Election year, economic woes, new scenario for 2017 leaders, drought: a look ahead to 2023

Shakira trial, end of face masks on public transport, monumental gigs, Picasso anniversary, and big change for Barça 

After no elections in 2022, Catalans will vote in at least two in 2023
After no elections in 2022, Catalans will vote in at least two in 2023 / Jordi Bataller
Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | @enGuifre | Barcelona

December 31, 2022 10:09 AM

February 27, 2023 12:41 PM

Catalan politics fans missed elections in 2022, but their wait is almost over as they will have guaranteed fun not once, but twice in 2023 – and no one can rule out a third before 2024 comes around.

Yet they were not left bored this year: the Catalan News 2022 preview published a year ago, already anticipated withering consensus among the independence camp, and this resulted in the collapse of the coalition government among Esquerra and Junts, putting an end to 10 years of cooperation and united that peaked in 2017.

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Catalan News foresaw a need for the Catalan and Spanish cabinets to produce some outcome of their talks in 2022, and this resulted in the significant lowering of the crimes the 2017 referendum leaders were convicted and accused of – but we do not yet know how this will impact the road ahead for the politicians still barred from holding public office and living in exile.

A post-Covid life back to normality was also anticipated a year ago, and this has to a great extent happened, but while some economic troubles were expected, it was difficult to imagine that war would break out in Europe again, and that this would have a big impact in the pockets of citizens across the continent.

Thus, our overview for 2023 will start with the effects of the war in Ukraine, but will cover other topics that have been stuck for ages, that have become new challenges for the year to come, or that will bring us some happiness and fun.

Economic woes after Ukraine war coming under control

Inflation soared to over 10% in Catalonia in 2022 as a result of the war Russia began in Ukraine, but it is now steadily decreasing: November marked the lowest figure since January, at 6.4%.

Electricity bills also spiked to unprecedented highs, but at the end of 2022 costs of supplies were already easing too. 

The Catalan economy will be in a fragile state during 2023, with a GDP year-on-year growth of 4.3% in Q3 of 2022 and a slower growth of 1.7% next year. Meanwhile unemployment stopped its sharp fall in 2022 and is expected to remain roughly stable at 9.4% by the end of 2023 if nothing major happens unexpectedly.

Authorities will continue to subsidize some everyday expenses, such as trains or other means of public transport, but lower income households may continue to suffer next year.

Two elections: tight race in Barcelona council and risk of far-right in Spain

947 elections will take place simultaneously in Catalonia on May 28 – local elections which will open a new electoral cycle. It will be an unprecedented four-horse race in Barcelona, with mayor Ada Colau hoping to be elected for a third term in a row, while her deputy, Jaume Collboni of the Socialists, will be hoping to overtake her. Pro-independence veteran Ernest Maragall will have his sights set on winning the vote again, but this time to garner enough support to become mayor, while Xavier Trias aims to return to the post after being replaced by Colau in 2015.

This will be the appetizer before the main course in autumn: the Spanish election. The left block, comprised of the Socialists and Unidas Podemos, is hoping to stay in power, but if the right manages to get a majority of seats, we could well see the far-right in positions of power for the first time since the Franco dictatorship. Pro-independence parties, especially Catalonia's ruling Esquerra, want to be key in Spain's governance, as they are now, in order to get as much in exchange for their votes. Keeping the Socialists in power and getting a referendum on independence in return may be their main hope.

Catalonia's unstable government and independence campaign derailment

After Junts's exit from the cabinet, Esquerra's solo government in Catalonia has the support of only 33 out of the 135 seats. No more parties are expected to join the executive, and the party will struggle to reach the end of the mandate, due in February 2025. The left-wing political force is having a difficult time passing the 2023 budget, and they will have to keep negotiating with the opposition into the first quarter of the year. 

Failing to pass the spending plan may lead to a snap election. It is an unlikely scenario, but with two elections already scheduled for 2023, all parties want to make their own stance clear and are less willing to help other parties' policies come to fruition.

The new year sees Catalonia enter a scenario not seen in the past 10 years: pro-independence campaigners going head-to-head against each other after the government collapse, as their strategies to reach a republic radically differ from each other. Esquerra wants a deal for a referendum with the Socialists, which is very unlikely and especially in 2023, while Junts and CUP say talks with Spain are useless.

The lack of stability is also clear in parliament. Its speaker, Laura Borràs of Junts per Catalunya, was suspended pending a corruption trial set for February. Her final sentence (after appeals) is unlikely to be known in 2023.

