Day release: Jailed Catalan separatists take seats in Spanish parliament

Five jailed Catalan separatist leaders elected to the Spanish parliament last month were temporarily released from prison on Tuesday and escorted by police to the assembly to be sworn in as lawmakers.

Day release: Jailed Catalan separatists take seats in Spanish parliament
ERC jailed member of parliament Oriol Junqueras (R) attends the first plenary session of the Lower House of Parliament since last month's general election. Photo: AFP

The Supreme Court allowed the five men, on trial for their role in Catalonia's 2017 secession attempt, to leave jail to take up their seats, but they are likely to be quickly suspended because of their legal situation. 

They won office in an April 28 general election which was won by acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists but without a majority.   

Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull won seats in the Congress, the lower house of parliament, while Raul Romeva was elected to the Senate, the upper house.

They were greeted with applause from other members of their parties when they arrived. 

Like other lawmakers they swore to respect the Spanish constitution — the same constitution they are accused of having violated with their independence push.

Romeva vowed to respect the constitution “as a political prisoner, until the proclamation of the Catalan Republic” as he took his seat in the Senate.   

The sight of the separatist leaders, who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades with their bid to break Catalonia away, taking their seats in parliament may inflame passions on both sides of a divided country.


'Given our voice back'

The five are among 12 Catalan leaders on trial in connection with a banned independence referendum held on October 1, 2017 that was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.

“They want to silence and marginalise us, and the ballot box has given our voice back,” former Catalan vice-president and the head of Catalan separatist party ERC, Oriol Junqueras, told AFP in a written interview from jail before he was sworn in.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos have said they will try to stop the five men from occupying their posts.   

The chambers' governing bodies, which are due to be elected later on Tuesday, will decide whether or not to suspend the five men.   

“The suspension is obvious…they can't hold their posts,” acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told news radio Cadena Ser.   

While the Socialists emerged as the biggest party in the 350-seat lower house in last month's elections, they lack a majority. To be sworn in as prime minister again Sanchez is likely to rely on some parties abstaining from voting.

But if the jailed Catalan lawmakers are not allowed to take part in Sanchez's investiture vote, and are not replaced, the threshold to be approved will be lower and he could be sworn in without relying on Catalan separatist parties abstaining.

Far-right party

Boosted by its fierce opposition to Catalan separatism, far-right party Vox won 24 seats and entered parliament for the first time in a country that has had no far-right party since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.   

Sanchez, who in June 2018 took over from Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, as prime minister, has bet on dialogue with Catalonia to ease tensions sparked by the separatist push.

Last week he proposed two Catalans to be the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament.

Outgoing minister for territorial policy, Meritxell Batet, was on Tuesday elected the speaker of the Congress while philosopher Manuel Cruz was elected speaker of the Senate.

The ERC had blocked Sanchez's first pick for speaker of the Senate, the Socialists' leader in Catalonia, Miquel Iceta.   

The party says it is open to dialogue with Madrid but it insists on holding an independence referendum in Catalonia, which Sanchez steadfastly refuses.   

A poll published on May 10 by the Catalan government's CEO survey institute showed slight more Catalans are against independence than those in favour — the first time that has happened since June 2017.

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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