Two years into his mandate as the leader of the country's private sector, CEOE business association president Juan Rosell is cautiously optimistic about the state of the Spanish economy. The Catalan says that the worst is over, but insists that there can be no turning back from the continued unification of the European economy and that an independent Catalonia would mean "another border in Europe: business doesn't like borders."
Question. Do you see any sign of improvement in the economic outlook?
Answer. The economy is flatlining. Reforms have been implemented and the medicine is starting produce results, but we are still seeing few results. The problem is deep-rooted: for years we have failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation and take the necessary remedies, as they did in Germany. This is going to be a bad year for employment, and we will see a rise in joblessness in the public sector. But I hope that now that the major restructuring has taken place, no more jobs will be lost.
Q. Do you blame the previous Socialist Party administration?
A. We're all to blame, because we didn't take the necessary measures, either at central, regional or local level. But these are symptoms to be found in the rest of Europe: the death of industry; lack of competitiveness; lack of innovation; of technology; of patents... Europe is old now, and the continent needs to start anew -- we have to reinvent ourselves, create an economic union: the United States of Europe. But the politicians don't seem to have the will.
Q. So you accept that the conditions are in place for the unions to have called a strike?
We're all to blame, because we didn't take the right steps at any level"
A. Yes. Everybody is fed up. But striking is untimely and unnecessary. The last one was only four months ago. The problem is that the only solution the unions see to the crisis is by spending more public money. We all have to accept that we have been living beyond our means, and that the only solution at the moment is to spend less. The task we face now is to reduce the deficit. We must do this to regain credibility in the markets. The business sector is trying to be more flexible and competitive so that we can export, because the solution to Spain's problems is simple: we have to sell more goods abroad. And the way to do that is by helping companies that employ more than 200 people become bigger, and that means more investment. It's not small businesses that really move the economy - that is a myth. It's big companies. At the same time, it's not going to be as easy as it was to find money for businesses to grow. But we have to hope that the financial restructuring the government has implemented begins to work.
Q. You supported reform of the labor market, but you have been critical of other measures the government has taken.
A. If only the government enacted policies to suit us... We are against the increase in sales tax, in income tax, and against not lowering social security contributions in return for raising sales tax. And we believe that more could be done to cut red tape.
Q. Does the government listen to business leaders?
A. In some things, yes, with this government, and the previous one. For example, Zapatero agreed with us about the need for part-time contracts, but the unions wouldn't have it.
Q. You are from Catalonia, so let's talk about your home region's aspirations for independence.
Businesses are happier with fewer borders and a single European market"
A. Mine is a European perspective. Businesses are always happier the fewer borders there are. We want to see a single European market. If we are calling for a single banking and tax area in the context of a United States of Europe, then it's obvious that I don't want to see more borders. We need to see how we fit into Europe. The real issue here is the half a billion Europeans, not the 47 million in Spain. Let's wait to see the result of the elections in Catalonia on November 25 and see what proposals the government there and the government in Madrid come up with. They have to reach some sort of compromise. Both sides have made mistakes in the past, and to some extent we are now prisoners of those mistakes.
Q. Do you think that independence for Catalonia is a good idea?
A. It depends on the conditions: whether we are in Europe or not; the tax structure; the pros and the cons. We don't have the information we need to really talk about this seriously. I think Catalonia is simply a smaller version of Spain, so if we have said yes to Europe, then we should all be headed in that direction. There is no going back.
Q. It sounds like you don't want to commit yourself.
A. Obviously not. Because I simply do not have the facts at my disposal: objective, concrete facts. I'm fed up with listening to propaganda. I would prefer there to be no borders within Spain, and that we all focus on creating the United States of Europe. That is my goal.