How the Catalonia crisis has paralyzed Spanish politics

A 2018 budget that has still not been approved, a constitutional reform left hanging in the air... Far from a mere territorial issue, the Catalan crisis has also paralyzed Spanish politics as a whole.

How the Catalonia crisis has paralyzed Spanish politics
A man holds a Catalan pro-independence flag while others hold placards reading "Freedom" at a November demo in Barcelona calling for the release of jailed separatist leaders. Photo: AFP

The independence drive, which caused the country's biggest crisis in decades, has only added to the woes of a parliament already deeply fragmented as warring political parties make any agreement difficult.

“This is going to be an exceptionally unproductive legislature,” said Jose Fernandez Albertos, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council.

First and foremost, Spain's national budget for 2018.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) and his allies — centre-right Ciudadanos and lawmakers from the Canary Islands — need the support of five MPs from the Basque Country's PNV nationalist party to see it through.

But the PNV has baulked at Madrid's imposition of direct rule on Catalonia after its regional parliament declared unilateral independence on October 27th.

So it has so far refused to give its support like it did last year, a position it is likely maintain until a regional election in Catalonia on December 21st.


Then there is a Spanish territorial reform which is proving difficult to push ahead, even against the background of Catalan leaders wanting to break from the country.

Spain is divided into 17 semi-autonomous regions, but some of them — including Catalonia — have grievances and are asking for financing that would be better suited to their needs.

Any territorial reform would have to involve an improvement in the regional financing system, which varies from one part of Spain to another, or an ambitious overhaul of the 1978 Constitution.

The Socialists got a pledge from Rajoy's PP that it would look into a constitutional reform in exchange for supporting Madrid's imposition of direct rule on Catalonia.

But now, Rajoy is dragging his feet. “We can't talk of reforming the constitution without knowing exactly what reform is needed,” he has repeatedly said.

“The problem isn't that there aren't proposals to update our constitution, the problem is we have a government that is devoid of political initiative,” said Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez last month, accusing it of “apathy.”

For Fernandez, a constitutional reform will be hard to agree on. He considers it would be more realistic to “invest political capital in other solutions that don't involve a constitutional reform,” such as legislating on inequalities or better access to basic rights.

Fragmented parliament

But that's just the problem.

Putting Catalonia aside, Spain's parliament is full of squabbling political parties that don't agree.

In the year since November 2016, when a new legislature began, a mere nine ordinary laws have been approved, compared to 48 in 2015 and 36 the year before that.

Rajoy's minority government, which has promised the EU to reduce Spain's deficit to below 3 percent of GDP in 2018, has vetoed dozens of opposition-led initiatives, arguing they would involve more public spending.

Formed after close to a year of political blockage after two inconclusive elections, Rajoy's PP only has 137 lawmakers out of 350, far from the absolute majority he enjoyed from 2011 to 2015.

The arrival of two relatively new parties on the scene — far-left Podemos and Ciudadanos — has further divided a political scene once dominated by the PP and Socialists.

And that's hurting the work of the parliament as parties disagree on various proposals.

Amplify divisions

The Catalan crisis has only amplified these divisions, with weekly plenary sessions becoming a ping pong match of accusations.

“What Spain needs right now is more social and territorial cohesions,” said Socialist lawmaker Meritxell Batet in parliament last week.

“Spain needs a project for the future, and you're not providing it,” she told finance minister Cristobal Montoro and Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera.

Rajoy's personality also explains the legislative paralysis, said Antonio Torres del Moral, a constitutional law professor at Spain's UNED University.

“He is one of those politicians who thinks that time fixes many things, so he prefers not to take risks by launching legislative initiatives,” he said.

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