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CATALAN QUESTION

Publisher "will move business" if Catalonia secedes from Spain

Business sector wondering what could happen to their interests

"Independence is absolutely impossible," says president of Planeta, José Manuel Lara

The president of Planeta, José Manuel Lara, warned on Friday that if Catalonia ends up seceding from Spain, his publishing house will take its headquarters elsewhere.

"I was telling [Catalan premier] Artur Mas: it's easier for me than for anybody else. There is no publishing business that has its headquarters in a foreign country that speaks a different language. That's absurd. The headquarters would have to go to Zaragoza, Madrid or Cuenca," said the Catalan businessman.

"Independence is absolutely impossible," added Lara, hoping that the road map adopted on Thursday by Mas in the regional assembly is nothing more than "a pressure tool to seek something halfway." Lara also recollected the 2004 boycott on Catalan sparkling wine following statements by then-leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, Josep Lluís Carod Rovira, criticizing Madrid's Olympic bid.

In an interview with ABC Punto Radio, the owner of the publishing and broadcasting giant warned the Catalan parties that they could be creating "expectations for people" regarding a project that might not be taken to full term. As for "the other party," in reference to the central government in Madrid, Lara recommended that it sit down to talk with Catalan representatives "once and for all."

"They shouldn't have waited for this situation," he said.

Still, Lara feels that a "sufficient breeding ground" for independence is not there, because a majority of Catalans - between 60 percent and 80 percent in his estimation - feel both Catalan and Spanish in varying proportions. Lara also noted that independence for the northeastern region would mean leaving the euro zone, with a return to it looking very unlikely.

Catalonia, he said, would have to take 20 percent of Spain's debt along with interests, and if it ever did rejoin the euro as an independent nation, it would have to be a net contributor of community funds to other countries. Catalan nationalists have long complained that Catalonia contributes more to regional funds in Spain than other regions.

Grupo Planeta is a giant publishing concern that includes major labels like Crítica, Espasa, Ariel, Paidós and Destino, besides Grup 62 and the collector's series Planeta DeAgostini. In 2008, Lara acquired Editis, France's second-largest publishing group, for over one billion euros. The conglomerate also includes television station Antena 3, the radio stations Onda Cero and Europa FM, and the conservative daily La Razón. Other companies in the group include the bookstore chain La Casa del Libro and the book club Círculo de Lectores.

Besides the publishing and broadcasting business, in 2010 Lara was named vice-president of Sabadell Bank, which he owns a significant share of. In 2004 he founded the low-cost airline Vueling together with the investment fund Apax Partners, although he abandoned that venture in 2009 after selling off his 14.3-percent share.

Lara has also played a relevant public role in Barcelona: between 2005 and 2008 he presided the prestigious lobby Círculo de Economía, whose board he still sits on.

Until now, most Catalan businesspeople have tried to remain on the sidelines of the sovereignty debate. The larger corporations have already warned Mas that they will only support him to the extent of renegotiating a new fiscal deal for the region, but no further than that.

Salvador Alemany, president of the infrastructure giant Abertis and an advisor on Mas' economic council, did speak up, however. "The conflict affects us and we are not feeling calm about it," he said at an event organized by business school ESADE. "This is the time to sit down [to talks], not to encourage confrontation. [...] Businesspeople are faced with a complex situation during this duel between administrations, and they are wondering what's going to happen to their activities."