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What’s next for Catalonia in 2018

Tension between Barcelona and Madrid is set to decline, with the road to independence on a slow track, but with Puigdemont’s potential imprisonment threatening to inflame it all again

 

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01 January 2018 12:00 PM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

The year 2017 has been one of the most bizarre in Catalonia’s recent history. The October 1 referendum and the Spanish police violence on that day, the declaration of independence and the imprisonment of Catalan government officials that followed, not to forget the Barcelona attacks on August 17 and the announcement of such projects as the Hard Rock Café leisure center, were among the highlights of the year that has just come to an end. Catalonia drew the world’s attention at times in the past year, something that is likely to continue in 2018. Let’s take a look at what the country can expect this year.

Independence roadmap

Independence is unlikely to happen in 2018. Yet the path towards a Catalan state will continue. The December 21 Catalan election granted a new majority in the chamber for the parties in favor of independence, and none of them have given up of this goal. Not much has been disclosed about how they intend to go about it, but commentators and even some party officials have talked about a ‘slow track’ to independence, as compared with the recent attempt, full of self-imposed deadlines. The last thing any of them want is another episode of high tension resulting in a rushed declaration of independence and the suspension of Catalonia’s self-rule.

Puigdemont’s exile

However before that, Catalonia needs to choose a new president. President Carles Puigdemont, deposed by the Spanish government after the declaration of independence in the Parliament, stood in the election on the Together for Catalonia ticket. This was the most voted candidacy among the pro-independence bloc, and Puigdemont pledged to return from his self-imposed exile in Brussels back in October. The problem is that he has an arrest warrant hanging over him in Spain, meaning that he is likely to be arrested as soon as he sets foot in Catalonia to take office. Things have calmed down in recent weeks, but if Puigdemont is jailed, it will no doubt spark big tensions.

What Puigdemont will do is still unknown, but it must be resolved by early February, the deadline for the first investiture session in the Catalan Parliament. The final deadline to appoint a new president is early April. Otherwise, a snap election will be called automatically.

Imprisonments

While Puigdemont and four of his deposed ministers are still in Brussels, four more have spent the New Year in prison, including Oriol Junqueras, vice president of the dismissed Catalan government. He is to testify in Spain’s Supreme Court on January 4. If he is freed, he might claim the presidency of Catalonia should Puigdemont fail to come back to Catalonia. The three other jailed pro-independence leaders have been summoned to appear in court on January 11. If they are kept in prison, the public will likely respond with more rallies and events to condemn it.

Three out of the four jailed leaders are elected MPs and all five officials in Brussels are also MPs. Without them, the pro-independence bloc would have no majority in the chamber. They will have to decide whether to step down, or somehow try to take office as MPs, by January 17, when the Parliament will hold its inaugural session.

Independence case in court

Spain’s Supreme Court is still investigating the events that led to the declaration of independence on October 27, including the October 1 referendum. In 2018, the judge might summon more officials to appear in court, including Esquerra’s secretary general, Marta Rovira. Newspapers will spend a lot of ink talking about the independence case, which is set to go on for months, or even years. The trial for the case in Madrid is not even expected to take place in 2018. For instance, the trial for the unofficial referendum on self-determination in November 2014 was held two years and three months later.

Economy to grow

Despite everything, Catalonia’s economy is set to grow in 2018. Back in June, before it was dismissed by Madrid,  the Catalan government forecast a 2.6% growth in the country’s GDP for 2018. Estimates made in autumn, at the height of the tensions between Catalonia and Spain, were more pessimistic. In November, BBVA bank predicted 2.1% growth for 2018, while Barcelona’s Chamber of Commerce estimated a figure of 2.5% in late October. We will find out the  country’s GDP growth for 2017 in a few weeks, but the figure will be around 3%.

International fairs

Catalonia will host 458 fairs in 2018, and 43 of them will be at a Spanish or international level, according to the Catalan government. The Mobile World Congress, in late February, will be one of the highlights, along with Alimentària (food and drink) in April; Firatàrrega (performing arts) in September; Eurofruit (fruit) also in September; and the Manga fair in November.

Big musical events

Among the highlights in culture for this year, Bruno Mars will be in Barcelona on June 20, Pearl Jam will visit the Catalan capital on July 10, Franz Ferdinand will be live in concert on March 17 in the same city while Metallica will wow vintage heavy metal fans on February 7. The big annual music festivals will also be back for another year, including Primavera Sound, Cruïlla and Sónar, featuring Gorillaz and LCD Soundsytem, among others.

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