Catalonia at an impasse: So what next?

Catalonia is at an impasse. Ousted president Carles Puigdemont, in self-exile in Belgium, had hoped to be re-appointed as Catalan leader this week but the region's parliamentary speaker Roger Torrent postponed a vote to formally sweep him back into office.

Catalonia at an impasse: So what next?
Protesters outside Catalonia's regional parliament as the vote was delayed. Photo: AFP

Torrent insisted Puigdemont was still the candidate after separatist parties maintained their absolute majority in December regional polls, led by the separatist leader's grouping.

But he faces arrest as soon as he steps back into Spain over his role in the failed independence bid, and Madrid has vowed to block his return.    

Meanwhile, the separatist camp is in disarray over Torrent's decision to delay the vote and Puigdemont's resolve appears to be foundering.   

So what next?

How long can impasse last?

Under electoral rules, the Catalan parliament had until Wednesday this week to hold its first session at which lawmakers would re-appoint Puigdemont, the only candidate for the presidency. 

And if they failed to agree on him or pick a new president in the following two months, new elections would be called.   

But that countdown has been put on hold as Torrent waits for the Constitutional Court to decide whether to examine Madrid's request to block Puigdemont from being re-appointed — a decision due in the coming weeks.   

If the court rejects it, the countdown will start over.    

If it accepts it, the situation could remain paralysed for months as the court examines the issue in depth and decides whether or not to block his candidacy.

During that time, Catalonia would continue under the control of the central government, which imposed direct rule on the wealthy semi-autonomous region on October 27th after the Catalan parliament declared independence.

A future with Puigdemont?

Catalonia's president from January 2016 to October last year, when he was sacked by Madrid, Puigdemont maintains that he is the only candidate to lead the region again.

Torrent's decision to delay his appointment severely deepened divisions within the separatist camp.

Torrent is a member of the separatist ERC party, an ally of Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia grouping.   

Puigdemont and his grouping want to breach Catalan parliamentary rules by having lawmakers re-appoint him even in absentia, a move that Madrid fiercely opposes.

But ERC would rather avoid another frontal clash with Madrid and form an operational regional government that would lead to the lifting of direct rule.    

“It was going to generate chaos and wasn't going to go anywhere,” an ERC source who requested anonymity told AFP, justifying the delay of Puigdemont's appointment.

“We can't be swept along by those in Belgium, we need to stop and look at how we can have a government for real.”   

But even if separatist parties end up reaching a deal, that would not be the end of Puigdemont's problems.   

If he comes back to Spain, he faces arrest and jail. Any attempt to be re-appointed by video link from Belgium will be contested by Madrid and probably suspended by the courts.

And the clock is also ticking for him.    

If the probe into separatist leaders for rebellion and sedition goes to trial, those charged — including Puigdemont — could be barred from office as a precautionary measure.

Sacrificing Puigdemont

A screenshot of alleged messages between Puigdemont and Comín broadcast by Telecinco on Wednesday.

The central government and anti-independence parties in Catalonia are increasingly calling for an alternative candidate to be considered to lead the region.

“Torrent must open a round of talks (with parties) to save the situation generated by Mr. Puigdemont,” Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Wednesday.

Puigdemont himself appeared to be throwing in the towel on Tuesday, according to private mobile phone messages caught on camera by a Spanish television reporter.

In these, he considers that he has reached the end of the road having been “sacrificed” by his peers.

Puigdemont has not denied he sent those messages, but insists he is still the candidate.

No separatist party is publicly proposing to ditch him but many alternative candidates are appearing in the press.

Ultimately, until the Constitutional Court makes its decision as to whether to examine Madrid's request to block Puigdemont, the ball is in Torrent's court.

He could decide to keep him as candidate and hold the parliamentary vote to re-appoint him, or nominate another candidate.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque 

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