The Catalan employers’ association Foment del Treball (Business Promotion) reported yesterday that 2017 was another "lost year" with regards to infrastructure investment in Catalonia, adding to a decades-long deficit in public spending. In recent years, however, the situation has worsened because, in addition to the traditionally insufficient investment in the case of Catalonia, there have been Spain-wide cutbacks in expenditures, which have hit “an all-time low“. Thus, if in 2009 infrastructure investment as a percentage of total public spending was 12%, it is now at 5%.
Foment laid the blame equally at the feet of the central government and the Generalitat, but the responsibility is not exactly the same. The association itself admitted that in recent years investment by Spain in Catalan infrastructure has been between 10% and 13%, despite this territory contributing 19% of Spanish GDP. It should be remembered that this is so because successive Spanish governments have failed to comply with the third additional clause of the Catalan Statute, which states that for seven years Spain had to invest in Catalonia the equivalent of its contribution to GDP —that is, 19%. Spain’s former finance minister Cristóbal Montoro used to justify this non-compliance citing the Constitutional Court, which in its ruling against the Statute said that this clause could not be obligatory for the central government because it could not condition the drafting of the Spanish budget by Congress. The result of the ruling and the unwillingness of the PP aborted the timid recovery of the investment that had been made during 2007-2011, despite never having reached full compliance with the letter of the Catalan Statute.
Therefore, now we are beginning to suffer the consequences of all these years of low spending. From a list of 100 strategic infrastructure projects issued by Foment in 2015, only three have been finished by 2018, and progress made in only a dozen more. The Mediterranean railway corridor, new road and rail access to the Port of Barcelona, the widening of the N-340, the N-II in Girona, the connection of the A-2 with the C-32 and that of the A-2 with the AP-7 in Castellbisbal, and the completion of the B-40 are just some of the pending infrastructure projects in Catalonia.
This list should serve as the basis for a common front against Madrid to put pressure on the new Minister of Business Promotion, José Lluis Ábalos, who used to support the Mediterranean Corridor when he was in the opposition. It would be interesting if the Parliament were to hold a single-topic debate on the lack of infrastructure investment suffered by Catalonia, and see what positions are taken by PSC, Ciudadanos, and the PP.
The Generalitat, for its part, should move forward according to its capabilities in identifying which are the strategic infrastructure projects that must be developed, and earmark resources for them, or at least lay the groundwork to do so in the near future.
The Catalan economy is competing in a global economy with leading regions where elements that favor competitiveness, such as good communication and transport networks, can tip the balance. And the opportunities missed today will not be seen again.