“An independent Catalonia should not pay” for Spain’s “odious debts,” says employer association CCN

(February 18, 2014) As Catalonia’s secession movement gains new momentum, Albert Pont, the leader of a Catalan pro-independence business lobby, recently called out part of the national debt owed by the government of Spain — estimated at 962 billion euros in 2013, its highest level in a century — as “odious debt.” In the event of separation from Spain, Pont said that while an independent Catalonia — currently a province widely known as “the factory of Spain” and as the country’s wealthiest region — would be willing to “assume part of [the Spanish] debt; obviously, a proportionate one…. there are shares of the debt that we are not responsible for.”

Published by the Catalan News Agency (CNA) on January 31, 2014

In an exclusive interview with the Catalan News Agency (CNA), Albert Pont, the president of the Catalan employer’s association Cercle Català de Negocis (CCN), declared that part of Spain’s national debt is “odious” and that a Catalonia independent of Spain — a separation CCN is in favour of — could not recognize Spain’s “illegitimate debt” as Catalonia’s responsibility to pay.

An independent Catalonia, said Mr. Pont, could not recognize an “illegitimate debt” generated “for the benefit of no more than a few companies” that “provide works, services and infrastructures” for the Spanish government. He did underline the “willingness” to pay for Catalonia’s proportionate share of the rest of the debt owing.

After years of protest, a grass-roots Catalan movement in favor of independence has gained in strength since a referendum to vote on secession from Spain was first proposed in late 2012. The proposed referendum followed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s rejection of a plan to reduce tax revenue the wealthy region of Catalonia transfers to poorer Spanish regions. Catalonia’s request for authority to hold a referendum, however, was rebuffed by Madrid earlier this year. Madrid has indicated that any balloting on the issue would be unconstitutional. [See also: Catalan president – Spain cannot block our independence vote].

Linking Spain’s wrenching economic crisis to state oligopolies, or companies that live off state debt, “colossal macro-works” and a “cult of immoderation,” Mr. Pont told CNA:

“We believe that this public debt has been generated not for the benefit of society but for the benefit of no more than a few companies. This is an odious debt and, in principle, we [Catalonia] shouldn’t be deemed responsible for it. Even more so than in the ‘90s and the first years after 2000, the Catalan institutions have criticized the Spanish government and its policies regarding investments and infrastructure…. So when you have not taken part in the decision, when the decision has gone against your position, when you have warned time and again against the risks without being taken into account, and this debt has eventually served to benefit a few only, this is an illegitimate debt.”

By not acknowledging some items of the debt or the bonds issued by the Kingdom of Spain when Catalonia was part of it, CNA asked Mr. Pont if such a move would affect recognition of an independent Catalan state by the international community; in particular, as a state that does not pay its debts.

“It isn’t that you arbitrarily decide that this debt shouldn’t be yours to pay,” said Mr. Pont. “The question is how you justify it. That is to say, if you prove that you haven’t made the ​​decision, that you have warned time and again that this was not the way to do things, that they [the Spanish government] didn’t take this into account, and furthermore, that this debt has gone to works, services and infrastructure that are not in your territory, automatically nobody will say “excuse me, this debt is yours”. No, it is not mine to pay. Not that I am running away from it, it is just that I am not responsible for it. It is not mine. You cannot transfer it to me.”

The full CNA interview transcript with Albert Pont is available here at the publisher’s website.

Catalonia is located in the northeastern corner of Spain and comprises the provinces of Girona, Lleida, Tarragona and Barcelona, the region’s capital and Spain’s second largest city.

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