Spain tightens control over Catalan spending as tensions soar

Spain's central government launched its latest salvo against Catalonia on Friday, tightening control over regional spending and brushing aside a last-ditch separatist demand for dialogue to allow a banned referendum.

Spain tightens control over Catalan spending as tensions soar
Catalan pro-independence flags and a 'Yes' banner hang during Thursday's launch of the Catalan main separatist parties' campaign for an independence referendum in Tarragona. Photo: JOSEP LAGO / AFP
“The rule of law works. Maybe some have not noticed, and it would be best if they noticed,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a meeting of his conservative Popular Party in Barcelona.
“The state will keep acting, because that is its duty,” he added to applause from the audience, which gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
State authorities have piled pressure on Catalonia, threatening to arrest mayors if they facilitate the referendum and ordering police to seize any item that could be used in the vote in a region sharply divided over whether it wants independence.
Rajoy said Spain's Guardia Civil police had so far seized “over 100,000 propaganda posters” from Catalonia's regional government related to the referendum, which Madrid deems illegal. Police also searched a printing firm near Barcelona and warned two Catalan newspapers, El Nacional and El Punt Aviu, not to publish referendum advertisements.
Madrid went a step further on Friday by tightening control over Catalonia's spending to prevent the region from using money to organise the referendum. Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said Spain's central government would take over the payments of essential services and public workers' salaries in the region to make sure the cash went just to them. 
But separatists have reacted with defiance. On Thursday evening, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other regional players launched their campaign for the referendum in front of a crowd of thousands of cheering supporters in the coastal city of Tarragona, ignoring warnings that the event was “illegal.”
In an open letter distributed to domestic and foreign media on Friday, Puigdemont and other leaders including Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau denounced “unprecedented repression” by Madrid. They also asked Rajoy and the Spanish king for a last-ditch dialogue, but were promptly rebuked.
“It's ironic coming from those who have refused dialogue save for a very specific issue — the only one they care about — the independence referendum,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.
Big cities key
The latest tit-for-tat tops weeks of mounting tensions as Catalan leaders go ahead with referendum preparations despite Madrid's ban and a court ruling that deems it illegal.
Catalonia meanwhile remains sharply divided over the issue. A poll in July commissioned by the regional government found that 49.4 percent of Catalans were against independence while 41.1 percent supported it. More than 70 percent, though, wanted a referendum to settle the matter.
If they win, the separatists vow to declare independence within days for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, home to around 7.5 million people.
Some 750 mayors have pledged to hold the referendum, but they head up mostly small municipalities. Among the most populated cities, five out of 10 will not get involved, and question marks remain over the biggest of them all — Barcelona.  
Colau said Thursday that people in Barcelona would be able to vote “without putting institutions or public workers at risk,” but she gave no details as to how this would work.
Rajoy urged the “threatened mayors” who have not agreed to help stage the referendum to “remain calm”. 
“We are with you, we are many, we are the majority, and this is a strong democracy that will not accept challenges like the one we have on our table,” he said.
'Right to vote'
Catalonia, which accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's economic output, already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.
But Spain's economic worries, coupled with a perception that Catalonia pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession.
The pro-separatist camp argues that a referendum represents their right to self-determination.
“What we are doing is exercising the right to vote… that forms part of a basic democratic exercise,” Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras told Spanish radio on Friday.
The “repression” they denounce includes legal proceedings against Puigdemont and other Catalan officials including members of a newly-created electoral board to oversee the vote.
By AFP's Marianne Barriaux 
For members


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