Anyone's guess

Just how concerned is the Spanish government about the potential cost of the Catalonia crisis to the rest of the country? One week it seems to be very worried indeed, yet the next it appears to shrug off the dangers, and nowhere is this more evident than in the statements of Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos.

Last week saw De Guindos fretting that the ongoing problems in the north-easterly region had already cost Spain one billion euros. Yet this Tuesday, the minister sent out a rather different message when he upped the government's forecast for Spain's GDP expansion in 2018.

“The scenario [for this year],” a suddenly-optimistic De Guindos said at an investors' conference earlier this week, “is a growth rate clearly above 2.5%.” Previously, that estimate was at 2.3%.

I've written in this column time and again that, macroeconomically, Spain is indifferent to the games of its politicians: this was proved when the country went for ten months without a government in 2016 yet still posted solid GDP growth that year. What's interesting here is what De Guindos is thinking and the messages he's sending out. And the conclusion we're left with is that he thinks the Spanish economy can lose a billion euros, no problem, and still smash the government's growth targets.

When De Guindos estimated that the Catalonia farce had already cost Spain a billion euros, it seemed he was also worried about further damage to the country's GDP - and rightly: the issue is far from resolved. A week on, and this is still the case. Pro-independence parties won a parliamentary majority in the Catalan elections on December 21st last year, and this week they have agreed to try and restore the former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, to power. There's just one problem with that plan, though: Puigdemont is in voluntary exile in Belgium and will be arrested if he sets foot in Spain.

Bizarrely and hilariously, Puigdemont is said to be proposing governing Catalonia from Brussels via video-call. Accordingly, legal experts are now pouring over the rules of the regional parliament to see if this is allowed for. Inés Arrimadas, leader of the anti-independence party Ciudadanos in Catalonia, summed up the absurdity of this proposal by saying that Puigdemont “cannot be president by hologram”. Perhaps she begs the question, though, because there seem to be no limits to how surreal the Catalonia situation can become.

So there is a possibility, no matter how strange, that the Spanish government's nemesis is about to become leader of Catalonia again. And to reflect that fact, Luis de Guindos ups this year's economic forecast for Spain.

Perhaps, if a hologrammed Puigdemont is elected to lead Catalonia for a second time - governing via Skype and Whatsapp - the Spanish economy minister will increase his growth estimate yet again.