(Br)èxit for Catalonia and Europe

The political and civic initiative for Catalan independence may gather momentum as a consequence of the Brexit referendum

The UK’s referendum to leave the European Union (EU) raises many questions, both at home and in the rest of Europe. While the process could span many years, the British need to plan their future now. Some of these plans will involve relocating businesses from the UK to other EU Member States.

The Brexit vote has led some to draw parallels with Catalonia. In the same way that the UK decided to leave the EU, the government of Catalonia -and a close majority of Parliament- wishes to leave Spain (while the Spanish government is not even prepared to hear what Catalan and/or Spanish voters have to say on the matter). In both cases, the thinking behind them is similar: The United Kingdom and Catalonia both feel unfairly constrained by a distant, bureaucratic government, which is inequitably managing the money they contribute to the EU and Spain, respectively. The political and civic initiative for Catalan independence may gather momentum as a consequence of the Brexit referendum, out of a desire for leadership and control which is more effective, balanced and advanced on many levels.

Pro-independence undercurrents exist in both the UK and Catalonia; nevertheless, they have very different objectives. Those who want Catalonia to become independent from Spain, call for Catalonia to retain its membership of the EU. While Britain wishes to leave the EU to regain aspects of its sovereignty, Catalonia believes it can achieve a higher degree of cultural, legal and economic sovereignty by becoming independent from Spain and joining a community like the EU. Catalonia has an additional interest in the Brexit process: in Scotland’s referendum for independence, a majority of Scottish voters wished to remain in the UK, based on promises of incentives which have failed to materialise and on the understanding that the UK would not leave the EU. As part of the Brexit negotiations, in which the MEP Terricabras participates as a sympathetic observer, Scotland could reconsider independence as a means by which to remain within the EU. The Catalan institutions and civil society need to be prepared for multidirectional movements of both people and businesses which will occur both before and after these negotiations.

Catalonia and Barcelona represent an interesting model both for their diverse lifestyles and for the synergy between knowledge and business, with a steady balance between tradition and innovation, with both a local and a global reach. Barcelona and its surrounding area are world leaders -in addition to being home to some beautiful places and representing a Mediterranean microcosm- in a different way of interacting and doing business. And while Spain is trying to get itself out of a recession, Barcelona and Catalonia have developed a business ecosystem focused on companies of various sizes in which the work-life balance and the value of its human resources play a vital part. Numerous start-ups have also flourished in this dynamic, cosmopolitan environment.

Catalonia is a good place to relocate, being well-connected and with the ability to host world-class exhibitions, conferences and international fairs. The city and its surroundings have attracted numerous types of domestic and multinational companies and professionals ranging from artists, scientists and athletes to business professionals. The domestic and international students at our universities are highly valued and mainly study fields related to social and legal sciences, engineering, architecture and the health sciences. Barcelona’s financial incentives include low interest rates and cheap office space, together with competitive salaries and high and low tech human resources compared with the likes of the UK, Paris and Frankfurt. Madrid -with the invaluable support of a central government which rescued banks rather than individuals without ever recuperating the money, and which announces it will bail out nine toll road concessions in Madrid with the use of everyone’s resources, again in the bank’s favour- continues with its obsession to attract large banking corporations and venture capital funds of the most speculative kind.

Not only does Catalonia strive to increase its sovereignty, it is also concerned about global investments in the region. In spite of the restrictions placed on it by Spain’s central government, Catalonia remains open to accommodating people who have been forced to leave their homes. If the consequences of Brexit lead to a flow of people and commerce leaving London, Catalonia and Barcelona are an effective and sustainable option for relocating business operations with a different way of doing business, based on talent, innovation and conscious commerce looking for a more equitable distribution of the profits. And if Catalonia decides to leave Spain, these companies in our country would serve as our great allies in our efforts to remain in Europe. This would be a success for Catalonia, as well as for Europe.

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(1) N.T.  "èxit" is Catalan for "success"