Catalan and Spanish governments firm over El Prat decision despite pressure from businesses and unions

Foment offered to cancel an event in favour of the airport if negotiations were resumed

3 min
Josep Sánchez Llibre, president of Foment del Treball .

BarcelonaThe indefatigable president of employer association Foment del Treball, Josep Sánchez Llibre, is at this point the main sponsor of the difficult operation that wants the Catalan and Spanish governments to return to the table to negotiate El Prat airport extension. For now, his efforts have not been successful.

This plan, which put €1.7bn on the table and would free up an airport that was approaching its limit before covid hit, as well as attract long-range flights, was beached last week by the state executive, citing Catalan government qualms around the investment.

From the very moment of the cancellation of the plan, Sanchez Llibre, who had already promoted an event in favour of the expansion at Esade business school in June, launched a message ini which he accused Catalan political leaders of bringing the country to its "economic ruin" and urged them to continue negotiating. On Sunday, the president of the employers' association asked the unions to support him in calling for a resumption of negotiations. Both UGT and CCOO had already urged the two administrations to unblock the investment.

But Sánchez Llibre's manoeuvres have not only been public. The employers' leader first tried to include the issue of the airport in an event whose initial aims were to criticise Ada Colau and which Foment had been preparing for weeks, especially following the refusal to host the Hermitage, as advanced by ARA. The new event sought to pressure the Government, surrounded by businessmen and representatives from the industry, so that it would rethink its position on El Prat.

But ARA has learnt that Sánchez Llibre proposed an agreement to coalition partners ERC and JxCat party leaders in their meeting on Thursday: the possibility of cancelling the event in exchange for including the negotiation on El Prat at the negotiating table.

Despite these efforts, the two executives seem far from resuming talks about El Prat. Facing pressures from the Spanish Socialists to defend the agreement signed on August 2, the Catalan government refuses and emphasise that it will not yield to the Spanish government's "blackmail". "In this debate we do not have the minimum confidence in Aena and the Spanish government" to renegotiate anything, they say, and point out that only in the event that Pedro Sánchez's executive backs down on the expansion and commit to the investment without affecting the natural reserve of La Ricarda would they resume talks. In the same vein, the spokeswoman for Junts, Elsa Artadi, has stated that it would be "the height of cynicism" if the central government brought the issue to the negotiating table between executives.

A very expensive extension

In fact, the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, has insisted that what the Generalitat has to do is to ratify the August 2 agreement. "But it seems to me that these conditions are not met," she lamented. The Minister of Economy, Nadia Calviño, reiterated that "the ball is in the Generalitat's court".

As advanced this Monday by La Vanguardia, the legislation would give the sides time to find common ground. According to law 18/2014 of urgent measures for growth, there is the possibility of exceptionally extending the current Dora (the document that would collect the project) for a year, from September 30, until an understanding is reached. Even so, Minister Sánchez has not been in favour of using this article to save the extension, because postponing the approval of the investments for the next five years, she has said, would have an impact that the rest of the network cannot afford. Neither does the Government see it clearly.

Airport management company Aena, in turn, followed the line set by the minister. Sources of the airport manager explain that they want to recover the plan "as long as there is unconditional local support," which does not at this point seem likely. Thus, and despite social pressure, the expansion of El Prat is still stuck.