an exclusive interview with the CNA that Catalans are the ones who have to decide whether they want to remain within Spain or to become independent. According to Schmid, who is also the regional Minister for Finance and the Economy, this process should “of course […] be based on a referendum”. The leader of the Social-Democrats (SPD) in Baden-Württemberg also explained that his party is proposing to include the possibility of holding referendums at national level, a mechanism that is currently not envisaged by the German Constitution. However, Schmid also added that he “cannot imagine” an independence referendum for Baden-Württemberg. “We feel much better in our federal system”, he stressed, although he also acknowledged that in the Catalan case there are “cultural and language” issues to be considered. Schmid also talked about Spain’s fiscal scheme, which makes richer areas such as Catalonia transfer resources to less developed parts of the country. Baden-Württemberg’s Finance Minister pointed out that beneficiary regions need “incentives” in order to oblige them to improve their productive sector. Moreover, Schmid stressed that “a minimum level of solidarity” has to exist between regions, although the system cannot be too “egalitarian” and “unfair” to the richer areas, which is probably the case in Spain.

The SPD leader praised “Catalonia’s economic base”, which is “very powerful” since “it is an export-oriented economy, with a strong industrial sector”. When asked about whether German companies feared the Catalan self-determination process, Schmid explained that “at the moment they are not worried” but he added that German firms “hate legal uncertainty”. He highlighted that guaranteeing a “stable and clear legal framework” is “essential” for them. The Finance and Economy Minister insisted that the European Union should put in place a “strategy for economic growth, especially for the southern Eurozone partners”. “Fiscal consolidation is not enough” and has to come with “structural reforms” and policies to stimulate growth. “We need growth and to generate employment to end this horrible crisis that has made many Europeans unemployed”. Schmid also welcomed the young and highly-trained Catalans who are going to Germany – and specifically to Baden-Württemberg – to find job opportunities. “We need qualified workers, especially engineers”, he stressed. In 2011, Nils Schmid became the first German politician to organise a welcoming reception for Spanish engineers.


“Catalans must decide for themselves” whether they prefer to talk about independence or about jobs

The Vice President of the south German state (which has 10.5 million inhabitants) underlined that “it’s up to the Catalans to decide if they feel better in the framework of Spain or on a stand-alone basis”. “That’s up to them” he re-affirmed. However, the SPD regional leader also added that “in Germany I wouldn’t engage in discussions about the independence of Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg, although we are very strong regions, and even though we pay a lot to the Central Government”. “We feel much better in our federal system than, let’s say, [being] an independent entity. I couldn’t imagine that for Baden-Württemberg” he emphasised. Nonetheless, Schmid immediately acknowledged that “in Spain there’s a different history and it’s also a question of culture and language”. “The Spanish people, and especially the Catalans, must decide for themselves if it’s now more important to talk about independence or to talk about jobs and the economy” said the Finance and Economics Minister of Baden-Württemberg, a state which has a GDP around the size of Norway’s or Sweden’s.

“German firms hate uncertainty” but “at the moment they are not worried”

The regional Minister for the Economy was asked whether German companies were concerned about Catalonia’s self-determination process and their investments there. “At the moment they are not worried but German businessmen, German firms hate uncertainty; they hate legal uncertainty”, he stressed. “I take for example the SMEs. They don’t have big legal advisory entities” he explained. Therefore “they just want to be sure that they can direct their firms abroad, that they are the master in their own home – that means in their companies – be it in Spain, be it in Turkey, be it in Saudi Arabia or in Brazil”, he said. “They just want to be sure they do not lose their money or their influence [within their company], and that the legal framework is very stable and very clear” he carried on. Schmid concluded that “the legal framework and the stability of the legal framework is very important for them”.

“A vote on the independence of Catalonia […] must be based on a referendum”

On the possibility of Catalans not being allowed to hold a proper referendum, the SPD leader stated that “of course if there is to be a vote on the independence of Catalonia it must be based on a referendum because it’s up to the people to speak out and to decide” However, he also warned that referendums do not always solve the political issue. In the case of Quebec, in Canada, “you see that a series of referendums doesn’t really solve the underlying question” he pointed out. “The question behind the popular demand for possible independence is: ‘what are the right institutional arrangements within the framework of a national constitution to have subsidiarity guaranteed, to have cultural rights guaranteed and to have enough manoeuvring space at the region’s level to solve regional problems at the regional level?’”, Schmid explained. He also added that he “believed that the federal system in Spain is quite developed, so regions have high degree of autonomy”. Therefore, according to him, “the main question is whether independence gives so much more that it outraces the possible disadvantages linked to independence”. However, he recognised that “it’s a very difficult question which the people in Catalonia must decide”.

A referendum within the Constitutional framework

According to the Vice President of Baden-Württemberg, a “referendum must be provided for by the Constitution. So there must be a legal framework for the referendum”, he highlighted. In addition, Schmid explained that in Germany there are “legal frameworks for referendums, especially at the local level but also at the regional level”. However, there are no such frameworks “for referendums at national level; so there cannot be a national referendum on an issue in Germany” he stated. The SPD regional leader explained that “the Social-Democrats want to change that but it would require a change in our Constitution, so-called Fundamental Law.”

Austerity and growth

For Schmid, the European Union has to develop “a strategy for growth, especially for the Eurozone southern partners”, such as Spain. According to him, if the SPD eventually sits in the German Federal Government – a possibility about which he does not feel “very comfortable”, the Social-Democrats will engage in generating growth, because “fiscal consolidation is not enough”. “We need growth and to generate employment to end this horrible crisis that has made many Europeans unemployed”, he stated. “We cannot afford to lose an entire generation of Europeans; we need job perspectives”, he underlined. However he also added that public deficit has to be kept “under control”, as Spain was doing during the economic boom.

Baden-Württemberg welcomes highly qualified workers

Regarding Catalonia, the Vice President of Baden-Württemberg stressed the opportunity to consolidate international co-operation at regional level, through the “Four Motors of Europe” group [which groups Baden-Württemberg, Catalonia, the French region of Rhône-Alpes and the Italian Lombardy]. The Finance and Economy Minister particularly emphasised the possibility of increasing co-operation in the field of vocational training. “We want to offer our partners the chance to profit from our experience. We already co-operate with Rhône-Alpes in this field and we could do the same with Catalonia if it is interested”, he said. In this vein, Schmid welcomed young and qualified Catalan workers arriving in his region looking for job opportunities. “For them it is positive to find a job and get experience abroad”, he said. He also added that “we need qualified workers, especially engineers”.

Stuttgart is one of Europe’s main technological centres

Stuttgart, the capital city of Baden-Württemberg, has become one of the main attraction centres for engineers. The city hosts almost 400 technological companies, according to its Economic Development Department. Furthermore, each day €13 million are invested in research and, each year, 3,600 new patents are registered.

Since November 2009, Nils Schmid is chairing the SPD’s regional branch in Baden-Württemberg. Since the 12th May 2011, this lawyer and specialist in fiscal issues is the Vice President of the regional Government, which is chaired by the Greens leader Winfried Kretschmann. Baden-Württemberg’s Government is formed by a coalition between the Greens and the Social-Democrats, who respectively obtained 24.4% and 23.1% of the votes.

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  • Nils Schmid, Vice President of Baden-Württemberg's Government and regional Minister for Finance and the Economy (by A. Segura)

  • Nils Schmid, Vice President of Baden-Württemberg's Government and regional Minister for Finance and the Economy (by A. Segura)
Nils Schmid, Vice President of Baden-Württemberg's Government, interviewed by the CNA