70 Percent of Catalans have expressed the desire to decide their future as a Country: Mayor of Barcelona Xavier Trias
The Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias who is also a medical Doctor and a paediatrician, however he has been a member of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia since 1979, nine years after he recieved a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Barcelona, specializing in pediatrics. Between 1971 to 1973 he completed his post graduate training in Genova, Italy and Bern, Switzerland, where he worked for a year and a half in the investigation of metabolic diseases, their diagnosis and treatment.
Trias who firmly believes that efforts should be maded to improve the well-being and quality of life for everyone in Barcelona, in a brief rendezvous with the Editor-in Chief of The Oslo Times,Hatef Mokhtar spoke about the current economic situation in Barcelona.
The Excerpts below give us an insight into his view of the Catalonian Capital’s economic state as Spain emerges from a two-year long recession:
Mr Trias i Vidal de Llobatera, Spanish Institute Of Statistics claimed published that Catalonia ended 2013 with an unemployment rate of 22.26 % and The Province of Barcelona ended with an unemployment rate of 21.74 % and a total of 580,500 unemployed. How do you explain these statistics?
We are still facing the results of a deep economic and financial crisis, which has put turned in Europe into a social, political and institutional crisis. Barcelona, like many other cities in the South of Europa, has been particularly hit by unemployment, especially in young people. There are 102,784 people unemployed in Barcelona, although this figure is falling in the last months.
Despite the context, the main macroeconomic indicators suggest that the worst of the economic crisis has already passed. In Barcelona we are working hard in order to consolidate our city as the economic capital of the South of Europe and the Mediterranean. And we are already getting good results.
Foreign investment in Catalonia increased by 31% in 2013, with a total of 3,511 million Eeuros investmented, representing 22% of the Spanish total. Last year, 7.067 new companies were created in Barcelona and its Metropolitan Area, an increase by 5% in comparison relation to 2012, which demonstrates that Barcelona and Catalonia have always been a city and a country with an entrepreneurial spirit.
How do you compare the city of Barcelona with other big cities in Spain and the region of Catalonia with other regions in Spain in terms of unemployment?
If we compare Barcelona with other cities in Spain, according to the Labour Force Survey, we have an unemployment rate of 17%, which is similar to the existing unemployment rate in Madrid (18%) or below if we compare it to Valencia (20%). As Mayor, these figures encourage me to continue creating the necessary conditions to generate new economic activity and new jobs.
In reference to the unemployment rate in Catalonia (22%), it is below the total of Spain (26%) and other regions like Andalucía (35%) or Castilla-La Mancha (30%). Last May, Catalonia was the region that had a greater decrease in unemployment in Spain (nearly -20.000 people).
As the Mayor of Barcelona you have set people’s care and attention, making Barcelona a working city, create jobs and to recover the city’s economy. How are you managing to achieve these goals?
First of all, promoting confidence at an international level in Barcelona and improving our economic solvency. We have nowadays a solid financial situation with a zero deficit budget, which allows us to pay our suppliers within 30 days and to make productive investments of nearly 500 million euro, to boost economic recovery.
Our first priority is to improve social care and attention, especially of the poor and the most vulnerable people. We have increased the budget devoted to social policy and care by nearly 30% in the last three years. Setting up policies to help elderly, disabled and dependent people, covering basic needs like food and energy supplies for those who can’t afford it, and providing the means to access social and affordable housing. We are developing a shared strategy of public-private partnerships with the non-profit and voluntary third sector, to provide these social services and policies.
Our second priority is economic recovery and job creation, because there’s no social progress without economic progress. We have adopted measures to support companies, like the creation of the Barcelona Growth Centre, which will help local and international entrepreneurs to develop their business projects in Barcelona. The commitment towards training is also essential for job creation and the improvement of productivity. Thanks to Barcelona Activa, the city development agency that promotes training and entrepreneurship through public-private partnerships, 20,000 people received training last year in the new skills required by the market. As a result of this, 7,000 people have found work.
