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ELECTION

A ‘bitter victory’ for separatists in Catalonia after divided vote

Catalonia plunged into further uncertainty Friday after separatists won a crucial snap poll called following a failed independence bid that rattled Europe and triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

A 'bitter victory' for separatists in Catalonia after divided vote
Separatists celebrate the results late Thursday. Photo: AFP

With turnout at a record high of 82 percent, Thursday's election handed a mandate back to the region's ousted separatist leaders after they campaigned from exile and behind bars.

In a clear indicator of the huge gulf over independence afflicting Catalan society, anti-secessionist centrist party Ciudadanos won the biggest individual result with 37 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament.   

But unless the three pro-independence lists fail to clinch a deal to work together in the coming months, they will rule Catalonia with 70 seats — two less than their previous tally.

AS-IT-HAPPENED Catalans vote in decisive election

For Catalans on both sides of the divide the day had been a moment of truth, following weeks of upheaval and protests unseen since democracy was reinstated following the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco.   

Emboldened, separatists saw the vote result as vindicating their cause.   

“This is a result which no one can dispute,” deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium. 

“The Spanish state was defeated. (Spanish Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy and his allies lost,” he told reporters.

Defeat for Rajoy

The Spanish government called the election after it took the unprecedented step of stripping Catalonia of its treasured autonomy in the aftermath of an independence declaration on October 27th that rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.

At stake was the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,100 companies — including the largest banks, utilities and insurers — move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

The declaration came weeks after a banned independence referendum on October 1st, which was marred by a brutal police crackdown.   

Rajoy and his conservative cabinet tried to nip the independence movement in the bud, sacking the regional government and dissolving its parliament.   

In a further obstacle for the separatist cause, the judiciary pressed charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds against the secessionist leaders.

Puigdemont, who had fled to Belgium where he tried to rally international support for the separatist cause, has not since returned to Spain, where he faces arrest.

So far the EU has backed Rajoy, saying it supports constitutional order, and that it is an internal matter for Spain.   

The European Commission stressed its stance remained the same regardless of the result of the vote.

Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list secured the best result of the three separatist groupings — in a major upset for Rajoy.   

“The biggest loser of election night was the People's Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which obtained only three seats,” said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

“2018 will likely be the year in which it will become clearer whether or not Rajoy can survive for a full term,” he added.

'A bitter victory'

What the separatists' victory will mean in practice, however, remains a mystery.

“It is unclear whether Puigdemont will be able to be re-appointed… as he will be arrested if he comes back to Spain,” Barroso said.   

“As a result, the investiture process will be far from straightforward, and the risk of new elections in 2018 remains high,” he added.   

Puigdemont is to hold a press conference in Brussels at 1030 GMT Friday.   

Rajoy, who has not commented so far, may speak in the afternoon after a meeting of his party, which saw its number of seats in the Catalan parliament slashed from 11 to just three.

In Belgium, a separatist supporter warned against triumphalism.   

“It's a bitter victory,” said Michel Vila, a 70-year-old retired engineer who has lived in Belgium for 30 years.

Crucially, the pro-independence camp is not expected to attempt another breakaway from Spain but rather try to enter into negotiations with Madrid — even though Thursday's result certainly strengthens the separatists' hand.   

The Catalan business elite, some of whose members have close links with Puigdemont's party, “know that they have to give a fresh boost to tourism and the economy”, sociologist Narciso Michavila told AFP.

On the other side of the divide, Ciudadanos candidate Ines Arrimadas saw the glass half full, celebrating her centrist party's lead in votes.   

“The nationalists will never again be able to speak in the name of all Catalonia. We are all Catalonia,” she said in a speech to supporters after the result.

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CATALONIA

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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