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Business associations give their "unconditional support" to Catalonia's self-determination

28 employers’ associations, chambers of commerce and business organisations have signed a manifesto that explicitly backs Catalonia's right to self-determination. They presented the initiative on Thursday, in a lighthouse on the Costa Brava. The document is based on a previous agreement reached among employers and business associations just from Girona Province (north-east), but now it has been shared with organisations from throughout Catalonia. Some media, mostly edited in Madrid and abroad, are portraying the business community as against the self-determination process, but there are many employers that are backing it, even among the larger companies. A few weeks ago, the President and co-owner of the pharmaceutical Grífols – which is one of the world leaders for blood-derivate products – backed the Catalan President and his efforts to organise a self-determination vote.

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08 May 2014 08:04 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- 28 employers’ associations, chambers of commerce and business organisations have signed a manifesto that explicitly backs Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a vote on this issue. They presented the initiative on Thursday, in Sant Sebastià lighthouse on the Costa Brava, and it received the name 'The Lighthouse Manifesto'. The document is based on a previous agreement reached among employers and business associations just from Girona Province (north-east), but it has now been shared with organisations from throughout Catalonia, including some of the main employers’ associations, such as CECOT, and all 13 existing Catalan chambers of commerce. Some media, mostly edited in Madrid and abroad, are portraying the business community as being against the self-determination process, as a united opposition block. However, there are many Catalan employers that are backing it, even among the larger companies. For instance, a few weeks ago, the President and co-owner of the pharmaceutical Grífols – which is one of the world leaders of blood-derivate products – backed the Catalan President and his efforts to organise a self-determination vote. In addition, in October 2012, the PIMEC small and medium-sized enterprise association issued a survey stating that around two thirds of its members would back independence from Spain. However, it is also true that the President of the main employer association in Catalonia, Foment del Treball, which has strong ties with Madrid organisations, has expressed his doubts about the process and his preference to remain within Spain. At the same time, some members of Foment, such as the Federation of Business Organisations of Girona (FOEG), which has signed 'The Lighthouse Manifesto', have expressed their support for self-determination.


A large section of the Catalan business community offered a powerful image on Thursday by presenting 'The Lighthouse Manifesto' which gives "unconditional support" to Catalonia's right to self-determination and the organisation of a vote on this issue, which should take place on the 9th of November. In total, the document was backed by 28 business associations: all 13 existing chambers of commerce in Catalonia as well as other business and employers’ organisations, including CECOT, Pimec, Amec, Fepime and Femcat, among others. In order to sign and present the document to the press, a representative of each group came to the Sant Sebastià lighthouse, located on top of a Costa Brava cliff near Llafranc and the town of Palafrugell. They criticised the Spanish Government for not talking with Catalan representatives on self-determination demands and they also criticised it for "mistreating" Catalonia's economy, for instance by not building essential infrastructure and by keeping a perpetuated fiscal deficit that under-budgets public services and private business. The Coordinator of the National Alliance for Self-determination, the veteran Christian-Democrat politician Joan Rigol, was also present and thanked the courage of these business associations for speaking up.

Business associations criticise the Spanish Government's lack of dialogue

"Democracy does not worry us, the entrepreneurs. However, what worries us is intolerance and ignorance ", declared the President of the CECOT multi-sector employers’ association, Antoni Abad.  "We are noticing, with great concern, that there is no dialogue in Spain, since the Transition [from Franco's dictatorship to democracy]. The lack of dialogue means tension, and tension damages the economic recovery", added Abad, who was indirectly replying to yesterday's words of the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. On Wednesday, Rajoy met with the Presidents and CEOs of Spain's largest companies – such as Santander, BBVA, Inditex, Mango and Ferrovial – and told them that Catalonia's self-determination was damaging the economic recovery. Rajoy has pursued a no-to-everything attitude regarding the demands to organise a self-determination vote, which are backed by between 75% and 80% of the Catalan population. Instead, Rajoy downplays such support, claiming that "the majority" of Catalans are against self-determination. In addition, he refuses to even talk about it with Catalan representatives and states that he will only talk if Catalans give up their self-determination demands. This was the lack of dialogue Antoni Abad was referring to.

Joining the National Alliance for Self-determination, which brings together more than 1,500 organisations

The manifesto is a short text and it basically emphasises the "unconditional support" of the signers for Catalonia's right to self-determination. It also states their "total adhesion to the National Alliance for Self-determination", an initiative encompassing more than 1,500 organisations, including public institutions, political parties, trade unions, business organisations, professional associations, NGOs, cultural organisations and political pressure groups. The National Alliance met for the second time in February and agreed on working to guarantee that Catalans were allowed to hold a free and democratic vote on their own collective future.

'The Lighthouse Manifesto' states that "this [self-determination] process has to allow our fellow citizens to be able to freely and democratically express their will on our country's future". The text is very similar to the previous initiative adopted among business organisations and employers’ associations from Girona Province, in north-eastern Catalonia. As a tribute to this first initiative, the presentation of the initiative backed by organisations from throughout Catalonia took place in Llafranc, in the same province. The document emphasised "the commitment to respect and to support" the decision adopted by the people of Catalonia, "whatever it is". In addition, they engage themselves in "adapting the activity" of their companies to this decision, in order not to obstruct the will of the people but to back it.

Spanish authorities are "getting in our face"

During the manifesto presentation several representatives of the signing organisations gave a short speech, including Joan Rigol, the Coordinator of the National Alliance. Rigol insisted that "employers are an essential part of Catalan society"; he praised them for openly backing self-determination. "When they are getting in our face with the Wert Law [the Education Reform reducing the presence of Catalan language in schools] or the Market Unity Law, they do not realise that they are hurting profoundly positive attitudes of our society, and we have to address this", said Rigol. In fact, many voices complained about how the Spanish Government "has mistreated" Catalonia from a fiscal, political and cultural point of view, without showing respect for its language and culture and by perpetuating an unfair fiscal deficit that under-budgets public services and damages the private economy.

They have also criticised the lack of respect to democracy and to Catalan society that the Spanish Government's confrontational attitude and refusal to talk represents. "There have been repeated attempts to talk without receiving any response from the Spanish authorities; this closed door provokes an increased citizen and business disaffection [towards Spain]", stated Jaume Plana, President of FOEG, the Girona business-owners’ association which is part of Foment del Treball, Catalonia's main employer's association. Plana insisted that the petition to vote on 9th of November "is not an issue of a bunch of fools nor something that will fade away as many in Madrid think".

The President of Girona Chamber of Commerce and the Vice President of Catalonia's Council of Chambers of Commerce, Domènec Espadalé, underlined the "key principle of employers" is to have a society able "to decide in a free and democratic way" on its future. "We want to build progress and welfare for our society out of our work and from our companies", he said. "And we want to make it crystal clear: we want and we believe that we will vote", Espadalé added.

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  • Family picture of the business associations signing 'The Lighthouse Manifesto' backing self-determination (by T. Tàpia)

  • Family picture of the business associations signing 'The Lighthouse Manifesto' backing self-determination (by T. Tàpia)

  • Family picture of the business associations signing 'The Lighthouse Manifesto' backing self-determination (by T. Tàpia)
  • Family picture of the business associations signing 'The Lighthouse Manifesto' backing self-determination (by T. Tàpia)
Antoni Abad, President of the CECOT employers' association (by ACN)