The Catalan President asks Barroso to make the Mediterranean Railway Corridor a European priority

The President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso met with the President of the Catalan Government Artur Mas in Brussels. Barroso recognised the Catalan Government's efforts to reduce public deficit. Mas emphasised the importance of making Catalan an official EU language. Mas was accompanied by the Christian-Democrat Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida and the new Catalan Delegate to the European Union, Joan Prat.

CNA / Raquel Correa / Gaspar Pericay Coll

March 4, 2011 12:42 PM

Brussels (ACN).- José Manuel Durao Barroso, the President of the European Commission, recognised the efforts made by the Catalan Government to cut the public deficit. The Catalan President, Artur Mas, confirmed after the meeting that Barroso “is aware that the Catalan Government is implementing the needed measures to reduce the public deficit” as Brussels demanded. Another point discussed was the so-called Mediterranean Railway Corridor, the goods railway that should link the Gibraltar Straight with Central Europe along the Mediterranean shore, passing by the Barcelona, Valencia and Tarragona harbours. Mas emphasised the need to include this infrastructure in the European Union transport priorities as it will become a strategic asset for the continent’s goods distribution and for importation/exportation, fostering Europe’s economy. On the political side, the Catalan President told Barroso about the possibility of using the Union for the Mediterranean, which has its permanent secretariat’s headquarters in Barcelona, as a tool to act “with a united stance” towards the situation in the Arab countries. Finally, another issue discussed was declaring Catalan as an official EU language. Mas stressed the importance of this symbolic action, as Catalan is an official language widely spoken and written in a territory of more than 12 million citizens, with an extensive and rich literature.

Two months after he was sworn into office, Artur Mas takes his first trip to Brussels as the President of the Catalan Government. The meeting was organised by the ‘number two’ of Mas’ coalition, the Christian-Democrat Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida. The latter has very good relations with Barroso. In the new Catalan Government, Duran plays a key role in its External Relations policy and in the relations with the Spanish Government. In fact, Duran recommended the new Delegate of the Catalan Government to the European Union, Joan Prat.

Prat is an experienced diplomat, who used to be the Spanish Ambassador to NATO between 2000 and 2004, when José Maria Aznar was the Spanish Prime Minister. In the last few years, Prat was the Spanish Ambassador to the Netherlands. In addition, Prat has significant experience within the European Commission, where he worked for 10 years as Director General for External Relations and previously as Director for Mediterranean and South American policies and Commissioner’s Head of Cabinet. Together with Mas and Duran, Joan Prat attended the meeting with Barroso, as from now on he will be in charge of pushing Catalan interests in Brussels and informing the Catalan Government about the EU institutions activity. Mas wanted to answer anyone who felt Prat was a surprising choice as he worked for the Spanish Nationalist José Maria Aznar, from the People’s Party (PP). The Catalan President stressed that “Prat was not a member of the PP”.

The new Catalan Government’s Secretary for External Relations, the diplomat Senén Florensa, also joined Artur Mas on his Brussels trip. Senén Florensa used to be the Spanish Ambassador in Tunisia and he was the Director of the ‘Institut Europeu de la Mediterrània’ (European Institute of Mediterranean Affairs), the IEMed. Florensa is thus an expert in the Arab region and in Mediterranean policies.

The main points of the meeting with Barroso

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durao Barroso welcomed Artur Mas in his office on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont building. Barroso and Mas talked for some 90 minutes about several economic and political issues.

The main focus of the meeting was the economic crisis and the measures the Catalan Government are taking to overcome it. Mas told Barroso about his Government’s “engagement to austerity policies”. “The current Government is engaged with managing with rigour the public finances”. This rigour should help Catalonia “to recuperate its prestige abroad”, added Mas. Duran i Lleida. Also present in the meeting, he told Barroso about the need for the Spanish Government “to make new structural reforms” to generate employment. Duran thinks that unemployment “is the main problem today” in Spain and “the Spanish Government is not taking short-term measures to foster job creation”.

Still on the economic dimension, Mas emphasised the strategic importance to push for the Mediterranean Railway Corridor. “If we want a more connected Europe, we need trans-border networks”, said Mas. The Mediterranean Railway Corridor must be a European Union priority. It would be a key strategic asset in goods logistics, for instance transporting freight on the same train from Algeciras (in the Gibraltar Straight) to Stockholm, passing along Barcelona, Lyon or Hamburg. Mas defended the Mediterranean option instead of those who are pushing for linking Madrid with Toulouse through the Central Pyrenees. Mas pointed out that construction of the Central-Pyrenees option would be much more expensive and would avoid Spanish main harbours and industrial areas of the Mediterranean shore. The Catalan President said that “the economic recovery” will come with improving “the export and internationalisation capacity” of the economic engines of Spain. Mas said that the Mediterranean Arch, from Algeciras to North Catalonia represents “50% of Spain’s external trade”.

On the political front, Mas and Duran also discussed the current situation in the Arab countries with Barroso, which “is difficult but with lots of hope” according to Mas. The Catalan President told Barroso that the entire Europe “should bend over backwards” for the Arab countries, providing help and support to push for democracy. Mas congratulated Barroso on his speech on Wednesday asking Gaddafi to quit and reminding everyone about the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The UfM has its permanent secretariat in Barcelona and the Catalan President emphasised the possibility of using this tool to coordinate the EU Mediterranean policy and “speak with a single voice” and have “a common stance” on the Arab countries’ situation. The UfM could be used by the European Member States in the current situation of the South Mediterranean and their future need for a greater focus on the region.

Other meetings in Brussels

The President of the Catalan Government is also the President of the Catalan Liberal Party, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC). CDC forms an electoral coalition and is united in a federation with the Catalan Christian-Democrat Party, Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, lead by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida. Together, CDC and UDC form Convergència i Unió (CiU), which is the main political force in Catalonia and defines itself as Moderate Catalan Nationalist. It has to be stressed that “Nationalist” has another meaning than in other places of Europe such as the UK or Central Europe. What CiU stance for is the existence of a Catalan nation, which is denied by the Spanish Nationalism, and the respect and promotion of Catalan language and culture.

As leader of the Catalan Liberals, Artur Mas met with the leader of the Liberal Group within the European Parliament, the Belgian Guy Verhosfstadt. CiU has currently one seat at the European Parliament, but when the new Lisbon Treaty distribution of seats it will have two. Ramon Tremosa is currently the only Member of the European Parliament from CiU, and he is part of the Liberal Group. Tremosa also attended the meeting.

Artur Mas also visited the offices of the Delegation of the Catalan Government to the European Union, which are close to the Berlaymont building, in the other side of Schumann square. Mas asked the Delegation staff to work with “pride” and “efficiency and Catalan spirit”.

In the morning, Mas also visited the Spanish Permanent Representation to the European Union and met with the Ambassador Luis Planas.