We are also promoting new models of incubation through the programme Start-Up Barcelona programme, which is dedicated to new future-oriented economic sectors such as mobile technologies, smart cities and clean energies, creating an ecosystem of collaboration with the universities, companies and start-ups. At the same time, our city is boosting a very innovative project in Europe, the Barcelona KEY (Knowledge Economy Yard), which will help us to position Barcelona and its metropolitan area asnd the main knowledge hub in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
In your opinion, what should be the main driver for Barcelona’s economic development?
Barcelona is developing a new economic model based on technology, urban innovation, and advanced services. We have a strong and diversified economy, with competitive sectors, such as manufacturing, services, retail, tourism, and logistics. And we are also developing new strategic economic sectors for the future, like mobile technology, electric vehicles, clean energy, biomedicine, food processing and the nautical sector.
We are the Mobile World Capital, the European Capital of Innovation this 2014, and one of the leading smart cities in the world, developing innovative technological solutions to improve urban services, such as public transport, street lightning, parking, waste and water management, and social and health care.
My aim, as Mayor, is to put all this potential to the service of people’s wellbeing and quality of life, to promote job creation and social and economic development in Barcelona. Thanks to all these assets, we are building a successful urban model for the XXI century. A city of zero-emission neighbourhoods, which are designed on a human scale where people can live and work, inside a self-sufficient Metropolitan Area connected to the world.
Barcelona is the tenth most visited city in the world with several million tourists visiting it every year. What special things does Barcelona offer, that other cities don’t? What is Barcelona’s average annual profit from tourism?
Tourism is vital for Barcelona’s economy, it roughly contributes 12% of GDP, according to some studies. Every year, 7.5 million tourists, 78% of them from abroad, come to Barcelona, where they generate 16.4 million through overnight stays. We also receive 2.6 million cruise passengers every year, because Barcelona has the first cruise port in the Mediterranean and the fourth in the world, only after the ports in Florida.
We are creating more opportunities for growth, and making Barcelona a prime destination for leisure, business and creative lifestyles. Half of the visits to Barcelona are motivated by professional reasons, to make businesses or to attend conferences or international events.
Our city is the second most important place in the world in the MICE sector (in (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) and part of this success is due to the fact that Barcelona hosts some of the most important congresses in the world, most of them related to health and technology (like the Mobile World Congress and the Smart City Expo).
Our successful, sustainable and responsible tourism model, which is based on public-private partnership, has already been recognized with the Biosphere Award by UNESCO.
Mr Mayor, what is the state of human rights in Barcelona? Are you satisfied with it?
Barcelona is a city of reference worldwide in the defense of human rights and it wants to remain so. With this aim, in addition to the “Citizens’ Charter. Charter of Rights and Duties of Barcelona”, we have just created the Agency for Civil Rights and Non-Discrimination, in order to integrate all services and programs related to this field. WeBecause we want that the concept of Civil Rights to guide s all our policies atin the City Council.
Barcelona’s population is over 1.6 million people. Among them, 17.4 % are from other countries, like Italy, China, Pakistan, and Morocco etc. How did they fit into the structure and the way of life in Barcelona?
Global migration and mobility is a powerful engine of economic development and a great challenge for today’s world and its future. Often, when we talk about cities, we think about them as the lowest level of government, mainly as deliverers of some public services. But, in fact, cities are of critical importance in today’s world for economic development and social progress.
In Barcelona, during the last decade foreign- born population has grown by 72%. All these people, regardless of their origins, deserve the same opportunities, rights and obligations, than we all have. Barcelona has been praised around the world for its commitment towards integration and social cohesion, for its policies to achieve social justice and equity, and for creating innovative services to promote tolerance and respect for diversity.
As for myself, I’ve always been determined to make them feel part of Barcelona. They are part of a collective project where everybody in the city is invited to participate. We are building up an intercultural city, proud of our own history, language and cultural heritage, but also open up to new foreign contributions.
