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INDEPENDENCE

Spanish PM pledges fresh dialogue with Catalan separatists

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the head of the separatist regional government of Catalonia on Thursday pledged fresh dialogue to try to resolve their dispute over the wealthy region's status within Spain.

Spanish PM pledges fresh dialogue with Catalan separatists
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met with Quim Torra at the Palacio de Pedralbes in Barcelona on Thursday. Photo: AFP

The vow came after talks in Barcelona between Sanchez and Catalan president Quim Torra amid simmering tensions in the wake of Catalonia's failed bid to break away from Spain last year.

It was the first meeting between the two since Madrid talks in July a month after Sanchez came to power.

In a rare joint statement issued after their talks, Spain's central government and the regional government of Catalonia affirmed their commitment to “an effective dialogue which will lead to a political proposal which has  widespread support among Catalan society” which will “guarantee a solution” to the Catalan crisis.

ANALYSIS: What's likely to happen when Spain's government heads to Barcelona?

The two sides have “significant differences regarding the origins, the nature and the paths to resolution” of the “conflict”, the statement added.   

Sanchez, who heads a minority Socialist government which needs the support of Catalan separatist parties to pass legislation, and Torra may meet again in January after the Christmas holidays, Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi told a news conference after their meeting.

'Humiliation'

The meeting was swiftly criticised by conservative parties, with the leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, calling it a “humiliation” and a “historical irresponsibility”.

“Sanchez treats a supremacist who encourages violence and wants to destroy Spain as a head of state,” he added in a tweet.   

Sanchez took office in June after winning a surprise vote of no-confidence against the previous conservative government with the support of Catalan separatist parties, eight months after Catalonia in October 2017 pushed ahead with an independence referendum despite a court ban and then declared independence based on the result to no avail.   

He initially adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Catalonia than his conservative predecessor.

But his position hardened after far-right party Vox, which takes a tough line against Catalan separatism, won seats for the first time in a December 2nd regional parliament poll in Andalusia, a Socialist stronghold. 

During a recent debate, in parliament Sanchez compared Catalonia's secession drive to Britain's campaign to leave the European Union. Both movements were built on “a tale of invented grievances, magnified by manipulation”, he said.

Catalan separatists also announced that they would not vote in favour of Sanchez's 2019 budget after public prosecutors in November called for stiff prison sentences for 18 Catalan separatist leaders facing trial early next year over Catalonia's failed separatist bid.

In a first sign of a thaw, Catalan separatist parties on Thursday voted in favour of the central government's deficit targets underpinning the 2019 budget in the Spanish parliament.

But the separatist parties stressed that this “gesture” did not mean that they would back the budget itself.

'Ungovernable'

Sanchez will hold a meeting of his cabinet in Barcelona on Friday, which has angered many separatists.

Friday's cabinet meeting comes a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in Catalonia after blocking the move for independence and many separatists have called the timing of the meeting “a provocation”.

Grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has previously staged massive pro-independence street demonstrations in Barcelona, has urged supporters to block the streets of Barcelona with their vehicles and to march on Friday.   

A radical separatist group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), has vowed to prevent Sanchez's cabinet meeting from going ahead on Friday.

“We will be ungovernable on December 21st,” the group said in a tweet alongside a picture of Spain's King Felipe VI on fire.   

Thousands of police will be deployed to provide security in Barcelona amid fears extreme elements of the independence movement could foment violence.   

Against this backdrop, four jailed Catalan separatist leaders awaiting trial over their role in last year's separatist bid, on Thursday called off a hunger strike they began at the beginning of December.

ANALYSIS: What's likely to happen when Spain's government heads to Barcelona?

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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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