Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

17 things Spain should say to Catalonia

Por: | 25 de septiembre de 2012

The most typical reaction to the Catalan sovereignty debate I am hearing on the Spanish side is “Fine, why don’t they just leave and get it over with?” But this is just bravado. The 16 remaining regions of Spain would be immensely poorer in the event of a Catalan secession, so as an adopted Madrileño I take the liberty of making this jilted lover’s plea:

1. I will not consider it rude when spoken to in Catalan next time I visit. In fact, what is rude is my not responding with a few hastily learnt pleasantries in your language.

2. And I wish all of you Catalans would be more willing to take a good look around Madrid. We need to get to know each other more.

3. I know that lately things “haven’t gone well,” as Artur Mas said after meeting the prime minister, but we must beat the crisis together.

4. I am glad all those national funds were spent on beautifying Barcelona before the wonderful 1992 Olympic Games, launching the city as one of Europe’s most glamorous destinations today.

5. But sorry that so many years were allowed to pass before a decent high-speed train connection was finally made between the Spanish and Catalan capitals. It is there now, though.

6. It is great that your region has contributed so much to poorer parts of Spain through the concept of “solidarity.” Please maintain this idea.

7. I refuse to believe that a story like ours is going to end badly over money…

8. It is appreciated that Catalan nationalism has spurned the path of violence. Politics will find a solution.

9. We have the same enemy. Both the governments in Madrid and Barcelona are using the crisis as a pretext for slashing at the welfare state.

10. Spain is Europe. Catalonia is Europe. Spain is a little Catalan. Catalonia is a little Spanish.

11. Gaudí, Dalí and Miró. Goya, Lorca and Picasso.

12. Catalonia has been the entry point for new influences in Spain. Thanks for bringing the likes of Orwell and Cruyff to our shores.

13. There are so many things that only happen between the borders of France and Portugal, like being able to find a small bar to have a drink in after a football match that ends at midnight.

14. Talking of football, how can we even be thinking of cutting the Spain team in two at this glorious time? Ramos without Piqué? Iniesta without Xavi..?

15. Well done for banning bullfighting, by the way (not all Spaniards think this, but they will).

16. Barcelona is where don Quixote saw the sea, our Mediterranean.  

17. I will learn some Catalan so I can say things like: “Tots iguals, tots diferents.”    


Photograph by Marcel.lí Sàenz Martínez.

Lip-service to Catalonia?

Por: | 14 de septiembre de 2012


The last week has been an exhilarating one for many Catalan nationalists, with hundreds of thousands of people marking la Diada, the national day of Catalonia, by marching through the streets of Barcelona calling for independence from Spain. Estimates of the number of people thronging the city's streets, waving the Catalan flag and holding up banners calling for the creation of a new European state, varied from 600,000 to 1.5 million.

Perhaps the most famous current living Catalan could not attend as he no longer lives in the city, but he did address the crowd via a video-link. Former Barcelona coach and Spanish international midfielder Josep Guardiola appeared on a big screen holding up his symbolic sheet of green paper to say (in Catalan): “From New York, here you have one more vote,” said Guardiola. This was greeted by huge roars, and taken by many to say that the club with which Guardiola is so associated was backing the call for an independence referendum.

This feeling was also heightened by suspiciously well-timed stories which appeared in Catalan sports paper Sport the day before the march, which claimed the team's second jersey next season would be red and yellow striped, inspired by the senyera, the national flag of Catalonia. These were neither confirmed nor denied by the club, as president Sandro Rosell, new head coach Tito Vilanova and club captain Carlés Puyol made the traditional trip to lay flowers at the monument to Rafael Casanova, an icon of Catalan nationalism on the morning of September 11.

As highly visible faces of Catalonia's most prominent institution anyone associated with the club has of course been questioned about whenever they faced the press this week. At this point the club’s Spanish international players have plenty of experience in batting away such queries, and on Thursday winger Pedro Rodríguez (born in Tenerife) was diplomatic when asked if he agreed with Guardiola’s stance on Catalan independence.

