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Pedro Luis Uriarte, Chief executive, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya

Pedro Luis Uriarte is not a man to mince his words. When asked at a recent meeting with analysts in London what he saw as the way forward for Spanish banking in the context of a single-currency Europe, the 55-year-old chief executive of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBV), the country's biggest bank, casually said he thought it would be a good idea to merge with arch-rival Banco Santander.

Uriarte's remark hit the roomful of analysts like a bombshell, and needless to say, Banco Santander was not amused. "Senor Uriarte is a very nice man with a very fertile imagination," huffed an executive at Spain's second biggest bank (although the largest banking group).

Uriarte was bemused by the incident: "I was merely saying that a hypothetical marriage between BBV and Banco Santander would go a long way towards creating shareholder value and the sort of economy of scale needed to compete in Europe," he says. "I wasn't proposing to anyone. However, the consolidation process in Europe is unstoppable and that includes Spain. We are ready to confront any merger or takeover, but a marriage requires two partners. We have the wedding ring ready, but we have to find the right size finger."

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