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“Participation in local affairs is essential”, say foreign residents in Barcelona

Well-known foreign residents in the Catalan capital explain their experience during the presentation of newly founded association BCitizeN


02 June 2017 11:59 AM



Barcelona.- The necessity of foreign residents in Barcelona to become more actively involved in the social development of the city stands at the center of the BCitizeN project, a newly founded association of foreign residents in the Catalan capital. During the presentation of the group on Wednesday in Barcelona, all speakers agreed that they were received with open arms, thus pointing out that the key to integration was the local language, Catalan. “It opens the door to a different culture and reality” and motivates people “to participate” in local affairs, they explained. “We will work to motivate foreign residents to participate more actively in the city’s development, because they add a new perspective, which could be of interest,” said German economist El·la Mogler, the president of the association. Italian architect Alessandro Scarnato pointed out that it has been precisely the presence of foreigners that has greatly influenced the development of Barcelona today. Renowned English writer Matthew Tree praised the evolution of Barcelona towards diversity, a city “of all races and nationalities”, where integration “works”.

Barcelona’s evolution from forgotten child to supermodel

“There has been a change from a Barcelona who didn’t know who it was, to a Barcelona that everyone knows,” explained Alessandro Scarnato, professor of architecture at the Politechnical University of Catalonia (UPC), during the BCitizeN presentation. Scarnato conducted a study of the city’s development from 1979 until 2011. According to the architect, Barcelona has evolved from “being completely unknown” to becoming a “supermodel”. “One of the things that has changed most in the last few decades is precisely the presence of foreigners in Barcelona and it is their presence that gives the city a special character,” the architect added.

English writer Matthew Tree explained the big change that the city and its people have undergone during the last few decades in terms of foreign visitors and residents. “In the 1980’s, people used to point their finger at you and say “look, there's a tourist”. Back then “you would see mainly European features” and now Barcelona has become a city of all colors and origins. “Immigration has been very big over the last decade” but integration has worked “really well,” the English writer explained. However, both speakers agreed that since the Olympic Games, the city has entered into a “centrifugation without rest”. Furthermore, presenting Barcelona in its recent historical and cultural context would be enriching for foreign visitors “that pass by only for a weekend,” Tree added.

  • “One of the things that has changed most in the last few decades is precisely the presence of foreigners in Barcelona and it is their presence that gives the city a special character”

    Alessandro Scarnato · Italian architect

German journalist Krystyna Schreiber, in turn, pointed out the social challenges that modern Barcelona is facing amid its international success, such as maintaining its characteristic diversity through social cohesion, especially amid growing poverty and skyrocketing rental prices. Schreiber also pointed out that the participation of citizens in the social development of the city was essential. “It is necessary to give inhabitants responsibility,” to get them involved in the decision making that affects their neighborhood, so they can make “the city truly theirs”, because in the end “Barcelona is what it is thanks to its citizens,” the German journalist added. In this sense, initiatives like BCitizeN “are not only interesting” but “necessary”. Scarnato and Tree also insisted on the necessity for foreign residents to become more actively involved in the development of the city, including local decision-making such as participating in elections. “This is a challenge for the European Union,” said Scarnato. “Foreigners who leave their home country lose the right to vote. They can live in their new home for 60 years, pay local taxes but are still not allowed to participate by voting,” the architect concluded.

Local language is the key

All speakers felt that they had been received with open arms in Barcelona and stressed that the key to integration was the local language, Catalan, because it “opens the door to the local culture and it also makes you understand the local reality much more”, which “promotes participation”. In terms of his work as a writer, Matthew Tree expressed his gratitude to Barcelona because it was living in the Catalan capital where he discovered his voice as a writer in Catalan and in English. Matthew Tree has recently published the Catalan version of “Snug”, an English novel highly praised by literature critics in the UK.

A foreign perspective can contribute to the city’s development

German economist El·la Mogler, president of BCitizeN, explained in declarations to CNA that “the perspective of foreign residents can be an interesting and useful contribution” to the city’s future development but that “there are still many foreigners who have been living for a long time in Barcelona” that “don’t participate”. The association plans to organize debates between foreign residents of Barcelona and local officials to present proposals but also to promote local culture and social cohesion between their fellow compatriots and locals. Asked about the association’s position towards the referendum planned for this September, its representatives made it clear that foreigners who have been integrated for years and pay local taxes should also have the right to participate in a vote on the future of Catalonia.

According to the figures published by the Statistics Institute of Catalonia, around 275,000 foreign residents from EU-countries are registered in Catalonia, 82,000 alone in Barcelona. However, experts calculate that this is only half of the real population originating from the EU since many of those new residents do not register.


  • English writer Matthew Tree, Italian architect Alessandro Scarnato and German journalist Krystyna Schreiber (by ACN)

  • English writer Matthew Tree, Italian architect Alessandro Scarnato and German journalist Krystyna Schreiber (by ACN)