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Spain takes control of Catalonia’s finances to block referendum

Spain has taken control of Catalonia's finances to prevent funds being used for an independence referendum it deems illegal, a move that limits the region's autonomy and puts in doubt the payment of thousands of public workers' salaries.

Spain takes control of Catalonia's finances to block referendum
atalan regional vice-president and chief of Economy and Finance, Oriol Junqueras (L), President of the Catalan Government Carles Puigdemont (C) and president of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell

“It is a total irresponsibility. They are leading us to an administrative collapse,” Catalonia's vice president Oriol Junqueras said Monday, adding the measure was “unprecedented”.

Spain's conservative government announced Friday it would take over the payment of essential services and public workers' salaries in Catalonia to prevent it from spending money on the referendum slated for October 1st.

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Catalonia's pro-separatist government challenged the measure in Spain's Supreme Court but a court spokeswoman told AFP it was “in force” and would not be suspended while judges rule on its legality.

“It is a de facto suspension of Catalonia's financial autonomy,” said Alain Cuenca, an expert on the regional financing at the University of Zaragoza who opposes Catalan independence.

Spain's regions pay taxes to the central government and are then given a quota to spend on health care, education and public infrastructure.  

Catalonia, which is roughly the size of Belgium and home to around 7.5 million people, receives about €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) a month from Madrid to cover essential services.

“This means that from now on (Catalan leaders) no longer have their money,” said a spokeswoman for Spain's budget ministry.  

They won't have the right to carry out any “extra expense” beyond those already foreseen, she added.

'Less autonomy'

“Does this mean they have less autonomy? Of course! But the seriousness of the measure goes hand in hand with the seriousness of the events,” said Francisco de la Torre, a lawmaker with the centrist Ciudadanos party, an ally of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government.

Madrid announced the measure after the Catalan government said it would no longer comply with a request made in July that it provide weekly accounts of its spending to ensure no money was being used to stage the contested referendum.

Junqueras said the freezing of the accounts is a disguised way of taking away Catalonia's autonomy, a measure which could in principle only take place after a debate and a vote in the Senate, Spain's upper house of parliament.  

“This implies not being able to devote one euro to spending in sectors such as industry, commerce, agriculture, livestock, culture, research, sports, youth, social affairs, housing” which are considered to be non essential, he said.

For Madrid, paying the salaries of the roughly 170,000 employees of the Catalan regional government will not be an easy task.  

Spain's central government will needed their complete details such as bank account info or the number of sick leave days they have in order to calculate the amount they are due.

Catalan regional vice-President and chief of Economy and Finance, Oriol Junqueras waves as he takes part in the official launch of the Catalan main separatist parties' campaign for an independence referendum, Photo: AFP 

'Turn off tap'

Junqueras avoided answering if his government would provide this information, saying only at a news conference on Tuesday that “we will act with our usual normality”.  

If it does not, Spain's central government will “turn off the tap” of financing for the region since this means the Catalan government “is not cooperating, that they don't want the salaries of public workers to be paid by Madrid, the budget ministry spokeswoman said.  

Joan Escanilla, president of the Catalan branch of Spain's CSIF civil servants union, said the risk that salaries will be paid late was a “real worry”.

“Think of all that people who have to pay their mortgages, the problems they could have with their banks,” he said.  

The Catalan government downplays the risk.  

“We have all the resources to face our obligations,” said Junqueras.    

About a quarter of Catalonia's revenues comes  directly from certain taxes which it collects itself as well as from university tuition fees.  

The Catalan government probably “still has a bit of margin” to pay salaries during the month of September, said Cuenca.  

To prevent it from using this money, Madrid has asked banks to control all movements in the accounts and credit cards managed by Catalan leaders.

By Emmanuelle Michel / AFP

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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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