Mobile World Congress opens in Barcelona to subway strike

King Felipe VI and new Catalan premier coincide for first time at inauguration dinner

Subway passengers on line one in Barcelona.
Subway passengers on line one in Barcelona.Albert Garcia

The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC), a premier industry event, opened on Monday in Barcelona amid a subway system strike called by the local transportation authority.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said on Sunday that she had worked until “the last moment” with the unions to reach “a reasonable offer” that would avoid the stoppage scheduled for Monday and Wednesday.

Relations between the Catalan government and the royal house have been non-existent ever since Carles Puigdemont took office in January

She added that despite the “inconvenience,” she trusted the 2016 edition of the congress would be the best yet. Barcelona has been hosting the MWC since 2006, after taking it over from Cannes.

The event organizer, GSMA, said in a press release that “we are immediately activating a contingency plan to ensure that attendees can safely travel to and from the Fira Gran Via venue and can enter the facility as quickly as possible.”

Measures include shuttle services from 15 collection points throughout the city, said organizers.

Meanwhile, the Barcelona subway began operating at 50% capacity on Monday morning, resulting in ever fuller train cars. Many stations had closed passenger access, and waiting times between convoys ranged between six and 10 minutes.

King Felipe and Catalan premier coincide

Speaking at the dinner to inaugurate the MWC in Barcelona on Sunday, King Felipe VI insisted on the need for all Spanish institutions to work together “for the common good.”

Although the monarch did not directly mention the Catalan independence drive, he underscored that the global event provided an example of the way agencies should cooperate.

Felipe VI (right) coincided with Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont at the MWC inauguration dinner.
Felipe VI (right) coincided with Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont at the MWC inauguration dinner.Massimiliano Minocri

It was the first time that Felipe VI and the Catalan premier, Carles Puigdemont, had coincided at a public event following the latter’s investiture in January.

Relations between the Catalan government and the royal household have been non-existent since then. The king refused to receive the new spokeswoman for the regional parliament, Carme Forcadell, while Puigdemont omitted any mention of the king or the Spanish Constitution during his swearing-in ceremony.

In a speech to 160 diners at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Felipe VI avoided mentioning the separatist drive and instead focused on the mobile industry event that is taking place between February 22 and 25.

“The celebration of the congress in Barcelona, and the latter’s consideration as the world capital of mobile devices, is the fruit of years’ worth of joint efforts between various agencies – the City of Barcelona, the Generalitat [Catalan executive], the Industry Ministry and the Fira fairs operator – and their excellent collaboration with the GSMA [the organization of mobile companies and operators],” said the monarch, speaking in Catalan.

MWC attendees in Barcelona.
MWC attendees in Barcelona.Massimiliano Macri

For his part, Puigdemont failed to openly defend secessionist positions, but said the global event showed that Catalonia was once again at the forefront of change.

“We are a more global and competitive country that bases its economy on creativity, talent, an entrepreneurial spirit and innovation, and with a profound commitment to social responsibility,” he said, citing the Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and the architect Antoni Gaudí as examples of Catalan creativity.

English version by Susana Urra.


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