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Cablegate: Barcelona's Summer of Discontent

VZCZCXRO4623
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHLA #0076/01 2641708
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211708Z SEP 07
FM AMCONSUL BARCELONA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0890
INFO RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 0853
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 1054

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BARCELONA 000076

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE (SAMSON/CERVETTI)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR SP
SUBJECT: BARCELONA'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

BARCELONA 00000076 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: A spate of infrastructure failures over the
summer angered Catalans even as they prepared for their summer
holidays, and calls for greater autonomy or outright
independence by current and former political leaders only added
fuel to the fire. The signing of an agreement between the
Generalitat and the GOS that reportedly increases the total cost
of Spanish state investment in Catalonia for 2007; modifies (in
favor of the region) for this year and succeeding years the
method by which such investments are calculated; and establishes
safeguards for the fulfillment of these commitments might go a
long way towards resolving festering grievances. In the end, it
will be the government's ability to abide by its covenant with
Catalonia that will garner continued support for PM Zapatero.
While calls for independence might be the fashion now, they will
almost surely die down - Catalonia is will not be leaving the
fold for the foreseeable future. End Summary.
A Summer of Discontent
2. (SBU) The yearly summer airport crush, which seemed more
brutal and chaotic than previous years, came first. It was
followed by the near total breakdown of the commuter rail system
and a poorly planned and ill-received visit by Infrastructure
Minister Magdalena Alvarez. The last straw came, however,
mid-July when fires at two sub-stations outside the city caused
a two-week long black out, millions of euros in damages for
business and homeowners at the very moment when most of the
political class had abandoned the city for their vacations.
3. (SBU) Citizens' ire was further provoked when national
government ministers and regional leaders snapped at each other
over whether or not Catalonia was receiving its fair share of
the resource pie. Alvarez insisted investment in Catalonia was
appropriate and fair, but implied it had been misspent by local
and regional leaders. Local leaders blamed the national
government for ignoring problems that had been festering for
years, and the energy companies blamed politics and poor
infrastructure planning before grudgingly agreeing to give cash
rebates to affected customers.
4. (SBU) Little wonder then that a year after Catalonia's
"Estatut" was signed and ratified by national and regional
assemblies nationalist feelings boiled over. Convergence and
Union (CiU) President Artur Mas and Republican Left (ERC)
regional Vice President Carod-Rovira echoed former regional
presidents Pasqual Maragall (PSC) and Jordi Pujol (CiU) in calls
for either greater autonomy for the region, or outright
independence. These events, coupled with the burning of a
portrait of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia during their
September 13 visit to Girona were clear signs - if more signs
were needed - that frustration was mounting.
Throwing Money at the Problem
5. (SBU) In the end, the answer to all these ills seemed simple:
throw money at them. On September 19 GOS Economy Minister
Pedro Solbes and Generalitat Economy Councilor Antoni Castells
signed a funding agreement covering the next six years. The
agreement significantly increases the total cost of Spanish
state investment in Catalonia for 2007 (up 24 percent); modifies
(in favor of the region) for this year and succeeding years the
method by which such investments are calculated; and establishes
safeguards for the fulfillment of these commitments, according
to reports. By reaching this accord, the GOS recognized
something the Catalans have been insisting for years: that the
national government has not been devoting a fair share of the
national budget for infrastructure in Catalonia.
6. (SBU) In Barcelona, the agreement has met mixed reviews, and
most Catalans are taking a wait and see attitude. Some have
expressed suspicions that this is a pre-electoral trick by the
Zapatero government, which fears abstentions in Catalonia in the
next general elections could endanger the Socialist Party's (PS)
hold on power - a legitimate fear since his party now counts on
the support of Catalonia's 23 delegates in the national
assembly. Miquel Valls, President of the Barcelona Chamber of
Commerce, told CG September 20 the GOS was also worried that the
region's regional business leaders would continue their highly
public attacks on the government for not spending enough on
infrastructure (rail transport, roads, the airport) or honoring
its commitments. Valls added he thought this latest agreement
would stick.
7. (SBU) Comment: Zapatero is not likely to lose support from
Catalan voters, who go to the polls - the key, however, will be
getting them there when the time comes. Abstentions, which have
been tracking upwards in recent regional and local ballots,
caused a minor upheaval during the May 27 local elections. Some
tactical spending in the right places could tip the balance in
the Prime Minister's favor even from a jaded Barcelona
citizenry. Nationalist/independence parties are probably making
a mistake if they believe Barcelona's recent travails will lead
to an outpouring of support for cessation. Polls continue to
show that while Catalans are unhappy with perceived slights from
Madrid what they really want is a better relationship with and
more signs of respect from the central government; not a break

BARCELONA 00000076 002.2 OF 002


from Spain. End comment.
ROBINSON

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