Contrary to their original intention, the top businessmen, employers’ associations and other economic circles, both in Catalonia and the rest of Spain, have had to take a stand in the secessionist controversy. They have done so to undeceive the Catalan premier, Artur Mas, who had pressured them to take a role, as leading or supporting actors, in the process aimed at Catalan independence designed by the left-nationalist party Esquerra Republicana (ERC) but chiefly associated with the name of Mas.
Mas’s challenge came after several individual statements, reticent or contrary to the drift toward secession, made by some prominent Catalan businessmen and bankers. But in particular, it crystallized after the publication of a blunt document issued by the directors of various German multinational companies present in Catalonia, and of some Catalan family-owned companies.
This is doubly significant. Because the German statement symbolizes the fact that the tie between the secessionist project and Catalan society is beginning to break, in just the area where Mas and his circle were most anxious to neutralize potential opposition, or convert it to their favor: the European question. And the fact that, after all, it has been the business community who have had to stand firm — politely, of course — against so much interventionist pressure, implies a breakdown in whatever remained of the Mas government’s image as a “business-friendly” one, as the premier has tried to make it seem.
The link between the government of Catalonia and its business community has deep historical roots because culture and the economy have always been the two mainstays of Catalan society, far more than the political, diplomatic or military aspects. This tradition was heartily exploited by the founder of the party that Mas now presides, Jordi Pujol. His successor has shattered a treasured piece in Pujol’s repertory of coalescence: the complicity between the CiU nationalist bloc and the business world. He has done this so maladroitly that it is hard to see how the break can be repaired.
This is the case because most of the Catalan bourgeoisie have from the beginning sought to avoid taking too concrete a position in the controversy; focusing rather on calls for dialogue and negotiation, and postulating an improvement in Catalan financing, by way of some sort of fiscal pact, built around political stability. This earned them unjustified and contradictory invective about their passivity, cowardice and knuckling under to Madrid. Such criticism ignored the fact that a businessman must be attentive above all else to his market, or rather to his markets, which sometimes have different and even contrary sensibilities.
By forcing the representatives of the Catalan business world to come out in this open refusal to endorse his secessionist movement, Mas has done himself little good. Indeed, metaphorically it may be said that he has shot himself in the foot, though the Catalan nationalist media are making light of this setback. Perhaps it matters little to him, as he has publicly described himself as a “used-up” person on his way out — a remark which some of his closest collaborators have surely taken note of, with intentions of their own.