Thursday, January 14, 2010

Germà Bel: "There's not a bit of difference between this plan for managing the [Barcelona] airport and nothing."

Originally published in Vilaweb on January 13, 2010

The economist Germà Bel examines the airport management model proposed by the Spanish government

Germà Bel, economist who forms part of a group of business leaders and experts that asked that Catalans be allowed an individualized and territorial management of their airports, spoke very negatively in this interview with VilaWeb about the proposal put forth by the Minister of Public Works and Transport, José Blanco. He argues that "this maintains the centralized system" that we have now. And he believes that now is the moment for a reply by the Catalan political establishment, that needs to show whether it will accept that it be treated like a "purely symbolic element" or not.

How do you see the airport management proposal suggested by Spanish Minister José Blanco?

That which was explained today, consists basically in maintaining a centralized and unitary system that controls the strategic decisions about the management of the airport, while introducing the word "individualized". Indeed, the system has been defined with rather unexpected clarity. It's quite clear that it consists of a change of nomenclature, and in a very few modifications of some very minimal points, in relegating the territorial parts to a position of "no, no, and no" and basically maintains the existing system.

Do the changes in nomenclature, the appearance of subsidiaries and the influx of private capital in the overseeing company translate to more eficiency with respect to the current management?

You have to keep in mind that the majority of subsidiaries will still belong to AENA and that the territorial parts will be able to say "no" to the price of parking, Coca-Cola, newspapers, and baggage service. And they will only be able to say, "no". That is, they can only veto. The territorial parts will not end up even using their veto because you can't construct an airport project on the foundation of a veto. In the end, and in reality, negative vetoes are not exercised because they destroy the company.

Would the territorial committee on the development of routes that Minister Blanco is proposing help to make Barcelona airpot (El Prat) an intercontinental hub?
There already was a Routes Committee working in Barcelona and doing a reasonable job. But, if the airport of Barcelona cannot make decisions about investments, taxes or commercial policies in general, and instead AENA must manage those tasks, the committee will have no mandate and whatever powers they do have won't be worth the paper they're printed on, since they won't have the resources to bring them to fruition. In fact, the Routes Committees are a peculiarity of Spain. In normal countries, there are no Routes Committees because the management of the airport itself makes its own commercial policy. This is a clear demonstration of the absolute ridiculousness of the Spanish system which imposes Routes Committees when there is already a manager in place.

Can the system made public today be compared to that of any other country?
It continues to be comparable to the management system of Romania, although, probably, from a technical point of view, it's a bit more complex. Obviously, we're talking about big countries. In the case of small countries where all the air transit is concentrated in a single airport, like Finland, then the system is centralized. But, if we are talking about France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands or Australia, it's not comparable. In other words, it continues being as incomparable as before. In short, the airport of Marseilles is managed in Marseilles, the Lyon airport is managed in Lyon, the Paris airport in Paris. Here, the big fundamental decisions continue to be made by this centralized system, and on the minor decisions, AENA would still have the majority vote.

Does the Spanish system differentiate between airports that are "complicated to manage" and airports that are "more simple to manage"?
That's ridiculous. Those are words that were invented and put on the table in order to keep from having to broach the subject of how many and which airports will be managed by subsidiaries of AENA. There is no substantive difference in managing an airport with 2 or 3 million passengers than in managing one with 8 million, at least from the point of view of a non-centralized system. This is terminology that doesn't exist in the rest of the airport world; it is Spanish terminology created expressly for use in the Spanish political debate.

What steps should citizens who mobilized for that demonstration* at IESE take, now that it is clear that the Spanish government refuses to accept its demands?
My opinion is that now, the answer should be given by our Catalan elected representatives. In whatever case, the society will express its opinion. My personal opinion is that if this is the best system they can offer, it'd be better not to accept it and instead wait for other circumstances in order to achieve a better result. Because between this option and nothing, there is absolutely no difference. Now, Catalan politicians should speak up, because if they want to be treated like a completely symbolic institution, they will get their wish by letting themselves be treated in this way.

