CECOT’s Nit de l’Empresari [1] this year began with a big hand for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. That is how the employers’ group —which brings together over six thousand firms and 39 associations and trade groups— voiced its position on Catalonia’s current political situation. Last night’s was no halfhearted response. CECOT chairman Antoni Abat spoke in the same vein in his address, when he remarked that Catalan employers will stand by the people of Catalonia and their institutions, and that freedom is at stake in the current conflict: “Without freedom there is no democracy, no future”.

Abat called on all actors to find a way out of the dead end through democracy and political action: “Freedom is about deciding, freedom means responsibility, freedom is about doubting and having a conscience. Society’s voices and expressions cannot be jailed”. And he went on to finish his speech with a sentence that speaks volumes: “Some have kept quiet for forty years, without dialogue. The time to talk has come”.

At the start of his address, Abat went over the demands made by CECOT during the group’s twenty-three year-old history. In the 1990s, under president Jordi Pujol, they denounced the lack of infrastructures; in 2005, with president Pasqual Maragall, it was the gap between tax levies sent to Madrid and the value of state services received. With president José Montilla, in 2007, CECOT decried “society’s growing disenfranchisement from politics”. In 2011, with president Artur Mas, they stressed that the main problem with the Spanish economy was the country’s poor democratic standards. “When any society has been making the same demands for twenty years, supported with arguments and figures, but no alternative is offered to meet its aspirations, then something is very wrong at the core of the system. This is not normal! We’re in this situation because solutions haven’t been explored”.

The employers’ response

On the subject of the decision by some companies to move their legal headquarters outside Catalonia —aided by Spain’s new ad-hoc legislation—, Abat stated that all decisions must be respected: “We mustn’t condemn business decisions that are individual and risky. They should be respected under the assumption that they aim to preserve the activity and the continuity [of a firm]”.

However, he noted that much has been written about the companies that are leaving but little about those that are staying. “The economy is not an exact science, but a social science where feelings and emotions have a bearing on decision-making. Therefore, the stability of Catalonia’s economy will depend on the total sum of the individual decisions we make”.

On this point, according to a report published a few days ago by PIMEC [2], only 1 per cent of Catalonia’s 130,000 SMBs have decided to move their legal headquarters.

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Translator’s notes:

[1] CECOT is a multi-sector employers’ group that represents over six thousand companies, as well as thirty-nine trade groups and professional associations in Catalonia. Every year it holds a high-profile awards ceremony known as Nit de l’Empresari (Businessperson’s Evening).

[2] PIMEC is a Catalan employers’ group that brings together mainly small and midsize businesses.

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