"Guardiola has said what he feels, they are personal statements and should be respected,” Pedro said. Pep’s successor Tito was also asked about the issue in his pre-game press conference on Friday, and also gave a careful reply - “We should let people express their views peacefully, as Guardiola did,” he said on Friday. “He can say what he likes, because we are in a democracy".

Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta was not so backward about coming forward with an opinion. Laporta, who when in charge at the Camp Nou was never shy about using the club to further his own political ambitions (which have since been thwarted by the Calatan electorate), gave an interview to Catalan nationalist online magazine Nació Digital the day before the march. He used this to point out he had always represented the club at la Diada events and rue that he could not have lead the club in a Catalan state: “I would have liked to be president of Barça in an independent Catalonia,” he said. “It would be nice.”

Laporta’s successor (and former colleague, but now bitter rival) Sandro Rosell, also attended Tuesday’s march, but only in a personal capacity. Careful to manage the image projected he posed for photographers but did not speak with any reporters while there. On Thursday he did say however that "If Catalonia were independent I don't have any doubts that Barça would continue in the LFP (the Spanish league), just as Monaco play in the French league.”

Rosell was clever to frame the issue in footballing terms, and to raise an important issue for many blaugrana supporters, inside and outside of Catalonia. Outright independence remains an unlikely event in the short term, but the odds on it happening in the coming years have shortened during the current economic crisis, with the regional government regularly pointing out that Catalans pay more in taxes than they receive back in revenue from the central government in Madrid. This opens up the very important question of what would then happen to FC Barcelona.

Despite what you might think from some of their marketing, especially when Laporta was president, Barça are not the Catalan national side. An actual representative team, made up of players born in the region who represent various clubs throughout the Spanish and other leagues plays a few games each year, usually around Christmas. They last played in December 2011, when a Johan Cruyff coached selection including Barca players Xavi Hernández, Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas and Víctor Valdés drew 0-0 with Tunisia in front of 36,545 supporters in the Catalan capital's Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys.

Were Catalonia to become independent this would be a ready-made national team to compete at a very high standard, and would likely be readily accepted into UEFA and FIFA, where they could automatically challenge to win trophies.

What would happen at club level, however, looks much more problematic. There was a short-lived Lliga Catalana during the Spanish Civil War, although the Barcelona team spent much of the conflict touring North and South America under the management of Irishman Patrick O’Connell and rejoined the Spanish league once the war had finished and have played there since.

A Catalan Cup was re-established in 1984, and is held each year, although the seriousness with which Barcelona take it was shown by the cancellation of this season’s rejigged competition final against city rivals Espanyol, as a date could not be found to play it. Should La Lliga begin again it would be dominated by Barca, and to a lesser extent Espanyol, with lower tier teams such as Gimnàstic de Tarragona, Lleida, Girona, Sabadell, Lerida and Hospitalet de Llobregat (who would all likely be beaten by a Barcelona reserve or youth side) just likely making up the numbers. Champions League qualification would be a given for Barca, even if they would likely lose UEFA co-efficient points in the short term.

The biggest issue Rosell would have with a new Catalan domestic competition however is more than slightly awkward for him (or Laporta) to detail in public. Despite all the success on the pitch during Guardiola's historic last four seasons in charge, Barcelona are currently an estimated €578 million in debt. This is apparently a just about manageable situation considering their current assets, cash reserves and especially commercial revenues.

The lions' share of the latter however (€140 million a season through their domestic TV deal) is generated through their sometimes bitter but always compelling rivalry with Real Madrid. Leave the Spanish league, forego the typical four of five high profile clásicos a year, and Barca would be in serious financial bother. So much bother that paying the wages of all the Catalan players named above, and the club's Argentine talisman Leo Messi, would quickly become difficult.

This explains why Rosell was quick to float the case of Monaco this week. It maybe does not work quite perfectly as a precedent as that principality has much closer political, economic and defence ties than an independent Catalonia would have with Spain, but the example of Welsh teams Cardiff and Swansea competing in the English leagues is also there to be called upon.

