Israel and Catalonia strengthen their business, scientific and political relations

14.11.2013

Source: CNA

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has travelled to Israel to strengthen business ties between the two countries, particularly in the fields of innovation and science. Mas was heading a delegation including businesspeople as well as the Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, and the Catalan Minister for the Economy, Andreu Mas-Colell, among others. On Tuesday Mas met Shimon Peres, President of Israel, with whom he talked about his vision of a European Union with greater powers and Catalonia’s goal of building its own state. Later on, Mas laid flowers at the Holocaust Hall of Remembrance, giving a reminder that Catalan people were also victims of Fascism. He also offered his insignia of President of Catalonia next to the Eternal Flame. In addition, the President of Catalonia visited the Wailing Wall, where he left a message “in the vein of Pau Casals’ speech at the United Nations”, focusing on “Catalonia and peace”.

El president Mas s'ha reunit amb Yair Lapid, ministre de Finance

Meeting Yair Lapid, the ‘number 2’ in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government

On Monday, Mas met Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who is also the Chairman of Yesh Atid (the second-largest party in the Knesset) and ‘number 2’ in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government. With Lapid, who is a clearly emerging figure in Israel’s political landscape, Mas talked strictly about economic and scientific research matters, not about Catalonia’s self-determination process. Mas did not hide his desire to have Israeli funds investing in Catalonia’s private and public sectors. In addition, Lapid confirmed Mas that Israel will name a Honorary Consul in Barcelona in the next few weeks and it has yet to decide whether the next consular office in Europe is opened in Manchester, Milan or Barcelona. The Catalan capital is among the three cities in the world that are not capitals of an independent state hosting the highest number of consular representations.

Strengthening business and research ties

On Sunday and Monday, the Catalan delegation visited several university and research centres, as well as the business incubator ‘The Time’ in Tel Aviv. Several agreements regarding research and innovation were signed, such as the €2 million exchange of university professors and researchers and the use of Catalonia’s ALBA synchrotron by Israeli scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science. Furthermore, the Catalan President met the Israeli multinational company ICL, which owns the mining company Iberpotash and plans to invest €700 million in Catalonia.

Learning how to build “a knowledge economy”

During the trip, the Catalan President praised Israel’s capacity to develop world-leading scientific research and incorporate its results in the country’s economic and social development. In this vein, Mas highlighted that the Catalan delegation aimed “to learn” from the Eastern Mediterranean country’s experience “of building a knowledge economy”. Mas stressed that Catalonia and Israel have a similar population size and small geographic area, similar GDP per capita and strong innovation capacity, as well as many historical, cultural and business ties. In addition, both peoples have struggled throughout history “to keep their identity, culture and language”, although he added that Israel’s “case is not exactly” Catalonia’s. In fact, Mas said that Israel’s success as a country shows that an independent Catalan state is viable. For all these reasons, Mas emphasised he considers Israel “a journey companion” in the “unique” moment that Catalonia is living in all fields.

Mas aims to strengthen bonds between Israel and Catalonia

The Catalan President insisted on the will to strengthen bonds with Israel, while maintaining positive relations with Palestine and the other Arab nations. On this trip, the Catalan delegation will not meet with Palestinian representatives, since the trip does not focus on Israel-Palestine relations but on scientific and business objectives. It is the first time Mas has visited Israel as President, while in 2011 he hosted a dinner for the Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas at the Catalan Government’s Palace in Barcelona.

The Catalan President spoke at a conference at the University of Tel Aviv on Sunday where he pointed out that “it is very exciting for a nation that has existed for many centuries to build its own state, despite all the manifold difficulties and obstacles”. “A challenge that you know very well”, said Mas to the 150 attendees. At this conference, the Catalan President pointed out that Catalonia has chosen Israel as “a model” and “as a partner for innovation”. Mas presented Catalonia as the main knowledge centre in Southern Europe and he explained its research model.

israel4Agreements with Israel’s main research centres

During the trip, the Catalan Government signed several agreements with Israel’s main research centres and universities. The main agreement was with the Weizmann Institute of Science, “the Harvard of Israel” in Mas’ words. The Catalan Minister for the Economy and Knowledge, Andreu Mas-Colell signed it in Rehovot on Sunday. In this framework, five researchers from Catalonia and five from Israel will be exchanged each year. Furthermore, Isreali scientists will be able to use the ALBA Synchrotron in Greater Barcelona. “We aim high; we relate with the best of Israel and therefore with the best in the world”, stated Mas. The Catalan President explained that both Catalonia and Israel represent 1% of the world’s total scientific production. However Israel has 8 million inhabitants and Catalonia 7.5 million, and Israel has a higher proportion of scientists per inhabitant.

israel5Reassuring the owners of Iberpotash

On the business field, Mas met with ICL, the multinational which owns Iberpotash. This company runs a potassium-salt mine in Central Catalonia. It has announced €700 million of future investment in the years to come, but is facing a judicial matter regarding an environmental license given by the previous Catalan Government in 2008. Iberpotash is appealing the court’s decision to revoke the license and the Catalan Government will back Iberpotash, presenting its own appeal and defending its 2008 decision.

Tel Aviv and Barcelona to cooperate on smart cities and new technologies

The Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, met his Tel Aviv opposite number, Ron Huldai on Monday. They signed a 3-year cooperation agreement to exchange experience in the field of new technologies and smart cities and to improve public policies such as urban development, environmental protection, youth, sports, tourism, education, culture, heritage protection, etc. Since 1998, Barcelona has been twinned with the cities of Tel Aviv and Gaza.

Furthermore, on Sunday Trias also signed an agreement between StarTau, a Tel Aviv University centre fostering entrepreneurship, and Barcelona Activa, the municipal economic development agency. Trias invited StarTau to participate in the next Mobile World Congress, which is the world’s main event of the mobile industry and takes place each year in Barcelona at the end of February.

Israel will be the guest country of the 2014 Barcelona Design Week

Apart from this, the Catalan capital’s Mayor announced that Israel would be the guest country of the 2014 Barcelona Design Week, which will take place in the Catalan capital between the 2nd and 14th of June. Trias released the news in his visit to Holon’s Museum of Design. “It is positive that the creative people of two creative countries such as Israel and Catalonia can exchange ideas”, said Trias.

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