The Catalan Government announces it will increase its external relations action as it is “more needed than ever”

The Catalan Government criticised the Spanish Executive’s obstacles to Catalonia’s own external relations action, as “in a globalised world” this “is not a caprice”, but essential to be recognised at an international level and to attract foreign investment. The Catalan Minister for the Presidency, in charge of External Relations, Francesc Homs, criticised the Spanish Government’s “old-fashioned” way of understanding diplomacy and gave the example of spending in 2012 “€330,000 on cutlery and table cloths”. Homs emphasised the main commercial focus of Catalonia’s external offices and their “modesty”. The Catalan Government has a total of 5 political representation offices – including for the European Union – and 34 commercial offices.


January 29, 2013 11:41 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Government has decided to continue and even expand its external relations action, since “it is not a caprice” as “in a globalised world […] it is more needed than ever” in order to be recognised at an international level and to attract foreign investment, stated the Catalan Minister for the Presidency Francesc Homs, in charge of External Relations. Homs criticised the Spanish Government’s obstacles to Catalonia’s own external relations action, while he praised the work of the professional Spanish diplomats. Homs focused his criticism on the political drives of the Spanish Government and its “old-fashioned” way of understanding diplomacy. The Catalan Minister emphasised the main commercial focus of Catalonia’s external offices and their “modesty”, while the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry spent “€330,000 on cutlery and table clothes” in 2012. On Monday it was announced that the Spanish Government is preparing a law under which all external relations actions developed by the Autonomous Communities’ governments will have to be supervised and authorised by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry. Furthermore, those Autonomous Communities not meeting the deficit targets might be obliged to close their offices abroad in order to reduce spending. In Catalonia, this has been interpreted as a way to control the Catalan Government’s contacts abroad in order to put its view across regarding Catalonia’s right to self-determination, the split of deficit targets and the need to promote the Catalan language and culture abroad. The legal framework recognises Catalonia’s external action capacity, if limited to the competences it manages. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has already reacted to the news on Monday by stating that the new law was “a sign of the most antiquated, obsolete and closed-minded Spanish nationalism”. In fact, the Catalan Government’s offices abroad have been one of the preferred targets of Spanish nationalist media and politicians, calling them “embassies” and officially considering them to be an excessive cost.

Catalonia’s network abroad

The Catalan Government has a total of 5 offices for political representation abroad, including that for the European Union. They are all in Europe (Brussels, Paris, London and Berlin) apart from the one in New York. It also has 34 commercial offices spread throughout the world. Almost all the political representations offices share space with the commercial offices, although they are run by different departments. The political representations offices host cultural promotion activities, give support to Catalan communities abroad, liaise with the country’s main institutions (governments, business associations, media, etc.) and report on decisions affecting Catalonia’s interests. The 34 commercial offices help Catalan companies to access new markets and find new clients abroad. They also work to attract foreign investment. In fact, Catalonia has by far the most internationalised economy within Spain, leading Spain’s exports and tourism industry.

In 2012 the Catalan Government planned a budget of €10.46 million to run its external relations programme, representing a 40% reduction compared to 2 years ago. The €10.46 million programme includes grants for international relations institutions based in Barcelona and to Catalan communities abroad. It represents 0.036% of the Catalan Government’s total budget and 0.0052% of Catalonia’s GDP. In 2013, the Spanish Government is imposing a 0.7% deficit target on the Catalan Government, which will oblige the Catalan Executive to make a budget adjustment of almost €4 billion in a single year. The budget exclusively allocated to run the 5 offices for political representation represented €1.14 million in 2012.

A “legal and constitutional” network

In addition, the Statute of Autonomy – Catalonia’s main law approved by the Spanish Parliament and by the Catalan people through a referendum – allows the Catalan Executive to run external relations actions, if limited to the powers it manages. For instance, the law authorises the Catalan Government to carry on contacts regarding culture, language, education, business promotion, fiscal consolidation, transport infrastructures, election organisation, and many other policy fields, but it cannot be involved in defence matters. In fact, last winter, before the self-determination debate reached Madrid’s establishment after last September’s massive demonstration supporting Catalonia’s independence from Spain, the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, recognised that these offices “are legal and constitutional”.

“More external action than ever before”

The Catalan Minister for the Presidency, who is also in charge of External Relations, also reacted to the news about the Spanish Government’s new law limiting the external action of the Autonomous Communities. Francesc Homs stated that the Spanish diplomatic corps “is very professional” but that the members of the People’s Party running the Spanish Government are “very belligerent” towards Catalonia’s own external action. As the Catalan President did the day before, he criticised the People’s Party for “not understanding how the world works”. “In the current moment, thinking that touring abroad is a caprice is not only from last century but from two centuries ago! It shows a lack of understanding of how the world works”, he said. According to Homs, it is essential to play at an international level in order to attract foreign investment. Therefore, as Catalonia is one of Europe’s leaders in attracting foreign tourists, it leads Spain’s exports and it is pushing for its right to self-determination, the Catalan Minister insisted that they will carry on “more external action than ever before”. Homs explained that highlighting what’s going on in Catalonia right now at the political level is needed, but it is even more important to carry on an economic diplomacy and to offer an internationalisation service to Catalan companies and attracting foreign investment.