2012, the deep unknown for the Spanish Chambers of Commerce

The 2012/02/20 at 06:50
In Madrid, Valérie Demon

Mariano Rajoy, President of the Spanish Government. / D.R.
After a year 2011 marked by retrenchments, Spanish CCIs may well have to play it by ear this year.

The year 2012 will be one of dangers and surprises for the 88 Spanish CCIs. Since the sudden withdrawal of compulsory subscription fees in December 2010, decreed by the former Socialist government under José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Chambers have been seeking a way out – and above all, a new economic model. While in 2012, companies with over 10 million euros in turnover will still need to pay subscription fees, no compulsory fees are envisaged for 2013. The result is a substantial lack, for compulsory membership fees once represented 60% of the CCI budget, the rest being self-financed.


In the meantime, the government has changed hands. It is now the right-wing Popular Party (PP) that holds the reins of Spain. By the end of the year, a new Chamber law will need to be formulated. This will take time, as the President of the Spanish CCI network explained in April 2010 to Commerce International. “We wish to obtain a maximum consensus with the political parties, administrative bodies and institutions with which we collaborate, from the central government to regional executives via local authorities, the CEOE (employers' organisation, editorial note), as well as social protagonists. But we cannot obtain such a consensus in barely two months. ... We hope that that the new law will be enforced in 2013.”


By next year, Spanish Chambers of Commerce, which employ 3,300 persons, will therefore need to get ready. A majority of them have already had to retrench some of its staff in 2011. In the Catalonia region, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Barcelona has approved a plan to retrench 31% of its staff. As for the 2011 budget, it was 24.4% lower than that of 2010. In Madrid, 25% of the 300 employees have lost their jobs, after the departure of around fifty persons. “Out of the 67 largest Chambers of Commerce and Industry, we have gone from 2,644 to 2,219 employees, in other words, less 425 persons,” declares Enrique Perez Moratilla, a spokesperson for the Comfia CC.OO union representing the Chamber sector. “There were between 10% and 35% of jobs suppressed.”


Each CCI must therefore find its way to survival. At the start of 2011, a bilateral committee aiming to reflect on the future of the CCIs was organised with the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations (CEOE). In mid-December, a joint press release was published with the Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Companies, on the maintenance of the status quo until a new law regulating Chambers of Commerce and Industry can be promulgated. This future regulation will be the fruit of a consensus between the three entities, based on the maintenance of the CCIs and the updating of services and the definition of the roles of each.


Enrique Perez Moratilla smiles: “This is the declaration of an intention; I strongly suspect that employer associations wish to take control of Chambers. The situation of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where the President, Arturo Fernández, is also President of the region’s employer association, is not ideal. This is not the right path to follow.” According to the union spokesperson, this is one of the threats that currently weigh down on Chambers, the others being the serious economic crisis and the overriding austerity. “We are genuinely completely unaware of what will happen in coming months,” he says.


Meanwhile, the Madrid Chamber of Commerce is thinking about the place it would like to occupy, namely in the domain of training. “Most companies ignore that CCIs operate in the domain of vocational training,” explains a Chamber source. The Madrid region has precisely recently set up a system managed by the CCI, which combines lessons and paid business internships. For now, six companies have signed up. The Popular Party government, which is going to have to cut the unemployment rate of under-25s, currently at 46%, as well as school dropout rates, at 30%, has not yet defined the measures it will be taking on. The Madrid region and its Chamber of Commerce will not fail to promote their new combined training system to the government.

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