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Who are the traitors in Catalonia?

Pro-independence economist Xavier Sala i Martín says banks’ decision to leave region is political intimidation

The new Banco Sabadell HQ in Alicante.
The new Banco Sabadell HQ in Alicante. AFP

The most sectarian economist in Catalonia, the brilliant Xavier Sala i Martín, writes in Playground that the decision by Catalan banks to change their registered corporate addresses “cannot be understood as a legitimate decision to go, but as an attempt to create political pressure.”

“The top management at two Catalan-based banks” have joined “the tactics of generating new uncertainty” about the situation, adds Guillem López Casasnovas, a former council member at the Bank of Spain, in El Periódico. Their actions, he adds, are “reprehensible.”

They are destroying the Catalonia that was the half-achieved dream of Catalanists

If they were really interested in what is going on, they would know that Caixabank and Banco Sabadell changed their registered address to protect their own clients and shareholders and avoid losing the protection of the European Central Bank. But just like the Catalan newspaper Ara, which attributed this move to “a great intimidation operation” orchestrated by the central government, they would rather stoke the fire.

It would have been enough for them to visit a branch office before the address change and witness the anguish felt by savers over the announcement of a declaration of independence by their government: by the secessionist government in Catalonia that is, and by none other. Intellectual poverty prevails. Yet even that is not lethal, because Caixa and Sabadell chiefs Isidre Fainé and Josep Oliu now have someone who will write to them.

The worst part is, these intellectuals are minimizing the effects of the change of corporate address: “The only difference resides in where a very small portion of bank transaction-related taxes will end up; the economy itself will not even feel it,” writes Sala i Martín with contempt. “This decision has very limited significance,” adds López.

What secessionists and their intellectual apparatchiks are now implacably destroying is the structure of a middle-sized economy

This assessment ignores the fact that a change of registered address can be followed by a change in tax address (in fact, that’s already happened) and, down the line, a move in operational HQ as well. And then there are all the synergies involved: ever since ENHER was acquired by Endesa, it stopped being a factory of proximity engineers. “Catalonia has had a problem with its lack of headquarters,” said a wiser man, Andreu Mas-Colell, when the Catalan branches of motorcycle multinationals – the former Derbi and Yamaha (Sanglas) – shut down in March 2011. Closures such as Pirelli, Samsung and others derived from a lack of headquarters in Catalonia: when a crisis comes round, companies shut down their more distant offices.

The need for powerful, solid businesses with strong ties to the land has also been underscored beyond the realm of industry, in the world of finance.

What secessionists and their intellectual apparatchiks are now implacably destroying, at the risk of causing massive unemployment and poverty, is the structure of a middle-sized economy that is balanced and innovative and includes local decision-making centers. Everyone is now moving out – Ibex-listed banks and companies, small and medium enterprises, executives.

They are destroying the Catalonia that was the half-achieved dream of Catalanists. They are ignoring or forgetting the words of the politician Francesc Cambó, who wrote back in 1915: “Sense una banca catalana forta i activa tots els nostres afanys per a intensificar la nostra indústria, tots fallaran” (Without a strong and active Catalan banking sector, all our endeavors to intensify our industry will fail).

They are also forgetting the Society for Economic Studies of Catalonia, which in 1908 wrote Necesidad de crear una banca catalana (On the need to create a Catalan banking sector). And Joan Sardà and Lluc Beltran, who in 1933 produced Els problemes de la banca catalana (The problems of the Catalan banking sector). Not to mention Jacint Ros and Antoni Montserrat, who in 1967 penned L’aptitud financera de Catalunya (Catalonia’s financial ability). Or the scores of books written by former Catalan premier Jordi Pujol’s honest brother-in-law, Francesc Cabana, particularly his 1972 Bancs i banquers a Catalunya (Banks and bankers in Catalonia).

It is they, Sala and López, who are the traitors to Catalonia.

English version by Susana Urra.

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