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INDEPENDENCE

Catalan parliament meets as sacked leader seeks comeback

Catalonia's parliament met Wednesday for the first time since it was dissolved following a failed bid to break from Spain in a session that will see separatists start the process to get sacked regional leader Carles Puigdemont back into power.

Catalan parliament meets as sacked leader seeks comeback
A yellow ribbon placed at on an empty seat reserved for deposed Catalan separatist leaders is pictured at Catalan's parliament before its inaugural session. Photo: AFP

Catalan lawmakers on Wednesday elected a separatist as parliamentary speaker, the first stage of a plan by pro-independence deputies to get regional leader Carles Puigdemont, in self-exile in Belgium, back into power.

As MPs met for the first time since a failed bid to break from Spain, protesters waving separatist flags gathered outside the assembly in Barcelona where pro-independence parties are in the majority after winning regional elections on December 21st.

With 70 out of 135 deputies, they largely favour Puigdemont as candidate for regional president.

He was sacked by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy along with his cabinet on October 27th after the regional parliament declared unilateral independence, sparking a major political crisis in Spain and sending shock waves across Europe.

Control of parliament key

Despite being in Belgium, Puigdemont wants to make a comeback and govern the deeply divided region, though what he plans to do if he manages this remains a mystery.

For separatist lawmakers, the first step towards this was to secure control of parliament by getting one of their supporters elected as speaker.   

They did precisely that on Wednesday, with 65 lawmakers voting for Roger Torrent, the 38-year-old member of the leftwing separatist ERC party, against 56 who cast their ballot for an anti-independence candidate.


Newly elected parliament speaker Roger Torrent (C) reviews members of the Catalan regional police force Mossos d'Esquadra after Catalan's parliament inaugural session. Photo: AFP

They also got four supporters elected as deputy parliamentary speakers out of seven.

These make sure assembly rules are respected and will decide whether Puigdemont and others are allowed to be lawmakers while remaining out of the country.   

Including the former Catalan president, five separatists are abroad and risk arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the failed independence bid if they come back to Spain.

A further three pro-independence lawmakers are in jail pending a probe into similar charges.

Large yellow ribbons that have come to represent support for those in jail were placed on parliamentary seats Wednesday.   

In his first speech as speaker, Torrent said the priority would be to end Madrid's unpopular direct rule on Catalonia, imposed after the declaration of independence.

He added he wanted to “help look for understanding and dialogue in Catalonia's political life.”

Lawmakers ended the session by singing the Catalan hymn, and separatist MPs shouted “long live a free Catalonia” and “freedom,” briefly applauded by Torrent.

Sworn in via videolink?

To be elected president, Puigdemont should in theory be present at a later parliamentary session where the vote to name a new leader takes place, but he wants to appear by videolink or write a speech and have it read by someone else.

The Catalan parliament's rules stipulate that the candidate for the regional presidency must “present his or her government programme to parliament.”

It does not detail whether this must be done in person, but several legal experts, the opposition and the central government insist it cannot be done remotely.

Rajoy's government has warned Madrid will maintain direct control over Catalonia if Puigdemont attempts to govern from Belgium.   

Madrid's direct rule has proven very unpopular in a region that had enjoyed considerable autonomy before its leaders attempted to break away from Spain.    

According to Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, the secession crisis that kicked off on October 1 when Catalan leaders held an independence referendum despite a court ban has taken its financial toll.

He has said the crisis has slowed economic growth in the region at an estimated cost of €1 billion ($1.2 billion).   

More than 3,000 companies have moved their legal headquarters out of the region as uncertainty persists.

By Daniel Bosque and Michaela Cancela-Keiffer / AFP

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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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