surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

Sad and surreal

After the turmoil of the last month, it was refreshing to hear some entirely predictable news this week. Spain's National Institute of Statistics (INE) confirmed that the country's third-quarter growth was at 0.8%, slightly down from the 0.9% posted in Q2 but fully in line with economists' predictions. Over the last few days, this figure has prompted some point-missing headlines announcing that the Spanish economy has chugged along despite the recent turmoil in Catalonia. Yet it will be the Q4 statistics that speak of the tragic farce now entering its final stage, covering as they do a month that many Spaniards would prefer to forget.

Catalonia has already registered the economic shock waves of the secession battle more than the rest of Spain. Since the now-deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont held an illegal independence referendum on 1 October, almost 2,000 companies have moved their headquarters from Catalonia. In some beach resorts south of the regional capital, the amount of property on sale has increased by 50% since 1-O. Tourism has taken a hit too, with industry lobbying group Exceltur reporting that hotel and transport bookings are down 20% since the referendum; the body predicts that Catalonia's takings from foreign visitors could drop by around 1.2 billion euros in Q4. Reflecting these changes, Barcelona's Chamber of Commerce has cut its growth prediction for the region from 2.7% to 2.5% next year. Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy, so these economic shock waves are bound to spread throughout the country during the final quarter of 2017.

The extent to which they do depends, of course, on what happens next in the Catalonian saga. With Puigdemont in exile in Belgium and Mariano Rajoy now in control of a region the former Catalan leader hoped could be an independent Republic, we now seem to be witnessing its sad and surreal coda. But things are far from over.

At the time of writing (Thursday), Puigdemont has refused to respond to a court summons requesting his return to Madrid. Mariano Rajoy, meanwhile, has called snap elections for 21 December, which Puigdemont says he is entitled to stand in; yet his refusal to attend court in Madrid this week might lead to an arrest warrant that would prevent him from doing so.

As far as the business and tourism industries are concerned, all of this shows that Catalonia is still a territory dogged by uncertainty and the possibility of further political upheaval. Spain's Q3 growth statistics didn't reflect that fact - probably because back in the summer few people saw the secession issue escalating in the way that it has. But the Q4 figures, covering as they do a period as dramatic as it was unbelievable, are likely to tell a different story.