Puigdemont or not? Catalan independence camp has to choose

Separatist parties have a majority in the Catalan parliament which should allow them to govern the region but their favoured candidate Carles Puigdemont, in self-imposed exile, faces a tough path ahead to return as president.

Puigdemont or not? Catalan independence camp has to choose
Will Puigdemont return from self-imposed exile in Belgium? Photo: AFP

Will he come back and risk jail for his role in Catalonia's independence drive as former regional president, or will the pro-independence camp pick someone else?

The dilemma comes after three pro-independence groupings won an absolute majority in parliament in elections last month called by Madrid to try and end months of turmoil as Catalan leaders attempted to break away from Spain.   

Puigdemont's “Together for Catalonia” list got the most seats out of the three parties, which are expected to join forces again, making him the natural candidate for the presidency.

Exile and jail

But they face a significant challenge as Puigdemont and four of his former ministers who were also re-elected are in Belgium.   

They went there after being sacked by Madrid over a unilateral independence declaration on October 27th, and are wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

Three others, including former vice president Oriol Junqueras, are in jail pending a probe into the same charges.

Puigdemont's list won 34 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament.   

Junqueras's ERC party got 32, and the small far-left CUP party won four, giving these pro-independence groupings an absolute majority of 70 seats.    

But if those in Belgium or prison can't officially take their posts, the separatist camp will lose its majority.

On Friday, the Supreme Court rejected a demand by Junqueras to be released.

Photo: AFP

The court is unlikely to be lenient towards the other separatists in jail, having argued for Junqueras that there is a risk he would “re-offend as there is no sign that the defendant has any intention of abandoning the route he has followed until now.”

Those in Belgium are unlikely to come back as they face arrest.    

A lack of majority will be a major problem for Puigdemont, not least because he first needs to ensure he has allies in the strategic “presidents bureau” of the Catalan parliament, which makes sure assembly rules are respected.

This bureau — the members of which are voted by parliament — would have to allow him to present his programme to parliament via videolink from Belgium and be elected without being present.

So in order for separatists to keep their majority, at least six out of the eight in Belgium or prison will likely have to renounce their seat and be replaced by others on their list.

The other option would be to get the support of far-left grouping Catalunya en Comu, which won eight seats and opposes Madrid's policies even if it is against independence.

Any decision will have to be taken before January 17th, when the first session of the new Catalan parliament takes place.


Leaving these challenges aside, Puigdemont also need to address niggling doubts within his own separatist camp, and particularly among those in Junqueras's ERC party.

“We don't know how they (Puigdemont and the elected officials in Belgium) plan to do it, if they will come or not,” an ERC source who refused to be named told AFP, adding the videolink option was “strange.”   

And ERC is already thought to be considering a “plan B.”   

“The competition between both pro-independence groupings is bigger and bigger,” wrote Enric Juliana, an influential Catalan journalist, in the La Vanguardia daily on Friday.

Finally, if Puigdemont managed to overcome the divisions and procedural rules to be re-elected president of Catalonia, how will he govern the region?    

“Carles Puigdemont has said that if he is officially nominated, he will come back,” said a source from his party, who refused to be named.    

But won't he immediately be arrested?    

“If he comes to the door of the Catalan presidency surrounded by 500 mayors who support him, will the Spanish government really arrest him?,” the source asked.

“In any case, if he comes and he is arrested, his term in office ends and there will be new elections in three months.”

By Daniel Bosque with Michaela Cancela-Kieffer  / AFP

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