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Artur Mas

Artur Mas was president of Catalonia from 2010 to 2015. On a visit to London he spoke to fDi about the region’s continued push for independence from Spain and what parallels could be drawn with Brexit and Scotland’s status within the UK.

Q: Our greenfield FDI data [from fDi Markets] shows Catalonia is currently performing very well for attracting investment. How do you see its current position as an investment destination? Do you think the government is doing well to keep the economy competitive and attractive to foreign investors?

A: In my view, Catalonia remains a very attractive destination for foreign investment, in general terms. It has been said, in the past few years, that the political process in favour of independence would be an obstacle to attracting FDI in the country. However – as fDi Magazine points out regularly – the reality is the opposite in that, in the past two years, a lot of investment has come to Catalonia. I think in 2015, Catalonia was the leading continental European region in attracting productive foreign investments.

Q: Does that suggest that investors aren’t always scared off by political uncertainty? Good news for Brexit, if so. But what is it about Catalonia that balances things out and allays fears investor fears [about politics]?

A: I think investors see that if Catalonia becomes an independent country, there will be an agreement with the central Spanish institutions and those in Brussels. I don’t think they see the possibility of an independent Catalonia without this kind of agreement. If there were an independent Catalonia without an agreement with Brussels and Madrid, it would be mean that Spain would lose in, one day, 19% of its GDP; but it would keep 100% of its public debt. That would mean the collapse of the Spanish economy. Spain cannot afford a financial burden like this.

So an independent Catalonia is a likely scenario [but] with an agreement with the other political actors that are the owners of Spain’s public debt. The markets are not going to accept Catalonia’s independence without this kind of agreement. Thus, this is something that gives strength to Catalonia, because we know that in the end, negotiations will take place.

Q: Is Brexit good or bad for Catalonia, both in your quest for independence, and economically?

A: Brexit is not good for us, because we are pro-European. When we explain our projections for the future, we have always said we’d like to emulate Austria, Finland and Denmark, countries similar to our country. But at the same time, we would like Catalonia to be fully integrated in a more unified European Union. We don’t want to become an isolated country and economy, with borders, barriers and tariffs and so on. We want an independent country, but fully integrated in the EU.

If we could bet on a different political European project, we would think about a European political federation. I used to say, if Europe is willing to turn itself into a real political federation, then Catalonia could be Massachusetts, so a state within a political federation. But if Europeans don’t accept this federation, then Catalonia aspires to be like Austria, Finland and Denmark.

Q: In that respect, you’re similar to Scotland – do you see them as natural allies? Do you have communication with, or links to, Scotland?

A: Yes, with a difference. Scotland is not a net contributor to the UK, and Catalonia is a great net contributor to Spain and the EU, since the very beginning. Since Spain joined the common market, Catalonia has always been a net contributor to the EU.

Q: Regarding the independence issue, how is progress and what are your expectations?

A: The main goal for us is to hold a specific referendum on independence, like Scotland and Quebec. Why? Because it is the best way to count people in favour or against this central debate: independence is not secondary idea, it is a principle one. We need to count people, who is pro or against? In Spain, this is very difficult to do because every time we try to count people through a consultation or referendum, through specific elections in parliament, the central government in Madrid blocks everything and refuses everything.

Just to give you an idea, in November 2014, we were prosecuted under the penal code [because of the referendum]. We risk being barred from public positions next year, just because we listened to the people and asked them to give us their say. In the end, we opened the ballot boxes in November 2014, and because of this, the Spanish attorney general opened legal procedures against us. So that means that our main goal – holding a specific referendum – is difficult to implement.

But we have the obligation to try to do this. If we cannot hold a referendum, we will substitute it with elections because it is another way, not so perfect, to count the people in favour or against independence. This is what we did in September 2015 and this is what we are going to do next year, if there is no other way of gaining an understanding with the Spanish.

Q: How will you get Madrid’s approval?

A: In Madrid they say ‘no’ to everything and they block everything. You put a specific issue on the table, the answer is ‘no’; if this issue is relating to independence or a referendum, the answer is ‘no’; and if you try to do something despite the answer in Madrid, then they block everything. But at the same time, we have a grass-roots level movement in Catalonia, inspired and driven by civil society. The pro-independence movement is not something politicians created three or four yeas ago; it was driven by civil society and politicians have tried to lead this social movement.

If in Madrid [they were] willing to sit down at the table and talk about everything, to discuss everything, to reach agreements and negotiate, then things would be much easier – but this is not the case. For more than 30 years, we have tried everything to reach a permanent and stable agreement with Catalonia and the rest of Spain. We’ve been involved in all the great issues on Spain’s table. We have helped all the governments in Madrid. We’ve helped the conservatives, the socialists and the centralists.

After more than three decades of helping Spain, backing and supporting governments, and being involved in all the main issues, the answer of the constitutional court in Spain, when Catalonia promoted a referendum, was to strike down what people had voted in a specific, binding and legal referendum. So the conclusion would be, we have tried everything.

The unique alternative we have in our hands, if we want to make sure that the Catalan people have a collective project for the future, is to try to create our own state within the EU, within the euro, within Schengen: our own state. We are on the road to independence, we know that this is a very difficult way, but right now there is no other way for us. We are going to follow this way, and go ahead according to our mentality.

If there is a real possibility to sit down at the table, to negotiate and reach agreements, then we’ll take it. But if everything is blocked, rejected and refused, then we’ll have to follow our own way.

See also: Catalonia’s FDI on the rise.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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