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ANALYSIS: Can PM Rajoy survive the Catalan crisis?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a political survivor, now faces one of the biggest challenges of his career: a surge in separatist fervour in Catalonia which many accuse him of having fanned.

ANALYSIS: Can PM Rajoy survive the Catalan crisis?
Rajoy is now trapped by Catalonia's drive for independence, an issue which he skillfully exploited while in the opposition. Photo: AFP

The 62-year-old conservative leader has vowed to stop Catalonia's pro-independence regional government from going ahead Sunday with a secession plebiscite, which has been ruled unconstitutional by Spain's Constitutional court.

Acting on the orders of the authorities in Madrid, Spanish riot police, some firing rubber bullets, used force to “neutralise” polling stations by seizing ballot boxes and ballots.

Head of the Popular Party (PP) since 2004 and of the government since 2011, Rajoy has fended off challenges from rivals in his own party and opposition adversaries, and managed to remain in power even after his formation lost its absolute majority in parliament in 2015.

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His reputation as a survivor was cemented in 2005 when he emerged from a helicopter crash with just a broken finger.   

“You have elephant skin,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told him jokingly last November, a compliment that was splashed across the Spanish press.    

But Rajoy is now trapped by Catalonia's drive for independence, an issue which he skillfully exploited while in the opposition.   

Born in 1955 in Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern region of Galicia, Rajoy, a lawyer by training, was one of the fiercest opponents of an autonomy charter agreed by Catalonia in 2006 with the Socialist Spanish government at the time.

He led a campaign to gather four million signatures for a petition opposing the charter, which was approved by the Spanish parliament and granted Catalonia greater powers and recognised it as a “nation”.   

Spain's Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down parts of the charter in response to a legal appeal filed by Rajoy's PP.   

The ruling prompted mass protests in Catalonia, a wealthy region  whose roughly 7.5 million residents are proud of their distinct language and culture, and a surge in support for independence.

'Manufacturing separatists'

When Rajoy took power in 2011 Spain was in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and he refused to listen to the demands for greater fiscal autonomy by the Catalan regional government.

Catalonia then began to demand the right to hold an independence referendum, which he repeatedly rejected, arguing that it would violate Spain's constitution.

His detractors accuse him of intransigence and of “manufacturing separatists”.

And having initially castigated Catalonia's separatist leaders, he has recently tried to win over Catalans with pledges of more investment, while emphasising Spaniards' love for the region following the jihadist attacks in and around Barcelona in August that killed 16 people.

But these efforts have largely been shrugged off in the streets of Catalonia.

'Uncharismatic leader'

A father of two, Rajoy turned to politics at a young age, joining the Popular Alliance, the party founded by former ministers in the government of Francisco Franco which later became the PP.

After becoming leader of the PP in 2004, Rajoy went on to lose two general elections to the Socialists before voters finally handed him the premiership in 2011 as Spain suffered the ravages of the financial crisis.   

When he lost his majority in parliament in a general election in December 2015, Rajoy found himself without allies to form a coalition.    

He waited while other parties tried but failed to form a government, and new elections were called in June 2016 which saw his PP once again win the most seats but fall short of a majority.

He formed a minority government with the backing of the smaller centrist Ciudadanos party, which was formed in Catalonia to oppose independence.    

Rajoy credits his unpopular austerity measures for lifting Spain out of its economic malaise and allowing Spain to avoid an international bailout.    

The government predicts the Spanish economy will expand 3.1 percent this year and unemployment is falling, though most new jobs are temporary and low-paying positions.

Analysts say a string of corruption scandals that have tainted the PP have prevented it from benefiting more from Spain's economic rebound.   

Rajoy has long insisted that the scandals are isolated cases he knew nothing about.

“It's obvious that he is an uncharismatic leader but he has perfect control of time and incredible knowledge of the decision-making process,” said Narciso Michavila, an expert in electoral analysis who has advised Rajoy.

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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 a 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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