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Madrid to shower cash on Catalonia in bid to ensure the region remains in Spain

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged on Tuesday to invest €4.2 billion ($4.6 billion) in Catalonia by 2020 as a battle for hearts and minds rages between Madrid and regional authorities that want independence.

Madrid to shower cash on Catalonia in bid to ensure the region remains in Spain
Demonstrators sporting hats and headdresses with the colours of the 'Estelada' (Catalan pro-independence flag) at a rally in Barcelona, September 2016. Photo: AFP

At loggerheads with the separatist government in the northeastern region, which plans to hold a Scotland-style independence referendum against Madrid's will, Rajoy has launched a so-called “operation dialogue” in a bid to ease tensions and win over public opinion.

Criticised for inaction during his first term in office as independence fervour mounted in Catalonia, Rajoy promised to strive for a rapprochement when he took power again in November to solve what he has dubbed Spain's most serious problem.

Speaking in the seaside city of Barcelona, Rajoy promised “€4.2 billion in investment in infrastructure, transport and housing between this year and 2020, which represents more than a billion a year.”

Lack of investment in the wealthy but indebted region has long been a source of contention, pushing some weary Catalans to come out in support of independence, particularly as they see their tax money sent to Madrid and used to prop up other poorer regions.

The belated arrival of the high-speed train to Barcelona in 2008, 16 years after the first such link to Seville in the south, a lack of free highways, and delays in commuter trains are just some of the issues that have contributed to this weariness.

But polls show that many recently converted independence supporters would happily settle for more autonomy and better funding.

Hoping to lure them back, Rajoy pledged to pour money into the commuter train network, airports, roads and ports.

He also promised to finish by 2020 the Catalan section of a Mediterranean freight railway link due to go through coastal regions all the way down to Algeciras on Spain's southern tip.

In addition, Rajoy said he would address the long-time complaint about regional funding and taxes.

“This matters to me. I want Catalonia to be prosperous in a thriving Spain,” he said, asking companies for “help in winning the battle for moderation”.

READ ALSO: 'I don't want independence, I'm Spanish'

Received with scepticism

But the regional government headed by Carles Puigdemont has reacted with a strong dose of scepticism to these overtures.

“Promises of investment in Catalonia made by the Spanish government have lost all credibility in the eyes of Catalan society,” Puigdemont said in an article penned with his deputy Oriol Junqueras and published on Tuesday in the regional daily El Periodico.

They said the central government's previous investment pledges had only been partially fulfilled.

“The state's investment in Catalonia represents 8.2 percent of total investment in regions,” they said, arguing this was “way below” what it should be getting given the wealth it generates and how populous it is.

Catalonia is the region that contributes most to Spain's overall economy, accounting for just under a fifth of the total.

As if emphasising this, Puigdemont was in the United States to establish contacts with think tanks and media outlets and defend his plans to call a referendum in September, just as Rajoy made his announcement.

Madrid has warned repeatedly that such a vote would be illegal and against the constitution — a stance supported by the judiciary.

But the Catalan government has pressed ahead regardless.

Dominated by a coalition of separatist parties, the regional parliament last week approved a 2017 budget that pointedly includes funding for the referendum.

In doing so Catalonia's leaders risk legal repercussions, as illustrated by the two-year ban on public office imposed on former Catalan president Artur Mas this month for organising an illegal independence referendum in 2014, even though the vote was non-binding.

READ ALSO: Madrid is determined to stop Catalonia's independence referendum. How far will it go?

 

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CATALONIA

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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