Monday, March 5, 2012

To Be Present in the World, or Not to Be


About the author of this article for Help Catalonia



Pere Aragonès
Deputy at the Catalan Parliament
@perearagones
wordpress


At a time of economic crisis in Europe, particularly hard on the shores of the Mediterranean, what country would surrender its instruments of internationalization of the economy? Would it be wise for a government to abdicate from promoting exports and tourism when these are the only two sectors that maintain their economy at a time when domestic consumption is on the decline? These questions would seem nonsensical in any country, but not in Catalonia. In instigating austerity (which has become the universal excuse for measures that have nothing to do with it), the Spanish nationalist Popular Party (PP) government has pressed for a substantial reduction of the delegations the Catalan government has in the most advanced economies.

The reason behind this advocacy for a foreign retreat of the Catalan Government and the downsizing of its presence is not fundamentally economic but ideological. The PP recently got a commitment from the Catalan government to study the closure of its offices in Berlin, Paris, London and New York, after getting the Buenos Aires office shut down. Some might argue that regional governments should not have this kind of office, but this contrasts sharply with the fact that these governments clearly wish to be present in the world and keep an open, internationalised economy, and Quebec, Flanders and Bavaria, or even Spanish regions governed by the PP, maintain an active network of offices abroad for purposes of political representation and to attract business and investment. The PP proposal –which seems from this point of view inspired by the prevailing autarky in the history of Spanish nationalism– is even more astonishing when these delegations are present in markets that are either the main export markets for Catalan products –representing more than €8bn ($10.5bn) a year to France, €2.4bn ($3.17bn) to Germany, €2bn ($2.6bn) to the UK or €1.5bn ($2bn) to the US– or are clearly emerging markets where Catalan companies have significant opportunities, thanks to product and export competitiveness or tradition, such as the Mercosur area where the delegation in Buenos Aires was coordinating functions.

Furthermore, the PP's apparent fit of austerity for foreign affairs is only valid for Catalonia, but not for Spain. This is particularly clear when one sees enormous expenditure that is difficult to explain: the huge cost and maintenance of the buildings, facilities and gardens of the Spanish chancery and residence in Paris and the Permanent Delegation to the OECD (€460,000 - $607,000), the cleaning of the embassy in Berlin (€324,000 - $428,000), the technical services prior to the refurbishing of the embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay (€485,716 - $641,252) or more than €6 million ($7,9m) to build the new residence –not the embassy, mind– of the Spanish ambassador in Rabat (Morocco), lead a long list of the disturbingly high costs of Spanish diplomacy.

Catalonia not only wishes to be directly present in the world, but she needs to be, she has to be. In an increasingly global world with growing interdependence of sovereignty and local economies, and an increasing number of players on the international stage, there is a nationalism that makes good the classical concept of Nation-State jingoism, closed in on itself, with an autarkical world view that creates leaders who need interpreters at international summits, the most provincial image possible for a head of government. This is Spanish nationalism, represented in Parliament by the Popular Party, which defends Catalonia's acting like an ostrich, hiding its head in the ground just when the ground is shifting quicker than ever.

Pere Aragonès
@perearagones

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