*Demonstration at IESE: Meeting proposed by the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and others, in conjunction with all of the major business members in Catalonia, to discuss the future of the Barcelona airport, with the title, "Barcelona airport: Key infrastructure for the future of the Catalan economy"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

40 More Towns to Vote on Catalan Independence

Originally published in Vilaweb on 12 January 2010

The secound round of referendums on independence for Catalonia will attempt to improve on the turnout from December 13

The referendums on independence in Catalonia will arrive in 40 more towns on February 28. This second round of referendums will not have the same territorial coverage as that of last December 13. On that day, there were 167 municipalities that held a referendum, but to date, only 38 have confirmed the elections on this upcoming February 28. One of the objectives of this new wave of referendums is to get an even higher turnout than the last round did.

The referendums scheduled for the first months of 2010 will occur on two days, on February 28 and on April 25. 40 odd towns have confirmed that they will give their citizens the vote on the political future of Catalonia on February 28. In total, and without counting last-minute additions, the referendums will have been able to be celebrated in 240 municipalities since Arenys de Munt first took the initiative on September 13th of last year.

The municipalities that have confirmed their intention to hold the referendum on February 28 are: Agramunt, Alella, Alforja, Alp, Begues, Bellpuig, Bescanó, la Bisbal d'Empordà, Breda, les Cabanyes, Cabrils, Caldes de Montbui, Cardona, Castellterçol, l'Escala, l'Espluga de Francolí, Gelida, Llinars del Vallès, Llorenç del Penedès, Maçanet de la Selva, Moià, Molins de Rei, Montblanc, Palamós i Sant Joan, Palau-Sator, la Pobla de Lillet, Riells i Viabrea, Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Sant Feliu de Codines, Sant Quintí de Mediona, Sant Quirze del Vallès, Teià, Torrelles de Llobregat, Vidreres, Vilassar de Mar, Vilobí d'Onyar, Salitja i Sant Dalmai, el Vendrell and Xerta.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Wrong Road, by Alfons López Tena

Originally published in and on January 8, 2010

by Alfons López Tena

The experience of having coordinated a referendum on independence for Catalonia in Osona, where 42% of the 120,000 citizens with the right to vote actually exercised that right, despite being organized with absolutely no institutional support nor public funds, being under the constant vigilance and yet boycotted by the Spanish and Catalan governments as well as the PSC*, with the silencing of the media by the pro-Spanish and PSC-controlled media outlets, counting only on the strength of the grass-roots, from the base and with the base, engenders so many emotions and reflections, so many and such a variety of feelings, that it's difficult to describe them in a single article.

We were successful because we didn't know it was impossible, as was often said about those who struggled for the independence of the United States of America, and because we didn't listen to the know-it-alls, to the sensible, and to those who use rose-colored glasses to justify inaction. We trusted the people, and the result has been wonderful. This is the first lesson that the more than 2000 of us who volunteered have learned: without the trust of the people, without their collaboration, nothing is possible. You need organization, you need to know what you want and to never lose site of your goal, you need to work beyond tirelessly, but none of that matters if you don't trust the people, if you don't earn their trust by trusting them first.

Today, however, we must also speak of the conclusions that can be gleaned from this experience and of the repeated meditations on the history of the Nation. Those of us who have or have had a notable presence in Catalan public life—in whatever aspect: social, political, cultural, etc.—have the obligation of speaking clearly and with complete frankness, of proclaiming the truth that comes from the experience of more than a century of pro-autonomy Catalanism.

The conclusions about the national and political path that Catalonia has followed between the end of the 19th century and the present can be summed up in this opinion: Catalonia has gone down the wrong road and is now, to a great degree, a victim of her own blindness. This wrong road is "Catalan Autonomy", that is, the search for self-government by way of fitting in or with Spain.

While Catalanism bullheadedly insisted, from Almirall to Carod, from Prat de la Riba to Maragall, from Macià to Pujol, from Cambó to Porcioles, in achieving self-government within the Spanish state, one nation after another in Europe and in the world was obtaining their independence. More than 150 States in the world today did not exist when we started out on the wrong road of Catalan Autonomy. The vast majority of the States of Europe were created while in Catalonia we have only fallen again in again into the Spanish trap.

*PSC - Partit Socialista de Catalunya, Catalan wing of the ruling center-left party in Spain, PSOE.