Worried over referendum, Catalan employers make back-up plans

By AFP, Madrid

Catalonia's powerful business leaders are starting to lose their patience with an increasingly bitter tussle over an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
While they think it is unlikely that Catalonia will break away from Spain after the October 1 vote, they are nonetheless putting the brakes on some projects while they wait to see what happens and are drawing up a "Plan B" just in case.
Above all things, they say they fear losing easy access to the European Union, as an independent Catalonia would have to apply to join the bloc, an arduous process that takes years.
"The current situation clearly causes a lot of nervousness and worry," Jaime Guardiola Romojaro, the chief executive of Barcelona-based Banco Sabadell, Spain's fifth largest bank, told a business forum last week.
Several Catalan companies have drawn up "contingency plans", he added.
His comments were backed up by Catalonia's largest employers' association, the Foment del Treball.
"All those who think their activity faces a risk" from independence have taken precautions, the association's economic director, Salvador Guillermo, told AFP.
Catalonia's pro-separatist government has said it will declare independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, home to around 7.5 million people, within days if voters back secession in the plebiscite, despite Madrid's ban.
The region, which accounts for about a fifth of Spain's economic output, is home to seven of the 35 companies that make up the benchmark Ibex-35 index of most traded Spanish stocks.
In the "very hypothetical" case of Catalan independence, Banco Sabadell could not afford to "exit the European Central Bank's regulatory framework" as this would mean it would lose its source of financing, a Banco Sabadell source said.