Barcelona is the city where the first European Conference of cities for Human Rights was held in 1998. In 2000 the Barcelona City Council ratified the European Charter for Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City. At Barcelona City Council there are also Office of Religious Affairs and the Office for Non-Discrimination. Could you explain us the role of these two offices and tell us what did you do personally, so far, as The Mayor of Barcelona, in protecting human rights?
These two services offer information, mediation and legal advice. They have been included in the Agency for Civil Rights and Non-Discrimination, because we want to link more directly the reality of our city with the specific municipal programs, in order to provide them with greater consistency and efficiency. We want to ensure that the promotion and protection of civil rights in Barcelona is a more central and cross-cuttingcrosscutting issue.
The Service of Information, Advice and Mediation for Issues of Discrimination is a municipal service that guides the defense of the citizens of Barcelona who may be discriminated because of their gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, origin, culture, health, disabilities, age, or social and economic status. This is one of the most visible services of the he aAgency and, in this new stage, we want it to be more present in the different neighborhoods to promote social cohesion.
The Office of Religious Affairs is another municipal service that deals with religion in order to guarantee the right to religious freedom. It coordinates the relations between the City Council and the different religious communities of Barcelona to meet their needs based on established criteria, and promotes interfaith harmony.
What is the position of Gay and Lesbian community in Barcelona? Are you satisfied with the level of protection given to protect their human and other rights?
Barcelona is a city that has a special sensitivity towards the LGBT community, because we consider it as an asset the fact of having a diverse social reality, open to the world. In addition, the city government is firmly committed to equality and non-discrimination in all aspects that have to do with the declaration of human rights.
We are developing policies to improve the quality of life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through the development of LGBT Municipal Plan 2010-2015, with special emphasis on the work of normalization, which is the best way to fight against discrimination. We have already achieved 90% of the objectives of the plan, so I can feel satisfied.
10. You are the mayor of the city of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, since July 2011. What is the biggest challenge you have confronted through this time?
The biggest challenge has been the period of great economic instability that we have lived in the South of Europe during the last years, which has produced high unemployment and social inequalities. It began as a housing and financial crisis, to become an economic, social, political and institutional crisis; a governance crisis in Spain and the European Union.
We are also experiencing important demographic challenges due to recent migration, from 6 to 7.5 million people living in Catalonia in just ten years, and the increase in life expectancy, 80 years in men and 86 in women. This is a success if we are able to meet the challenges that it poses to the health, the wellbeing and the quality of life of people.
These years of change will define our future in the coming decades, and I am convinced that cities and metropolitan areas have the strength and the potential to drive us out of this crisis. As I have said before, Barcelona has many positive factors to begin a trend of positive change and the potential to stimulate the economic recovery.
The independence of Catalonia is really often in media reports. A referendum on independence was is scheduled for 9 November this year. What is your prediction about the future of Catalonia?
In the last elections to the Catalan Parliament, 70% of Catalans expressed that we want to decide our future as a country. Massive peaceful, civic and democratic demonstrations haven taken millions of people to the streets in several occasions, to demand the right to decide our future.
We want to do it legally, peacefully and democratically. And in the 21st century, no one can deny that the best way to achieve it is through the ballot box. I am sure that this process we are boosting in Catalonia will not only be very positive for Catalans but also for the rest of Europe.
You are a member of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia. How do you see activity and development of this political party in the years to come?
Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) is the leading political party in Catalonia and has been able to govern the country for most of the last decades. Nowadays, Convergence and Union federation (CiU) is also responsible for governing the municipality of Barcelona and I am the mayor and president of the Barcelona Metropolitan Area.
It is in our hands to offer a sound and ambitious response to the challenges that Catalonia is facing at the moment. In this respect, CDC will bring its experience and commitment with Catalonia in the coming years, in order to improve people’s wellbeing and quality of life, in a context of economic progress, social justice and being able to decide our future as a country.
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