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To be or not to be: Catalonia as an independent state

The growing distance between Catalonia and the rest of Spain is becoming problematic, and could now be considered one of the most important tail risks facing the euro. When Spain finally asks the EU for a rescue, Europe’s leaders must use the opportunity to promote dialogue and search for viable solutions.

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senyera 300x212 To be or not to be: Catalonia as an independent state

Spain's economic woes make the current push for Catalan independence all the more complex.

There’s nothing especially new about the present dispute between Catalonia and Spain’s national political leadership. Arguably most of the key arguments date back at least to the 1970s and the end of the Franco era, while the seeds of the present dispute are to be found in the country’s written constitution which was finally put together in 1978, when the threat of military interference in political life was still a real and present danger. Indeed the one thing that both sides of the argument seem to agree on is that the regional system of comunidades autónomas which was established back then doesn’t really work.  Equally, after so many years of constant wrangling, most citizens on both sides of the fence are now heartily sick of the situation. According to the latest polls, a majority of Catalan voters would now like to leave Spain, and looking at many of the opinions to be found in the Spanish press, a lot of Spaniards wouldn’t be that upset to see them go.

So where’s the problem? Divorce by mutual consent would seem to be the ideal solution. The rub is we are not back in the dark and distant days of the 1970s, instead we are in the midst of the worst global economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. Not only that, European monetary union – the euro – is now the epicentre of the storm. To make matters worse, Spain has one of the most troubled economies in the European Union, and EU leaders’ efforts to make the single currency work now increasingly depend on finding solutions for the country’s problems, in particular those associated with the large volume of government debt which has been accumulated.

So while in calmer times some sort of dissolution or “annulment” of the marriage by mutual consent would not necessarily be extraordinarily problematic, under present circumstances breaking up would not only be “hard to do”, unless it were carefully managed it could easily turn from being simply a high-risk operation to one that –  through that contagion process which is so feared in Greece – actually provoked the very disintegration of the euro itself.

Hence the situation has more general interest for the current evolution of the euro area than the simple desire of one of Spain’s regions to seek independence. It has more significance, since it is impossible to understand outside the context in which it occurs, which is one of an institutionally deficient euro area trying to move towards full political integration, with one part of the currency area bogged down in what can only be termed a huge slump, while the other part lectures them on how deepening austerity is the only way they can bring their economies back to life.

Austerity under the microscope

This is not the place to go into this whole argument, but it is becoming increasingly accepted that austerity alone (or austerity plus structural reforms) won’t work fast enough to turn the ship around before it gets caught up in the rapids, and that some measure of “burden sharing” (and not just loans) across the whole euro area is going to be needed. The trouble is that moves towards the structures which could help provide this burden sharing (banking union, fiscal union, Eurobonds) are painfully slow. Which brings us to Catalonia.

The frustrations currently being felt in Catalonia stem from the situation of being one of Spain’s richer regions and having to bear what is perceived as being more than a fair share of the cost of the failure by Europe’s leaders to resolve the euro crisis. Catalonia is a net contributor to the Spanish fiscal system, and wants to make, at least, a smaller net contribution. The situation has been brought to a head by the fact that the region’s income-to-debt ratio has risen to the extent that government bonds are ranked at junk status by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. Shut as it is out of the markets, Catalonia has been forced to ask for a financial rescue from the central government, a rescue most Catalans consider to be ridiculous given they feel they are only asking for some of their own money back.

Catalonia’s economy has collapsed along with that of the rest of Spain, but the debate becomes a particularly poignant one given the growing feeling of desperation in the face of the inability of Spanish governments of varying political complexions to take the steps necessary to move the country forward. This frustration is now coupled with the growing awareness that more and more austerity is not the formula needed to restore the region to economic growth. As former Catalan President Jordi Pujol put it in an interview with the FT’s David Gardner, “Europe without solidarity would not be possible, but at the same time an excess of solidarity would make Europe impossible.”

He was reiterating here the view of German Foreign Minister Guido Weterwelle, to the effect that German pockets are not bottomless. What Mr Pujol was suggesting is that Catalan ones aren’t either. Naturally, behind the Catalan independence drive there are also many identitarian issues, issues which are not easily soluble and which are making for a highly combustible environment inside Spain. But underlying the independence debate there lies a much deeper question. If Europe is moving towards a deeper banking, fiscal and political union, but moving far too slowly, why should an unfair share of the burden fall on the richer areas of the countries in the greatest difficulty? Why should more of the burden not be shared more equally and more quickly? This is not a uniquely Catalan problem, since similar issues are arising in Belgium (Flanders) and Italy (the Veneto among others). Europe is a continent of nations, and the euro crisis is opening up the fracture lines.

Scotland or Slovenia?

Which brings us to the world of the investor, and how this dispute could affect the market for Spanish government debt in the future, or indeed the trajectory of conversion risk in the euro area.

