What would an independent Catalonia look like?

Aden Hayes examines what might happen if the Catalan election goes the way of the separatists and they reach their dream of breaking away from Spain and declaring an independent nation.

What would an independent Catalonia look like?
Photo: AFP

Catalans of all stripes go to the polls today to vote in a new parliament, following the imposition of direct rule from Madrid, and the scrapping of a unilateral declaration of independence for Catalonia by members of the former parliament.

LIVE: Catalans vote in decisive election

The latest voter surveys – five were published last week – show clearly that no party can achieve a majority, and all indicate a very close race between the three parties that have promised independence, and the three that favor continued unity with the rest of Spain.  

READ MORE: Latest polls show separatists could lose absolute majority in vote

In the middle lies the anti-capitalist / hard left coalition that holds power in Barcelona, and could be the kingmaker.  This group has made equivocal pronouncements about independence, one of the latest being “yes we support independence, but not now.”  What that means to voters is anyone’s guess.

The pro-independence parties say that if, together, they gain a majority and can form a government, they will immediately declare independence, contravening the Spanish Constitution, which declares the nation to be “indissoluble.”  This would result in a political and constitutional crisis of a kind unseen since Spain’s return to democracy in 1978.

There would be a great deal of negotiation and threats back and forth between Barcelona and Madrid, but if Catalonia – seven million people and the fourth richest region of Spain by per capita GDP –were to be severed from the rest of the country, what would that Independent Catalan Republic look like?

The region already has many of its own political, social, economic and even diplomatic institutions, which it would undoubtedly keep and strengthen.  Catalonia currently has:

  • Its own parliament – roughly equivalent to a state legislature in the US;
  • Its own police force, with most members hand-picked to ensure a pro-independence stance and their chiefs selected by pro-independence politicians;
  • Its own intelligence service – which has spied and compiled dossiers on Spanish politicians and Catalan pro-unity politicos;
  • Its own fiscal policy and budgeting apparatus;
  • Its own education system, operating almost entirely in the Catalan language and which teaches Catalan, rather than Spanish, history;
  • Its own diplomatic representation abroad, with 16 “embassies” set up as permanent trade missions but which have functioned as part of the pro-independence propaganda machine;
  • Its own television and radio – again, broadcasting a heavily pro-independence message which in many cases means anti-Spain.

What else would an independent Catalonia seek?

Several Catalan leaders — including the former president of the Catalan Parliament, Carles Puigdemont — have advocated leaving the European Union as well as the European currency, the Euro.   Puigdemont has derided the EU as “a club of obsolete, decadent countries, where minorities rule and which are linked to increasingly debatable economic interests.”

ANALYSIS Even if separatist parties win the Catalan election, international law doesn't provide a right to independence

The first phase of this departure would be easy – EU leaders including Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, have both said that if Catalonia were to become independent, it would automatically be out of the European Union.  Moreover, if Catalans changed their minds, the newly independent nation-state would have to apply for admission – a process that takes years, not months –and a single negative vote from a member (Spain?) would be enough to derail the process. 

If Catalonia is not part of the EU, it cannot be a member of the Euro Group and would not enjoy the backing of the European Central Bank.  But, this does not mean that Catalonia could not continue to use the Euro as its currency, as others outside the EU – Montenegro, Andorra, Kosovo, others – are doing. 

Following the model of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, there would likely be hard borders set up between Catalonia and Spain, Catalonia and France, and possibly between Catalonia and Andorra, adding greatly to the cost of shipping goods, increasing the possibilities of tariffs, etc.  There would no longer be visa- and passport-free travel for Catalan citizens crossing to other European countries. 

And what would happen to Catalonia’s famed tourism industry?  The region is Spain’s #1 tourism destination, with more than 18 million visitors a year.  If Europeans can no longer arrive without border controls and a passport, will they go elsewhere?

Moreover, the economy of an independent Catalonia will almost certainly suffer in another way:  Driven by the possibility of Catalexit, more than 2000 companies – including all the region’s largest banks and many industrial firms – have moved their fiscal headquarters (read:  tax obligations) out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain.  The full effects of this upheaval have yet to be felt, but they do not bode well for the standard of living of some of Iberia’s richest citizens.

And it is not just Spanish firms that are worried about the uncertainty of independence.  This week the Spanish Ministry of the Economy announced that foreign direct investment in Catalonia had fallen 75% in the third quarter, compared to the same period one year earlier.  Very few companies are intrepid enough to invest where future laws and conditions governing their operations are unknown.

READ ALSO: Wht next for Catalonia?

As we are seeing with Brexit, there would clearly be many other questions to clear up if Catalonia were to split from Spain:  who pays the pensions of Catalan workers who have contributed to the central social security fund in Madrid? Who assumes Catalonia’s debt (at €75 billion one of the highest of any of Spain’s autonomous regions)?  And, will other European countries – and countries around the world – formally recognize Catalonia as a sovereign nation?

Before any of these questions can be answered – or even asked seriously – the Catalan vote must be counted, and Madrid must react.   We won’t have to wait long.

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