Something strange happened recently.
The morning show on Catalunya Radio interviewed the Financial Times’s Spain correspondent Victor Mallet. Nothing very strange in that, you might think; it’s exactly what you might expect them to do in these troubled economic times. What was strange was the form the interview took. It was extremely aggressive, and basically inquisitorial: why was the Financial Times (FT) bent on doing so much harm to Catalunya, the eager participants asked. Fortunately Victor took it all in his stride, and responded in his normal good-humouredly fashion.
Why is any of this interesting? Because I think it allows us a rather disturbing glimpse into some widely-held primal gut reactions. The issue in question is debt, Catalan debt. The offending line, the one that got his interviewers really wound up, was to be found in an interview Mallet had conducted with the new conseller for economy, Andreu Mas-Colell. What the respected FT reporter told his readers was that Catalan debt had become one of the principal threats to the ability of the Spanish administration to sell their reform and austerity programme to the financial markets, and as such, Catalan overspending ultimately constituted a threat to the stability of the Euro.
The fact of the matter is that the government of the Generalitat agreed to a deficit target of 2.4 percent of Catalan GDP last year, and it came in with a final outcome of 3.7 percent. This just sounds too Greek for comfort. Of course, what irked the programme participants is the fact that Catalunya is a large net contributor to the finances of the Spanish regional system. So, they argued, it is not the Catalan debt which is the problem, but the abuse of Catalunya as a source of funding for other Spanish regions. In fact, there is a lot of truth in that view, but this is a matter that Catalan society itself has to resolve, rather than attack a highly respected and independent journalist over. If you can’t handle the problem yourself then please don’t shoot the messenger.
The issue of course goes much deeper. The Catalan government currently faces a financing problem of major proportions. The government has struggled hard to get permission to issue more debt, but who will buy the debt, and at what price? And if the debt cannot be sold, then nurses, teachers, care workers and others will not be paid all they expect to be paid. It is that serious. Which is why we need people like Victor Mallet, who take the trouble to get to know and write about Catalunya, to help the readers of his newspaper understand we are serious people here. But they will only really understand that we are when we act like serious people, and recognise the delicate situation facing everyone in Spain, and our responsibility to keep to our commitments, even if we don’t like them.