BERLIN/BARCELONA (Own report) – The German establishment is sending mixed signals in reaction to the announcement of an unofficial plebiscite on Catalonia’s secession from Spain. Catalan Prime Minister Artur Mas has declared the September 27 regional elections a de facto plebiscite on the region’s secession. Should his alliance secure the absolute majority, he will proclaim independence from Spain within 8 months. In the past, Germany had repeatedly supported Catalan secession. Influential German think tanks are demanding that secession not be obstructed. However, there is opposition rising from within business circles. Catalonia is a central site for German companies in Spain. Engaged in trade throughout Spain, they do not want to see their business possibilities limited to one region and Barcelona’s secession from Madrid could possibly prove an obstacle. According to German government advisors, on the other hand, these problems could be solved. Some economists contend that the EU’s currency, the Euro, can, in the long run, only be maintained within a uniform economic area. This would exclude Spain, but include a seceded Catalonia, the strongest economic zone on the Iberian Peninsular.
A Feast for Separatists
The German establishment has been sending mixed signals recently in response to Catalonia’s planned secession. In the past, the Federal Republic of Germany has systematically promoted Catalan separatism. For example, Catalonia was received as “guest of honor” – unprecedented for a region – at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007, a symbolically highly effective gesture, and a feast for secessionists. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Two years ago, the German Chancellery-financed Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) publicly put into question Spain’s territorial integrity. According to the SWP paper, the EU could “reach the point, where a negotiated separation is more preferable than a situation of permanent instability.” Last year the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) seconded this opinion in a brief analysis. Even if Catalonia’s secession could engender problems, this does not mean that the region “should forever remain a part of Spain,” according to the DGAP analysis. Madrid “should work toward an agreement” that “accommodates the new state.” Support for secessionists corresponds to an old German foreign policy tradition of seeking to weaken potential rival nations, even without hesitating to use ethnic chauvinism to destroy their territorial cohesion.
Spain’s Economic Powerhouse
However, last year contrary views were also being heard. This is because of Catalonia’s economic significance. The Region makes up only 6.3 percent of Spain’s territory and a mere 16.1 percent of Spain’s population, however it accounts for 19 percent of the country’s GDP, and 26 percent of its exports. Germany imports 11.5 percent of Catalonia’s exports and supplies 17.3 percent of its imports, becoming thereby, the most important trade partner and primary supplier of the region. Altogether, about 5,600 foreign companies have invested in Catalonia, which amounts to around 25 percent of all foreign direct investments in Spain. 18 percent of these are from Germany and France, who share first place, even though Germany has a slight lead. Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse, maintains particularly strong economic ties to Germany. This is also due to the cooperation program “Four Motors for Europe.” Established in 1988 on the initiative of Germany’s state of Baden Wurttemberg, it has intensified economic cooperation. Four economically prosperous regions of four EU member countries are cooperating in this program – alongside Baden Wurttemberg, Rhone-Alpes (France), the Lombardy (Italy) and Catalonia.
Therefore, in Spain, Catalonia has a particular significance for German enterprises, also because it is part of the Spanish market. German companies “came to Catalonia for a market of 40 million Spaniards, not merely for the seven million Catalans,” Andrés Gómez, Chair of the Barcelona-based Circle of German-Speaking Executives (kdf) was quoted saying at the beginning of 2014. Kdf members are executives in Spain from business, politics and culture, including a Thyssen manager, a former German ambassador to Spain and a staff member of the Fundación Bertelsmann. In early 2014, predominantly German initiators had also published a “Barcelona Declaration” explicitly warning against the “devastating consequences” of secession. If the region secedes from Spain, it will no longer be an EU member, will no longer be able to trade freely with EU member nations and may be forced to give up the Euro, according to reasoning behind this admonition. The declaration’s signers included Gerhard Esser, former Thyssen manager and Erwin Rauhe, Vice President of BASF-Spain.