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ELECTION

What does Spain’s new goverment mean for the Catalan crisis?

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's new government took office Monday facing the challenge of finding a solution to the Catalan crisis after controversially agreeing to start talks with the separatists.

What does Spain's new goverment mean for the Catalan crisis?
A Catalan pro-independence flag burns next to a campaign poster of Pedro Sanchez. Photo: AFP

Catalonia's oldest and largest separatist party, the ERC, demanded the negotiations over the region's place within Spain in exchange for its crucial abstention in a confidence vote last week that saw Sanchez sworn in for another term.

Under the deal, his Socialists agreed to open talks between the central and separatist governments to “unblock the political conflict over the future of Catalonia”, and then put to a regional vote any agreements which these negotiations produce.

“The Catalan question has been Spain's main problem for the past five or six years and it is the first time that someone decides to tackle it through a negotiation,” said Ernesto Pascual, professor of political science at the Open University of Catalonia.   

The big question is what will be the scope of these talks, since the two parties have sharply opposing views over the independence issue.    

Separatists want to discuss the possibility of holding a legally binding referendum in Catalonia, as well as an amnesty for their leaders who were sentenced in October to lengthy jail terms over a failed 2017 independence bid.

But the Socialists have already said that such a referendum would be impossible.

What agreement?

The agreement between the Socialists and the ERC calls for an “open dialogue of all proposals” but stresses that the results of the talks must respect the “legal and democratic order”.

“A self-determination referendum in Catalonia is not possible according to the Spanish constitution,” said constitutional law professor Xavier Arbos.    

Reforming the constitution to allow a region to hold a self-determination would require the support of a qualified majority in parliament, which looks unlikely  since Spain's major parties, including the Socialists, are opposed.

What will most likely happen is that the talks will end in “an agreement to clarify and set in stone what are the region's powers, which would create a special position for Catalonia” within Spain, said historian Joan Esculies.

The wealthy northeastern region, which has its own distinct language and culture, already enjoys significant powers over health and education, and has its own police force.

But a significant part of the population of around 7.5 million people wants even more powers to protect the language and culture, and complains of a lack of investment by the central government in the region.

Catalans are divided over independence, with 47.9 percent against and 43.7 percent in favour, according to a recent poll by the regional government. 

'Treason'

Catalonia was rocked by protests which sometimes turned violent last year over the conviction of Catalan leaders, and against that backdrop any concession by Sanchez's government would be fiercely attacked by conservatives.

The main opposition Popular Party and far-right Vox  already accuse Sanchez of “treason” for having been sworn in for another term thanks to the abstention of the ERC.

An agreement which gives the region more powers would undoubtably be challenged in the courts by these parties just as the PP did in 2006 against a new autonomy statute for Catalonia.

Spain's Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down several of the statute's articles, causing support for separatism to soar.

“And if that were to be the case, it would cause similar frustration,” said Arbos.

The talks are also opposed by Catalonia's other main separatist party, the more hardline Together for Catalonia of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who was in power during the failed 2017 independence bid.

This negotiation “is a long process which will go through phases of reconciliation, estrangement or even rupture. But at least it is a first step,” said Esculies.

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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 a 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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