Banks in Montreal and Barcelona

Image result for banks in barcelonaOne of the things that caught my attention during a visit to Montreal last month was the role of financial institutions in years of ideological and territorial tension. Since the assignment was to explain what happened in Quebec in a Catalan key, I think the matter is very relevant in Spain. And the radical difference between the behavior of the savings banks and other Québec savings institutions and the Canadian banks then based in Montreal can demonstrate to what extent we will miss those cases erased from the face of the earth by the PP government under the instructions of the European Central Bank during the euro crisis

As explained in the article we published in La Vanguardia, when the meteoric rise of the independence party of the Quebecois in the 1970s was verified, the most emblematic banks in Canada vanished after that first clearly politicized coup , the so-called coup of Brink’s “in April 1970, when nine armored vans of the security company Brink’s filled with $ 1,000 Canadian dollars, left the historic headquarters of the Royal Trust bank and did not stop until they reached Toronto. In the next ten years 50,000 jobs in the banking sector would be destroyed.

But they did not leave the mutual societies, nonprofit entities that in the United States would qualify as credit unions and, saving the distances, in Spain they would be called boxes. The network of Québec savings banks, Desjardins, for example – a mutual society that does not respond solely to market criteria – played a critical role in the creation of a new local and French-speaking business fabric, a new class of Francophone entrepreneurs that created companies Cirque du soleil or the game company Ubisoft, inventor of the game “Assassin’s creed. A good image of the change is the Crew workshare in the old headquarters of the then hegemonic Royal Bank of Canada, in a deco style imperial building in Old Montreal, where hundreds of young entrepreneurs design their start up in the old bank space that He left Montreal. In addition, Crew serves excellent bagels with smoked salmon.

Image result for quebecQuebec managed to implement an industrial policy that protected its economy from the danger of corporate and banking relocation – whether for political reasons or for reasons of corporate profits – and these semi-public financial institutions were essential. The most important was the gigantic semipublic pension fund Caisse de depot et placement that manages assets for more than 230,000 million euros. “La Caisse serves to protect our medium-sized companies from hostile takeovers,” explained Alain Gagnon, professor of political science at the University of Quebec. The fund has invested in Québec companies such as the Provigo supermarket chain and the Domtar paper mill. has prevented any relocation caused by economic or political factors.

Likewise, the network of savings banks, Desjardins, mutual entities that do not respond solely to market criteria, supports local companies. “It is unimaginable that the Desjardins boxes had left and set up their headquarters outside as happened in Catalonia,” said Gagnon. One of the reasons why ultraconservative think tanks like Fraser Institue in Vancouver – cited by PP ideologues like Esteban Gonzalez Pons to defend their positions of denial of the right to decide in Catalonia – have lashed out so harshly against Québec policies, is the success of these industrial policy programs led by the semi-public banks and the Caisse de depot. They have been very effective in allowing a spectacular reconversion of the Québec economy after the departure of the big banks and other giants of the “Anglo” economy. And that worries the “Anglo” neoliberals in Canada who prefer the model of the wild West of Alberta with its free market, speculative financing through the Toronto Stock Exchange and large oil sands mines that have mutilated the environment.

Given all this, perhaps it is convenient to make a thought experiment, an intellectual exercise, of those that are scarce in the demagogic debate on the crisis of Spanish power. Let’s say that, instead of October of 2017, the clash between Madrid and Catalonia occurred two decades ago for the right to hold a referendum on Catalan sovereignty. (In Canada, there have been two referendums on the sovereignty of Quebec and, if Quebecers wanted, a hundred more could be held). Let’s say that the great Catalan crisis had occurred in 1987 or 1997 or even 2007. Then, the Caixa de Catalunya, with its Miroa logo, was still an institution that did not respond only to market criteria in its decisions to invest and lend money .

La Caixa, when I lived in Catalonia in the eighties, was more like a hybrid between Caisse de depot et placement and the Desjardins box. It had a huge portfolio of investments and the ability to curb hostile takeovers in companies considered important for the project to create an economy adjusted to the needs of local development (national if you will), and also a network of small offices whose goal was provide credits for Catalan SMEs.

Imagine, then, that the extra constitutional referendum on independence had been held in those years and the extraordinary performance of the Civil Guard in Catalonia had taken place, as Mario Polese, an economist at the Culture and Society Urbanization Center in Montreal, told me “never It could have happened in Quebec or after the assassination of the Canadian politician (by the Liberation Front of Québec). ” Would La Caixa have taken the same decisions to implicitly support the Government’s policy in Madrid by withdrawing its headquarters in Catalonia?

I would suggest that, even if it is a box, maybe Caixa would have acted more like Caisse de depot et placement and the box Desjardins that remained in Quebec even in the darkest moments. . If this were the case, it is worth asking why la Caixa became a conventional bank, governed solely by a profit motive, as well as those large Anglo-Saxon Canadian banks that took the money of many Quebecois customers in armored vans before the boom of the Québec separatism.

Image result for caixabankWhy did La Caixa end up being Caixabank? The answer, of course, is the euro crisis. Despite the fact that this crisis was caused by banks in the US that, following the slogans of their mandate to optimize profits and globalize as they had speculated to unknown limits in financial history, Europe’s response to contagion in the euro area was not to dismantle the big banks and make them act on behalf of the public good at a more local level. No, the answer was to convert the boxes into Anglo-Saxon banks …

When Spain looked at the abyss of insolvency, the recipes that came from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt said: “the boxes are politicized instruments must be closed or converted into banks.” Of course, this strict German conditionality applied to the rescue program came from pearls to those who in Madrid always preferred the Banco Santander model to the Caixa model.

Moving even further in the experiment, perhaps, we can postulate that is why European governments have closed ranks around the government in Madrid with so much enthusiasm in their pulse with those who defend the right to decide in Catalonia. The position for Madrid, after all, is politically complicated for European governments because, as anyone who reads the international press knows, public opinion outside of Spain is clearly against the intransigence of Madrid.

From the perspective of the experiment, the European refusal to the Catalan referendum was not due to the fact that, as urged tax evader Jean Claude Juncker insists, nationalism always ends in wars. No. It would respond to the fact that the EU already represents a financially neoliberal globalization project in which the protection of local space (national, if you will) is not permissible.

All of which confirms what many have said with great success in the Catalan and Spanish left, whether they are supporters of Catalan independence or not. Public banking is already a key claim to defend against centralizing authoritarianism compiled with a neoliberal globalism. Quebec solidaire, the party of the pro-independence left that begins to take votes away from the Quebecois Party knows this very well. “We are talking a lot about the importance of public banking and the protection of public services such as health or education and housing,” said Andre Frappier, retired postman and trade unionist who works for Quebec Solidaire. “We remain convinced that to achieve this we need an independent Quebec.”