If Felipe González, José María Aznar, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero or Mariano Rajoy, in their capacity as Spanish prime ministers, had had the cheek to step up to the podium at the annual Cercle d'Economia business meeting in Sitges with such a poor, anodyne and empty speech, written to get it over with and very little else, a speech which would serve the same purpose whether it was delivered in Albacete, Segovia, Alicante or Barcelona, there would have been groans from the audience while the guest was speaking, and afterwards an unstoppable stream of public criticism.
But today, Spanish power is unnerving, and the businesspeople present, most of them occupying a middle ground on the Catalan question, were left bewildered and disappointed, but also silent. Afflicted by the new insolence that only leaves them cornered, since, at least till now, there have been the famous government spending windfalls which ended up only as mirages, but which for a few weeks would keep them going. This Saturday in Sitges, in Pedro Sánchez's address, there was not even a suggestive wink, not a gesture towards even a little complicity. No ambiguous phrase which they could speculate about. Nothing. Silence in the most critical moment of the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and after an election cycle in which Oriol Junqueras won the Spanish elections in April, his Republican Left (ERC) swept the municipal elections - including in Barcelona - and Carles Puigdemont imposed his dominance in the European elections.
The decline of the middle-ground business community, to whom Sánchez gave little more than the time of day, partly because he probably didn't pay attention to them beyond the required photo opportunities, is the clearest example of the loss of direction of a sector whose power and influence is in clear decline in Catalan society and, obviously, also in Spanish society. Still stunned by what has happened to the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, where the new Eines de País ("Tools of State") team has managed to take control of the institution, defeating the long-incumbent leadership, they carry on waiting patiently for Madrid to them some sort of cue.
None of this feels like it should be happening. Far from calming down the conflict, there are moves being made to inflame it, with a Supreme Court trial that is clearly partial, the public prosecutors holding fast to their demands for incomprehensible sentences, and the Spanish government not only disavowing the official documents of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions but also attacking their authors and demanding the recusal of the international experts that had worked on them.
The Spanish government has failed to take the path of dialogue and in the corridors of the Cercle's business conference, once Sanchez had left, the entrepreneurs began to take umbrage. Fearful, they don't want their names to appear either. Before it was all much easier; now all they can do is criticize Torra and the Catalan government if they don't want to end up having problems.