2021: (Hopefully) a year of health, economic growth and political stability in Catalonia

Desire for successful vaccine rollout, social policies after impact of Covid-19 and strong government after February election

A Covid-19 vaccine dose (by Miquel Codolar)
A Covid-19 vaccine dose (by Miquel Codolar) / ACN

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

January 3, 2021 02:57 PM

The independence issue and a possible thaw between Barcelona and Madrid was expected to be the main topic of 2020 in the Catalan News overview exactly one year ago, but who could expect the unprecedented twists of last year?

The surreal 2020 put the Catalonia-Spain conflict somehow aside of the main headlines after eight years, and at least in part of the year that just began the political situation will continue in second position.

Health, Covid-19, the vaccine rollout and the pandemic's impact will still be the hottest issues of at least some months of 2021.

Check out the main issues to watch out for in Catalonia's 2021:

1. Vaccine rollout

Vaccinating the 7.7 million residents in Catalonia against Covid-19 within months will prove a big challenge for the country – indeed, it is actually already proving difficult. Authorities are being sent 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses every week. Yet, after almost a full week, only 7,774 of those have been administered.

The logistics are being deemed as demanding, but persuading residents to accept a vaccine will also be no easy task.

The health department expects having vaccinated 70% of the population, which would provide a group immunity by summer or autumn, they believe. The success or failure of the vaccinations will mean a higher or lower extent of the return to the old normality.

Residents and workers of care homes have been given a top priority, as well as people with severe disabilities – the order of the rest of people might give much to talk about.

2. Covid-19 outbreaks

The public health secretary, Josep Maria Argimon, made clear some days ago that if a person tests positive just before or between the first and the second Covid-19 jab doses, their vaccination could be useless.

Christmas holidays are already having a negative impact on Covid-19 cases, and Catalonia is set to face a third wave, which will carry new restrictions and their socioeconomic consequences.

Health, pressure on hospitals and on ICUs, deaths and a winter ahead believed to be ideal for the spread of the pandemic will still be hot topics for months until vaccinations are widespread.

3. Economic crisis or growth

Catalonia's GDP was expected to fall as much as 13.5% in 2020, but is thought to grow by 6.1% in 2021 (according to think tank Funcas) – the Catalan government's public debt is expected to increase to 35.3% in 2021 (says Airef), and pre-2008 crisis levels below 8% are now very far.

All estimations expect economic growth in the year ahead, but without recovering 2019 levels.

After some years of a steady decrease in the 2010s, the unemployment rate was at 10.4% in the last quarter of 2019 – but due to the pandemic, it grew to 13.2% in the third term of 2020.

Stopping the job loss should be a priority for authorities in 2021, as well as helping out the hundreds of thousands in temporary layoffs, those will businesses affected by restrictions or those self-employed but with their activity plummeted.

The effectiveness of the vaccine rollout will have a direct impact on the economic situation and on the possibility to hold major events such as the Mobile World Congress, and on the survival of many businesses.

4. February 14 election outcome

The post-Covid-19 Catalonia is set to be designed by a new government, the one resulting from the February 14 election.

Many questions are yet to be answered: will the pro-independence camp keep their majority? If so, will they be interested in repeating their alliance? Will they for the first time amass more than 50% of the votes? Or… will unionists manage to break the decade-long majority of those in favor of a Catalan republic? Will there be some alliance between blocs for the first time since the beginning of the independence push? Will Spain's health minister Salvador Illa, as the frontrunner of the Socialists, have any impact on the results?

The election might also result in a deadlock, or even in a second election.

The new government will have to decide whether to continue the independence push with a "peaceful confrontation" with Spain – Junts per Catalunya's priority –, or with a more open to dialogue approach – as Esquerra wants –. The alternative would be putting an end to the independence debate, as the Socialists would like.

5. Jailed and exiled leaders' fate

The election might also have some impact on the future of the jailed and exiled leaders, responsible for the 2017 referendum.

The pro-independence parties want an amnesty for them all, and will officially request it on March 15 in Congress, in Madrid.

Yet, it is more likely – but not sure – that the Socialist-led Spanish government approves a pardon for those behind bars, which would not affect those abroad.

The same cabinet is also developing a reform of the criminal code, modifying the sedition crime, which could also result in the release of those in prison, and an uncertain impact on those in exile.

In parallel, three politicians in Brussels, including Carles Puigdemont, will see their parliamentary immunity as Members of the European Parliament lifted or confirmed in 2021. If waived, their extradition processes would continue – but whether Belgium hands them in would be far from certain.

6. Cultural sector survival?

The cultural sector is one of the most badly affected due to the Covid-19 crisis. Artists, venues, concert halls, and also leisure activities such as nightclubs have been struggling throughout 2020 and some of them dropping their activity.

Some cultural events were postponed in 2021 and rescheduled in 2021, but time will tell whether they can take place and under what conditions.

Major music festivals such as Primavera Sound (June 2-6), Cruïlla (July 8-10), Sónar (June 17-19) and many others are already announced.

7. Barça's new era and future of Messi

In sport, one of the angles that will draw more attention is the beginning of FC Barcelona's new era after the January 24 election.

The deep institutional and sport crisis in which the club is involved will be difficult to overcome – and one of the most urgent topics to tackle will be avoiding the exit of Leo Messi at the end of the 2020-2021 season and on a free transfer.

Catalonia's second most important football club, RCD Espanyol, will attempt to be promoted to La Liga's first tier again, as a lot of small clubs in all sorts of sports will try to survive after a very tough 2020 in which revenues have plummeted.