My feeling is that market participants are not taking all this uncertainty about outcomes seriously enough, and that could prove to be a risky bet. People tend to feel that there is a track record which offers precedents: the confrontation of the Basque leader Juan José Ibarretxe with an earlier Partido Popular government a decade ago, the attempts by Quebec to separate itself from Canada, or even the present agreement between Scotland and the UK to hold a referendum. What all of these situations seem to have in common is a good dose of what the Spanish would call mucho ruido y pocas nueces – or a lot of smoke and very little fire. Many indeed doubt that after all the stage-managed theatricality is over Scotland will eventually vote to separate itself from the UK. One of the reasons for this lack of conviction is that Scotland is not one of Europe’s richer regions, and is even arguably fiscally dependent on England.

But these situations give us little guidance in cases like Catalonia, Flanders or the Veneto, which are evidently richer than many of the neighbours they share a country with. What’s more neither Quebec nor Scotland belong to a currency union that is faced with a life-threatening crisis. Arguably in the case of the euro regions the examples of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia offer a much better and clearer point of comparison, especially since two of these new European states are themselves now members of the euro area.

The case of the Baltic countries is an interesting one, since these new countries belonged to what was then a disintegrating USSR, a bloc which had a common currency – the rouble. Indeed under the hammer blows of the disintegration crisis, the currency was steadily flexibilised in a way which some (including Citi Chief Economist Willem Buiter) have suggested the eurosystem is being flexibilised (via Emergency Liquidity Assistance and differential collateral rules), until finally it all fell apart.

In another context Slovenia could offer a speedometer, in the sense that the country, which was one of the ex-Yugoslavia’s richer regions, left peacefully following a very swiftly executed referendum process. In the summer of 1990 opinion polls showed a bare majority in favour of independence, by December 23 when the referendum was held 88.5 percent of all voters (94.8 percent of those participating) voted in favour of establishing a sovereign state.

Those who think we could not see such a swift-momentum political process in the crisis-ridden euro area underestimate, in my opinion, the depth of the euro crisis, the gravity of the mess that Spain is now in, and the motivational drive the idea of having their hands on what regional premier Artur Mas calls the “instruments of state” offers a Catalan population who have lost all hope of Spain’s leaders ever dragging their country from the decaying economic state into which it has fallen. King Juan Carlos recently called on Spaniards to fight their way out of the crisis with a smile on their face and a knife between their teeth. On the other hand, legend has it that the Estonians would rather eat dirt than surrender before their crisis, or be perceived as fiscally feckless or non-payers. Do risk-shy investors really want to bet Catalans are any less determined?

Where’s the market consensus, and is it right?

A flavour of just how market analysts are viewing the Catalan situation can be garnered from the contents of two recent research reports, one from UBS’s Matteo Cominetta (ably summarised by CNBC correspondent Liza Jansen here), and the other from JP Morgan’s Alex White and Raphael Brun-Aguerre. Both reports concur that in principal, and in the most ideal of all possible worlds, Catalonia – like any of the EU’s myriad of small countries – would be perfectly viable as a state in the longer term. Neither, however, sees such a state being created any time soon, partly due to the depth of the economic crisis being faced by all parts of Spain, and partly because of the very complex euro area dynamics that would be unleashed, and especially the risk of “new European state” contagion spreading elsewhere.

Beyond this basic agreement in principle, however, there are important differences between the two reports. Cominetta thinks Catalonia won’t leave because it can’t. The title – ‘Can Catalonia leave? Hardly’ – is suggestive in this sense, since he draws attention to the legal constraints presented by the Spanish constitution and the threats of direct rule from Madrid which are being rattled in the background should the Catalan parliament vote to proceed with a consultation deemed by the Spanish government to be illegal.

The JP Morgan analysts are not convinced that a simple “no” to a vote will work, and adopt what could be considered to be a more positive and constructive approach, suggesting Catalonia won’t ultimately leave Spain because it won’t want to. They argue “more autonomy is the most likely outcome,” using arguments similar to those found in a recent Bloomberg editorial entitled “To Keep Catalonia In, Spain Should Allow a Vote to Secede”.

The kernel of the argument here is that faced with the debt insolvency cliff, Spain’s leaders will offer concessions to the Catalans (or be pushed by the Troika into doing so) and that these concessions would be sufficient to persuade Catalan swing voters to change sides.

In this sense, the JP Morgan view is more sophisticated and more reasonable than the UBS one. Telling people they can’t leave because they can’t have a vote on whether they want to is an argument which comes with a definite “sell by” date in the context of modern democratic societies. Not to mention the fact that it is only inciting people to want to vote “yes”. Contemporary political theory recognises that there is such a thing as a “legitimation problem”, and that you really can’t hold people somewhere for any length of time against their will just because you have a constitution in your hand which says you can.

