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