The official announcement by the automotive multinational Nissan that it will close its plants in Catalonia at the end of the year is news which, although not unexpected, is still extremely painful both in terms of the loss of thousands of jobs and the backward step for industry in Catalonia. The departure of a company that represents 1.3 per cent of Catalonia's GDP and 7 per cent of its industrial GDP is much more than just a sneeze for the Catalan economy. And for it to happen right now, with a galloping economic crisis about to arrive, adds a further element of uncertainty and worry.
Now begins a contention between company, government and unions, but to be frank, little can be expected from this, since the sector's contraction as it relocates, at least in terms of European brands, is a fact. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance and its plan for global division of its operations in the coming years leave the leadership in Europe in the hands of the French company. This, coupled with the fact that the Macron government has been clear about the aid it will provide to France's own car manufacturers in repatriating vehicle production after the coronavirus crisis, has ended up suffocating the few options that Nissan had to stay in Catalonia.
Although it has been obvious for years that Nissan's future in Catalonia was not assured and that the transformation of the automotive sector was underway, the truth is that business associations, unions and government were all grasping at straws in the hope of a last minute reprieve that has not arrived. Nissan is closing and there is no plan B, something that makes the situation doubly worrisome. There will be those who ask why an alternative should have been necessary given that the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, had declared proudly on January 22nd at the Davos Economic Forum after a series of meetings with Renault group leaders that "maintenance of jobs is guaranteed" at Nissan's plants in Barcelona. There was even a tweet from the Spanish PM boasting about this. Let him say that now to the 3,000 workers directly affected and the approximately 20,000 indirect jobs at risk. Let him also explain what steps have been taken in the last few months to maintain that resounding announcement. The fact is, it was certainly not true that he obtained any guarantee that day in Davos, but he limited himself, as he has done so often, to kicking the can down the road.
Not to mention the Spanish minister of industry, Reyes Maroto, who expressed herself this Thursday as if it was the first she had heard of the matter and spoke about a hypothetical Nissan industrial project linked to electric vehicles. All ideas are good but the most important thing is to create a common front to try to rescue as many jobs as possible and for this it is necessary for the Spanish state to be much more involved than it has been so far. Having a state, something that Catalonia lacks, is not just something of empty words, not just flags, borders, currency and army. Those are things of the past. A state is being able to sit down one-to-one at those tables where the future of your citizens is decided and to have the ability to negotiate in favour of their well-being. For a long time Madrid has not been up to any of this, as is more than obvious to any impartial observer. And thus it is very difficult, almost impossible, to win any contest.