THE EURO ZONE
Exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, it would seem, is not very commercially-minded. During October, the number of new businesses opening in Catalonia dropped by 14.3% compared to the same month last year. Existing companies are fleeing too: in total, around 2,700 have moved their headquarters from Catalonia since Puigdemont held an illegal independence referendum on 1 October. Yet since that historic day, the former journalist has made no attempt to reassure agitated businesses that their futures would be secure in an independent Catalonia.
In this respect, Puigdemont differs from his more (ahem) commercially-savvy predecessor Artur Mas, who also held an illegal independence referendum during his time as Catalan president (and who was banned from public office for two years for doing so). Mas is often described as “business-friendly” - a term one rarely hears applied to the current president, who remains in voluntary exile in Belgium.
Indeed, amid the furore over Puigdemont's secession project, it's often forgotten just how “business-friendly” former leaders of the European Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCAT) have been.
In October 2015, Andreu Viloca, the treasurer of Mas's Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) party (as the PDeCAT was then called), was arrested as part of an investigation into a contracts-for-cash scandal; it was branded the “3% case” because business leaders were alleged to have secured contracts by paying CDC officials commissions worth 3% of their value. Two days after Viloca's arrest, former CDC treasurer Daniel Osácar was also detained as part of the same investigation.
The end of 2015 also saw the so-called “Palau case” coming to court after years of investigation. It provided evidence that the CDC took over six million euros in illegal commissions from construction companies during Jordi Pujol's 23-year premiership (Pujol was Catalan president from 1980-2003). This summer, Jordi's son Oriol was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for accepting bribes during his time as the CDC's second-in-command.
Anti-secessionists argue that Mas seized on the secession issue to divert attention from corruption within the CDC, a party that up until a few years ago had never tried to divorce Spain (Pujol was a federalist rather than a secessionist). Puigdemont, according to this argument, is maintaining the diversion with an independence movement that's even more aggressive than that of his predecessor. As Inés Arrimadas, head of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, recently put it: “They covered up corruption with a great big [Catalan] flag”.
We now look ahead to next Thursday, when Catalans will vote for their next government in a snap regional election called by Mariano Rajoy last month. Polls suggest that nationalist parties are equally-tied with secessionist parties. The directors of local companies, though, are unlikely to vote for another pro-independence leader, no matter how “business-friendly” Puigdemont's predecessors may have been.