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INDEPENDENCE

Spanish PM to meet Catalan president in bid to defuse tensions

Spain's new leader Pedro Sanchez on Monday meets separatist Catalan president Quim Torra for the first time in a bid to kickstart dialogue after the region's failed attempt at secession which sparked the country's worst crisis in decades.

Spanish PM to meet Catalan president in bid to defuse tensions
Spain's king Felipe VI (L), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) and Catalan regional president Quim Torra (R). Photo: AFP

Sanchez has been in power for a month after overthrowing his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a key parliamentary vote he won with the help of Catalan separatists.

Sanchez has urged Catalan separatist leaders to “turn the page” after Torra said he wanted another referendum on independence.

At the start of this month, six of the nine Catalan leaders held near Madrid were transferred to Catalonia to ease tensions ahead of Monday's talks in Madrid.

They include former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart of two pro-independence associations and Raul Romeva, the former Catalan government's international affairs chief.

Accused of rebellion along with deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont for their role in the region's proclamation of independence in October 2017, they face up to 25 years in jail.

Torra said the aim of the talks was to “find out the Socialists' view on the right of self-determination for Catalans.”

The government has already rebuffed this with spokeswoman Isabel Celaa responding that the “right to self-determination does not exist in the constitution”.

But a senior Catalan government official told AFP that they would bring this up at Monday's meeting, which starts at 0930 GMT.

Logjam? 

“Our proposal to resolve this is a referendum on self-determination. If they have a better idea, they can explain that to us,” the official said.

Catalonia's separatist government pushed ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite it having been ruled unconstitutional by the court and Spain's central government. The referendum was followed by a unilateral declaration on independence on October 27.

At the time, separatist authorities said 92 percent of the 2.2 million Catalans who cast their ballot — 43 percent of eligible voters — opted for independence.

The conservative Spanish government in power at the time, headed by Mariano Rajoy, responded by sacking the Catalan government, suspending its parliament and imposing direct rule over the wealthy northeastern region.

Madrid ended direct rule over Catalonia last month after Torra's administration was sworn in.

Catalan lawmaker Meritxell Batet who was recently sworn in as Spain's minister for public administration said the ruling Socialists wanted to amend the constitution to move toward a “federal model”.

However with only 84 deputies in the 350-member house, the Socialists have little room for manouevre.

Amending Spain?s constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the Congress of Deputies.

Sanchez “will not launch anything that is too complicated for such a minority party”, said Fernando Vallespin, a political science professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

No majority 

“There's no majority in Spain for an amendment of the constitution. The right can block it.”

Vallespin said the only possible positive outcome would be if both sides accept to try and reach a compromise that grants Catalonia a special status within Spain with more power over taxation and other matters.

“Sanchez will push for Catalonia to start abiding by the law again and function as a region within the constitution and Torra will say that's not his intention,” Vallespin predicted.

“He wants to walk out saying he asked for a referendum.

“Torra is dogmatic, radical, even more radical than (Carles) Puigdemont.”

The Catalan parliament is divided between moderates and radicals like the exiled Puigdemont, who view any concession towards Madrid as treason.

There are no great expectations from Monday's meeting.

“Things will not be resolved in one or two or three meetings… they have to continue a dialogue,” the senior Catalan official said.

Torra himself has asked Sanchez for a second date in September in Barcelona, Catalonia's main city.

A man holds a placard reading 'Free political prisoners' during a protest called by Catalan pro-independence demonstrators

Sanchez has urged Catalan separatist leaders to 'turn the page'

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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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