Spooked businesses shift headquarters out of Catalonia
By CIARAN GILES and ARITZ PARRA
Oct. 06, 2017
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — As separatists in Catalonia jockeyed Friday to elude court rulings and find ways to deliver on their promise to declare independence, business giants hit back with plans to relocate their headquarters elsewhere in Spain amid the increasing political uncertainty.
Caixabank, Spain's third lender in global assets, said Friday that it was moving from Barcelona to the eastern city of Valencia, "given the current situation in Catalonia." It said it wants to remain in the eurozone and under the supervision of the European Central Bank — two things that would not happen if Catalonia did manage to secede.
The region's separatist government has vowed to use a pro-independence victory in a disputed referendum last weekend to go ahead with secession, while calling for Spain's central government to accept a dialogue.
But the government of Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has rejected any negotiations unless the separatists drop their secession bid. Rajoy urged Puigdemont to cancel plans for declaring independence in order to avoid "greater evils."
"In order to dialogue, you must stay within the legal framework," Spanish cabinet spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters Friday, blaming the secessionists for breaking Spain's constitutional order.
"Coexistence is broken" in Catalonia, he said, warning Catalans that a parliamentary declaration of independence "is not enough" and that the international community needs to recognize independent nations.
No country has openly said it would support secession and the European Union says an independent Catalonia would be kicked out of the bloc and forced to stop using the common euro currency. The EU says Catalonia would have to apply to rejoin, a lengthy, uncertain process.
The prospect of an exit has sent shivers among business heavyweights, including lender Banco Sabadell and energy giant Gas Natural, who were among the firms to greenlight relocations of their registered address.
The companies are moving only their official address and so far that does not affect jobs or investments. It doesn't, however, send a message of confidence in the government of Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont.
Cava-maker Freixenet and Codorniu, two household names in the region's famed sparkling wine, are also considering a move.
Caixabank's relocation was possible after central authorities approved a decree allowing executives to bypass shareholder approval for moving a company's registered address.
"It's very sad what we are seeing," Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said Friday. "This is the result of an irresponsible policy that is causing uneasiness in the business community."
The prospects for an independence declaration remained up in the air after a Constitutional Court suspended a Catalan parliament session next week during which separatist lawmakers wanted to bring up the secession plan.
Puigdemont is now set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday "to report on the current political situation" in Catalonia.
Regional opposition parties said that Puigdemont will be grilled by lawmakers, without any vote expected. But a lawmaker with the far-left separatist CUP group said pro-independence parties were working on introducing a last-minute vote to declare independence.
The Catalan government on Friday submitted to parliament the final results of the Oct. 1 disputed referendum.
Spain's central authorities have deemed the referendum illegal and a Constitutional Court suspended it. But the Catalan government has declared a landslide victory for the 'Yes' despite the fact that only 43 percent of the region's 5.3 million eligible voters turned out amid strong police pressure to shut down the vote.
The top Spanish official in Catalonia, Enric Millo, who is in charge of security, said Friday he regretted that hundreds of people were injured Sunday in the police crackdown on the vote — the first statement by a Spanish official lamenting the injuries.
"I can only say sorry" for the injuries, Millo told Catalonia's TV3 television.
Yet he tempered the apology by saying the Catalan government was responsible for the situation by encouraging people to vote.
Spain has defended police actions, saying there were firm and proportionate, but videos on Sunday saw police yanking people by their hair and kicking and hitting them. Catalan authorities say about 900 people were treated for injuries.
In Madrid, Spain's National Court unconditionally released two senior officers of Catalonia's regional police force and the leaders of two pro-independence civic groups being investigated for sedition in connection with the referendum. The four are to be questioned again later.
The case is linked to Sept. 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona, when Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations.
The four are Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, Catalan police Lt. Teresa Laplana, Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, president of separatist group Omnium Cultural.
While Trapero and Sanchez were questioned, Laplana declined to testify for medical reasons and Cuixart refused to testify, saying he didn't recognize the court's capacity to question him for a crime he didn't commit.
Carles Campuzano, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Catalonia, described the hearing Friday as an outrage.
"It's just another expression of the absolutely mistaken, authoritarian, repressive response by the (Spanish) state to the pacific, democratic and civic demand of Catalan society," he told reporters.
Giles reported from Madrid. Frank Griffiths contributed from London.