But then there is no guarantee that UEFA or FIFA would be agree to a club side playing across national borders however, as their cold reactions to regularly mooted plans for Scottish teams Celtic and Glasgow Rangers to join the English Premier League show. Nobody really knows what would happen, but none of the possible sporting scenarios seem to work in Barcelona's favour.

Knowing this it could be that Guardiola, Rosell, Laporta and everyone else associated with the club, from players to fans, are all committed sufficiently to the cause of Catalan nationalism to risk the potentially damaging fall-out that would ensue from the creation of a new independent country. Or that they have not all thought it through properly. Or that they think (or hope) it's unlikely to happen and feel they are free to just go along with the prevailing mood in the region.

The opposition is back – but who is in power?

Por: | 12 de septiembre de 2012


It has been said that the difference between Spain and Portugal is a year. But while the government in Madrid grapples with the decision on whether to formalize a full bailout request and its counterpart in Lisbon continues to roll out the concomitant austerity measures, one element in both political scenes has come into synch at the start of the new term. The socialist opposition parties have decided that the time for loyalty to center-right governments who inherited emergency situations is over. Rugged opposition is to be the order of the day. In reality, both formations were understandably in self-flagellating mode, the apparent outbreak of institutional responsibility little more than a sense of mea culpa decency as both the Socialist governments of Sócrates in Portugal and Zapatero in Spain had charted unsuccessful paths through the international credit crunch.

Now a face-saving number of months have passed (nine months for the Spanish PSOE and 16 for the Portuguese PS, which asked for the European bailout itself) and there are a dazzling array of truly ugly government policies to pick on. Passos Coelho has introduced healthcare charges, slashed pensions, eliminated holidays and last week announced an effective seven-percent pay cut for the entire nation’s workforce in the form of an across-the-board rise in Social Security payments. The courts had told the government it was discriminatory to remove only public workers’ Christmas payment – so Finance Minister Vítor Gaspar was told to look for alternative budget savings. His latest idea certainly cannot be described as discriminatory!

Portuguese Socialist leader António José Seguro, the successor to José Sócrates, has had enough. Noting that the deficit target for this year will almost certainly not be met and that unemployment has risen to more than 15 percent, he asks: “What good has come from all the pain and sacrifices that the Portuguese are going through?”

Spanish Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has moved somewhat faster. In spring he was still eager to press the case for a cross-party pact with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, hoping to loop a few salutary red lines around vital services to cushion the austerity blows for the most disadvantaged. And despite being roundly snubbed during the spring period when 2012’s belated state budget was being finalized, the PSOE was still there for Rajoy’s government when summer arrived and the vote on ratifying the EU Budgetary Stability Pact came around. Now he is saying that calling for a bailout will be “Rajoy’s certificate of incompetence.” A bit rich, maybe?

Why the sudden change to a more aggressive form of opposition? It is worth noting that both countries are heading for elections, with the Spanish regions of Galicia and the Basque Country going to the polls next month. Portugal’s local elections are coming up next year. It could also be legitimately argued that a mainstream expression of disapproval toward austerity measures is important for the cohesion of society at a time when some citizens’ protests are crossing the boundary between peaceful resistance -– like the original 15-M take-the-square movement -– and criminality, as has been seen in a spate of symbolic supermarket robberies.

But is the whole concept of opposition to government austerity measures somewhat disingenuous if these are effectively being imposed from the outside. Passos Coelho is fairly sanguine about what is expected of his administration by the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF), saying last week that “Portugal is now seen in a far better light from the outside than when we asked for the bailout.” In Spain Rajoy is intent on holding on to his fig leaf of authority. He tried to set his own deficit target for Spain, insisting it was a sovereign issue, but was forced to smile grimly as Brussels lowered it once more (though still allowing a little extra leeway). VAT was not something he wanted to raise, but he bit that bullet too. Even his absolute red line on pensions now seems less stubborn than before, recently replying to journalists in his first televised interview as prime minister that any reduction in retirees’ allowances would be “a last resort.”

Given this order of things, is opposing “government policy” anything more than empty posturing?

Photograph: The Spanish Socialist Party's federal executive meeting earlier this month, by Álvaro García.

El País

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