Why do they say companies are fleeing Catalonia?

I am starting to get tired of the refrain about businesses leaving Catalonia, and stalled investments. All because of the independence movement, of course. Since 2012 this has been repeated without any supporting data, but it is logical that they persist: rumors are a very effective way of planting an idea, particularly when it is untrue.

Have we seen a reduction in foreign investment, or investor interest in Catalonia in the last few years? Absolutely not. Has any flight of businesses from Catalonia been detected, beyond what was normal before the pro-independence movement started? Not at all.

So there have been no changes, then? Yes, there have been some. We have suffered, for example, when notable members of the Spanish government insinuated to investors that it would be better for them to set up shop outside Catalonia. There have been hurdles to our work of supporting Catalan businesses that want to internationalize and draw in investors laid by some staff in Spain’s embassies and ICEX (Spanish Exports and Investments) offices (although it's also important to say that there are many who have acted professionally and responsibly, cooperating in a proper and cordial way). And we are aware of many diplomatic maneuvers to ensure that economic representatives from other governments do not meet with us. In short, the difficulties that have been seen in public support for the internationalization of the Catalan economy have not come from either an exemplary democratic process or from reluctance on the part of foreign business owners or governments: they come from the concealed but active hostility of the Spanish government.

All of this has been offset thanks to the efforts of the people who work for the Generalitat's foreign offices for commerce and investment, to the spirit and courage of our companies --particularly small and medium-sized ones--, to the support of many well-positioned Catalans around the world, and to the sympathy of many of those who have received undue pressure.

Now we must face another front, which I indicated at the start of this article: the presentation of normal market economy phenomena as if they were tragic consequences of the "secessionist drift". They take the figure of 1,000 businesses that "left" Catalonia in 2014 and use it to pontificate on the apocalypse. They deliberately ignore the fact that they are talking about changes in tax address, and not about businesses that close down or move away. They deliberately ignore that even more companies "leave" Madrid: specifically, 1,400 in 2014. They deliberately ignore that there are more than 600 that have moved to Catalonia from other Spanish regions. They ignore that this phenomenon is much older than the independence movement. They need to hide all of this contextualization, coming from the same study that they brandish, because then their thesis would not stand up to scrutiny.

These warnings, then, do not stem from a genuine concern, but rather from bad faith. They distort reality to cast doubt on the business reputation of Catalonia in order to elicit the intended response: for the Catalan economy to suffer so that they may justify their opposition to independence.

Two questions spring to mind when considering this scenario. The first is why there are people and organizations that resort to such dirty tricks. I want to believe that a significant part of the cases are due to excessive credulity in the face of any rumor that supports their own fears —as unfounded as it might be—. In other cases, this naivety is doubtful, and it must boil down to an actively militant stance against the Catalan independence process by adhering to slogans from certain political parties or an attempt to strengthen their individual position in the "star system" of the Spanish business community. The exaggerated media attention garnered by certain organizations without a representative social base when they spread this kind of message cannot be ignored, as it encourages them to persist in their folly.

A second question arises from this latter point: why are there so many media outlets that have given up and merely spread these "news items" without checking on their truth or the reliability of their sources? With a little bit of professional rigor, neither the rumors nor the manipulation of data would survive the filters of newsworthiness. Or in any case, they would be checked against the source and thus lose their spectacular character. The economy, politics, and journalistic quality would be the winners.

In any case, today the defense of Catalan businesses --of their capacity to generate wealth and create jobs-- is dependent on denouncing all of these crude attempts to discredit Catalonia and its economic recovery.

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Pere Torres is the Catalan Government’s Secretary for Business and Competitiveness