2017 referendum leaders may be eligible to run in elections or return from exile

In reality, the biggest change in the independence campaign in 2023 will be the impact of the recent changes to Spain's criminal code. The 2017 referendum leaders, who spent over three years behind bars before being pardoned, are still barred from holding public office and their pardons could be revoked by the Supreme Court this year after an appeal. Yet, the new penal code has abolished or lowered the crimes for which they were convicted. This means the Supreme Court has to review their sentences in 2023 - some, or maybe all of them, could see their punishments automatically lifted and they may be eligible to run in the Spanish election.

Also, the same legislation tweaks will affect the 2017 referendum organizers who went into exile, such as former president and current MEP Carles Puigdemont. Spain will have to adapt their extradition requests to the new penal code, and they say this is bad for them, because, unlike sedition, the new crimes for which they may be wanted exist in Belgium, where most of them live. Yet, one exile, Marta Rovira, may return from Switzerland because the only crime for which she is wanted, sedition, has been removed from the criminal code.

At the same time, Puigdemont and three more leaders are pending two rulings from EU courts that are likely to be out in 2023: a decision on their immunity waivers and on the criteria for countries to accept or reject extraditions. Positive judicial outcomes for them may see them closer to return, but negative ones could also see them come back in handcuffs.

Ongoing drought and climate change

Catalonia is currently going through a drought which will become very serious in 2023 if the lack of rain we saw in 2022 continues. Reservoirs managed by the Catalan authorities are at under a third of their capacity. Authorities have said that the Barcelona metropolitan area has drinking water almost guaranteed for the whole year, but the warm temperatures in colder months in 2022 may continue, which will not help keep the water stored

Shakira's trial could see her be sentenced to 8 years in jail

Shakira hit headlines in 2022 and will continue to do so in 2023. Her trial is expected for this year, and the public prosecutor's office is accusing her of allegedly defrauding the treasury out of €14.5 million between 2012 and 2014. The artist says she was not residing in Spain during that time, although authorities believe she was already a Barcelona resident.

She could face up to over eight years in prison, pay a fine of up to €23.7 million, and not receive any tax incentives for at least 18 years and one month.  

Face masks on public transport, intercontinental travel

Covid-19 does not deserve the first position of the look ahead to 2023 – luckily for us all. The year coming to a close now began with a curfew and ended with almost complete normality. A further loosening of pandemic restrictions are hoped by all, especially putting an end to the face mask mandate on public transport – and maybe some medical settings.

2023 may also see the total return of intercontinental travel, which may affect tourism, but also professional trade fairs. Some to watch out for are the ISE audiovisual fair (January 31 to February 3), Mobile World Congress (February 27 to March 2), Comic Barcelona (March 31 to April 2), FiraTàrrega (September 7 to 10), and Eurofruit (September 28 to October 1).

Icons of music come to Barcelona and Picasso honored

In culture, Catalonia will see its first full year with no restrictions for the first time in four years, meaning that some concerts that were delayed because of the pandemic will finally get to take place, such as Elton John's two performances in May. Other international artists coming to town are Michael Bublé (February 1), Bruce Springsteen (April 28 and 30), Coldplay (late May, four times) and Maroon 5 (June 16). 

Top festivals are also back, with Primavera Sound returning to a single weekend (June 1 to 3) and Sónar celebrating its 30th anniversary (June 15 to 17). 

The art world will also celebrate the 50th death anniversary of legendary painter Pablo Picasso, the 40th anniversary of surrealist Joan Miró's death, and the centenary of the birth of Antoni Tàpies.

Fresh hopes for Barça, La Vuelta starting in Barcelona

In sports, FC Barcelona remains in a glum economic situation but its men's team has a good chance of winning a title again after the total failure of the first post-Messi season last year. The La Liga crown is up for grabs for the first time in four years. The Argentinian former captain's PSG contract ends at the end of this campaign and some dream of him returning to Catalonia next summer, but more recently this hope seems to be vanishing with rumours that Messi might renew his deal in Paris.

Barça's women's team has sights on a second Champions League title after just falling short at the final hurdle last season. Its top star, two-time Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, will return to the field after a year-long ACL injury.

What is certain is that the club will undergo a historic change: they will have to temporarily leave the Camp Nou in 2023-2024 as their home stadium gets refurbished. In the meantime, they will play in the Olympic Stadium. Yet, before that, the club could perhaps attempt a new world record attendance for an official women's match this spring after the two broken records in 2022.

With Espanyol and Girona struggling to stay in La Liga, Catalan basketball teams, both men's and women's, are enjoying a historic season, with as many teams in top tiers and European competitions as ever – it remains to be seen if this translates into titles come June.

This year will also see the La Vuelta cycling race begin in Barcelona for the first time in 60 years, and the run-up of the 2024 sailing America's Cup in the city.