The Catalan President, Artur Mas, this morning received at the Palau de la Generalitat the members of the Spanish-German group from the German Parliament (Bundestag). The MPs explained their interest in discussing with the President the current political climate and his views on the immediate future of Catalonia. The President briefly explained the current situation in Catalonia, from an economic viewpoint as well as regarding the national transition the country is going through, and agreed with the German MPs that the present situation requires a stronger Europe.
The German MPs are the first foreign delegation received by President Mas after he announced his willingness to explain to other European governments the decision to promote a referendum during the next parliamentary term in order to establish whether the Catalan population supports the creation of a Catalan state within the European Union (EU).
Besides President Mas, the meeting was also attended by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Senén Florensa. The German delegation, that was accompanied by the German consul general in Barcelona, Bernhard Brasack, and consul Arnulf Braun, consisted of Alexander Ulrich, President of the Spanish-German parliamentary group (Die Linke); Rita Pawelski, Vice-President (CDU/CSU); Angelika Brunkhorst, Vice-President (FDP); Hans-Werner Kammer, MP (CDU/CSU); Cornelia Behm, MP (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and Monika Hein, co-ordinating member of the parliamentary group.
President Mas explained that the Palau de la Generalitat, where the MPs were received, “has always been the seat of the Catalan government, founded in 1359, except when our country was being oppressed”, and reminded that “Catalonia has always been a European nation, which was founded as a part of Charlemagne’s empire. Thus, we are not in Europe: we are Europe”.
MPs Ulrich and Pawelski acted as spokespersons for the committee. During their speeches, they recognized the force of Catalan reality, and showed themselves grateful for the opportunity of getting first hand information on the developments in Catalonia. “We agree that the situation requires a stronger Europe”, the group’s President Alexander Ulrich concluded.
Artur Mas pointed out that “as Catalans, we understand perfectly that your decisions depend on German public opinion, because Germany’s situation in relation to the European Union is in some respects similar to that of Catalonia in relation to the Spanish state”, with the difference, he added in jest, that “in Europe, Germany pays a lot and in return gets to wield a certain power; in Spain, Catalonia pays a lot and wields hardly any power”. The President underlined that “at a time when exports are what works best in Spain, Catalonia is the region that is most export-oriented”, as it represents between 25-30% of total Spanish exports.
President Mas pointed out to the German MPs that “the austerity policies in Catalonia are very tough, but the reduction of expenses is outweighed by the increase in interest payments and financing costs”. “It is essential to be able to obtain funding at a reasonable price, because otherwise austerity efforts are wasted”, he warned.
Artur Mas explained that “Catalonia is not comfortable in its relation with Spain” because “there is a widespread awareness that if we had more political and fiscal decision-making power we would overcome these difficulties sooner, we would have a better quality of life and would be able to defend our identity in a much better way”. In this respect, he stated that “our ideal is the United States of Europe, where Catalonia would have similar power to that of other states our size”.
The President therefore made clear that “we fully agree that we need more Europe”. “We are a nation with a history of over a thousand years, but we lack a state of our own. If Europe were to become a large federation with fewer powers for traditional states, we would have nothing to lose and a lot to gain”, he added. Artur Mas continued saying that “we want a stronger Europe with responsibility for the big issues, and stronger regions to implement more and better proximity policies”. We are now faced with a weak Europe and Spain having too much power, as a result of which Catalonia can neither solve the big issues nor the more local problems in a proper way”.
President Mas insisted that in Catalonia “we have never disputed the solidarity with other regions in Spain, only the extent and the usefulness of this solidarity, and whether the huge fiscal transfers serve to increase the productive capacity of the receiving territories”. “Our experience over the last thirty years, unfortunately, has shown that the large amounts that have been transferred have not served this purpose”, he added.
Artur Mas emphasized that Catalonia not only pays fiscal transfers every year in the amount of 15 billion euros, which represent around 9% of GDP, “but we also have to pay more for everything: we have toll roads, water, public transport and medicine are more expensive than elsewhere, and we have taxes other parts of Spain do not have, such as the tourist tax”. In this sense, he reminded the German MPs that “we cannot carry out the reforms we need, even if we wanted to, because most legislative competences belong to the Spanish parliament. Besides, in Spain there is no parliamentary body representing the regions, meaning we have a very limited capacity of influencing the central government’s policies”.
Germany, a priority for Catalan foreign policy
During the meeting, the economic relations between Catalonia and Germany were also discussed. The Catalan government considers the relations with Germany a priority and a strategic element of Catalan foreign policy. Together with France it is Catalonia’s principal trading partner, as is shown by the fact that numerous German businesses from different sectors have subsidiaries in Catalonia, and vice versa.
During the first quarter of 2012, Catalan exports to Germany amounted to 1,721.8 million euros, i.e. 28.46% more than last year. In 2011, Catalonia exported goods and services for the amount of 5,500.30 million euros to Germany (25.20% of total Spanish exports to Germany), which represents a 19.47% increase compared to 2010. Exports to Germany represent 9.91% of total Catalan exports.
During the first quarter of 2012, Catalan imports from Germany amounted to 2,781.66 million euros (38.96% of total Spanish imports from Germany), 5.59% more than last year. In 2011, Catalonia imported goods and services for the amount of 11,826.97 million euros from Germany (38.47% of total Spanish imports from Germany), which represents a 21.58% increase compared to 2010. Imports from Germany represent 16.69% of total Catalan imports.
In the first quarter of 2012, German gross real investment in Catalonia was 15,097.52 thousand euros. In 2011, these investments totalled 166,561.88 thousand euros. In 2011, gross investments by Catalan businesses in Germany amounted to 117,872.43 euros, an increase of 259.59% compared to the previous year.
Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona, October 5th 2012