After snub, Spanish king urges cooperation to keep MWC in Barcelona

Pro and anti-independence protesters clash on Felipe VI’s first visit to Catalonia since the independence referendum

King Felipe VI at the dinner held ahead of MWC Barcelona.
King Felipe VI at the dinner held ahead of MWC Barcelona.CARLES RIBAS

Shortly after being snubbed by the mayor of Barcelona and the speaker of the Catalan parliament, King Felipe VI of Spain underscored the need for continued cooperation to ensure that the Mobile World Congress (MWC), a leading mobile industry trade show that is hosted by Barcelona, does not move to another location in the future.

Addressing 200 guests at a dinner event ahead of the start of the four-day congress, Felipe VI spoke in fluent Catalan to underscore that the success of this global event in past years was made possible by cooperation between city, regional and national authorities.

We leave behind a year that has not been easy

Ada Colau, Barcelona mayor

“Institutional cooperation with clear goals and in everyone’s benefit is evidently a key to this event’s success,” he said. “This same cooperation is essential to ensure that this gathering continues to consolidate with a view to the future.”

The MWC, the world’s biggest telecommunication trade fair, brings 2,300 companies from nearly 200 countries to the Catalan capital each year. The congress generates revenues of €465 million and creates 13,000 direct jobs in the city.

It was Felipe VI’s first visit to Catalonia after the region’s powers of self-rule were temporarily revoked by Madrid pursuant to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, whose party is considered unaligned with either the separatists or the unionists, has been a vocal critic of the move.

A Catalan pro-independence protester (L) talks to a unionist protester on Sunday.
A Catalan pro-independence protester (L) talks to a unionist protester on Sunday.JOSEP LAGO (AFP)

Guests at the dinner included Colau and Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent, both of whom had earlier avoided shaking hands with Felipe VI upon the latter’s arrival at the Palau de la Música concert hall.

Their refusal to participate in the ceremonial greeting, which is established by protocol, was meant to show their rejection of Felipe VI’s national address on October 3, shortly after separatist authorities in the region held an illegal independence referendum.

In that October speech, the monarch had highlighted the need to respect the Spanish Constitution and accused the Catalan government and parliament of “irresponsible behavior” that threatened to jeopardize the social and economic stability of Catalonia and Spain.

Unfair and petty

The snub was all the more relevant because parliament speaker Roger Torrent is currently the top figure of authority to have emerged from the regional elections of December 21, when separatist parties claimed a collective majority but have so far been unable to form a new government. If the impasse persists, Catalonia could face a fresh election.

The congress generates revenues of €465 million and creates 13,000 direct jobs in the city

The central government of Mariano Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), issued a statement “deploring the irresponsible and sectarian attitude” by a few leading Catalan officials. Several groups of citizens demonstrated both for and against the visit, and briefly confronted one another in downtown Barcelona, near the Palau, exchanging verbal abuse until the police showed up.

“Institutional snubs, besides being unfair and petty, pose a risk to Barcelona’s future status as host of a global event of such importance,” said sources in the executive.

A spokeswoman for GSMA, the organizer of the MWC, said that they have an agreement with the city of Barcelona to hold the congress there every year until 2023, but added that “GSMA will continue to monitor events in Spain and Catalonia, and to evaluate any potential impact for the Mobile World Capital and the MWC.”

In his speech, Felipe VI avoided mentioning the political gridlock affecting the region, and Colau, who spoke entirely in English, did not talk about it either, focusing instead on the city’s commitment, “now more than ever, to freedom of expression and the defense of human rights.”

“We leave behind a year that has not been easy,” she said in her address. “But Barcelona showed the world its resilience, strength and determination to move forward.”

Felipe VI has been coming to the MWC since 2006, the first year that it was held here – first as Crown Prince, and since 2015 as the king of Spain.

English version by Susana Urra.

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