So offering Catalans a good deal more autonomy – the asymmetric federalism that former Catalan premier Pascual Maragall advocated, for example – would seem to be an ideal solution, at least as a transitional stage. But is it possible?

In order to decide on this, people need to think about just where Spain is at this moment in its history, what the medium term future for the country and its economy looks like, and ask themselves just how easy it would be for the country’s political leadership to “sell” such a deal to a Spanish population who would need to be asked to make even more sacrifices to allow the Catalans to enjoy more of their fiscal surplus.

A great deal of controversy now surrounds what actually took place on that day in late September when the prime minister and Catalan premier got together to discuss Catalonia’s request to negotiate a new fiscal agreement. But through the mist, one phrase rings true, at least to me. Immediately after the meeting, Catalonia’s premier Mas said that Mariano Rajoy had informed him that whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation he simply had “no margin” within which to negotiate a separate fiscal agreement for Catalonia. Assuming this to be a fair summary of the conversation, it would be the first clear and absolutely undeniable statement I have heard the Spanish prime minister make since he took office at the end of last year.

He has no margin, since if Spain already can’t comply with its deficit objectives even with the Catalan contribution, then how could it hope to do so without it? Also, since Europe’s leaders are insisting on implementing a serious programme to rein in Spanish regional spending, how would Rajoy ever justify to his voters tightening their belts, while loosening those of the Catalans?

In fact, if the Spanish Constitution were to be changed to enable greater autonomy for Catalonia, this would involve a vote of not only the Catalan electorate, but of the entire Spanish one, since it would be a change which would involve the whole of Spain. And there is “autonomy weariness” in Spain, with many now seeing that the Catalans will never be satisfied short of full independence, so “what’s the use”?

So no, for these and many other reasons I don’t think we will see “more autonomy”, and it seems to me a head-on confrontation is about to be served.

Catalonia: a new state in the euro?

However, looking at such short term political dynamics, the ins and outs of any longer term divorce issue are complex. Who, for example, would end up with responsibility for Spain’s massive debt burden in the event of separation? According to Matteo Cominetta, the Kingdom of Spain would have responsibility for all the debt in circulation with its name on it as issuer, unless it were willing to recognise the new state (and hence negotiate a division).  So in the event of non-recognition, what sort of bailout would Spain need, and would the EU be willing to provide it if Spain didn’t want to recognise its new neighbour? Would an independent Catalonia be inside or outside the EU and the euro? All this is at present unclear. The legal issues are tricky, but I think it should be remembered here that the ECB’s initial legal report on euro exit concluded that a country leaving the common currency would need to exit the EU, and I think there is now a consensus that it wouldn’t need to be like this. So what appear to be inflexible red lines suddenly move if disaster looms.

Largest of all there is the question of whether the new country (were it to exist) would automatically belong to the euro, and have access to eurosystem liquidity. Common sense says it would, whatever the letter of the law, since Catalonia has a financial sector with somewhere in the region of €500 billion in assets (or 2.5 times Catalan GDP – ie significantly larger than Greece) and some, at least, of the institutions concerned could be considered systemic. The Catalan financial sector, like the rest of the financial sector in Spain is surviving on life support from the ECB, so unless you want systemic institutions collapsing in Europe…

No easy way out

But to return to where we started, the most difficult part of this situation is that I see, from the EU point of view, no easy solution. Spain’s economy is a long way from being fixed. There is no “recovery” coming, either this year, next year or the one after. Credit is not about to start flowing freely, whatever the final details of the bad bank – just look at Ireland. Exports have been doing well, but Spain is still in deep recession. Most significant of all, Spanish unemployment is likely to hit 27 percent of the workforce next year. Spain will need at least between now and 2020 simply to get the numbers back down to 20 percent. Any expectation beyond that is totally unrealistic. And in the meantime it isn’t only the Catalans who want to leave – people were leaving Spain at the rate of 20,000 a month (or a quarter of a million a year) as of June, according to data from the National Statistics Office. And the rate of exit is accelerating. If this continues, who is eventually going to live in all those surplus homes, or pay the pensions of all those just about to retire in Spain?

The Catalan drive for independence presents many issues, and many quandaries, most of them stretching well beyond Spain itself, and even beyond the confines of the European Union. Europe’s leaders need now to be bold, if the euro is to be saved it isn’t only Catalonia that needs instruments of state, it is the whole euro area. The integration process needs to be fast-tracked and the base of burden sharing extended. Otherwise the rickety bridge, which was already creaking under the weight of the overloaded carriage that is attempting to cross might just collapse before we get to the other side.





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Published: Nov 5 2012
Category: Business, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=7226
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8 Comments for “To be or not to be: Catalonia as an independent state”

  1. The main point about speedier integration in the Eurozone is well expressed but German pockets are not going to be emptied much further until they are satisfied that “vested interests” in Italy and Spain are not going to dilute the process.
    In or out of the Eurozone the EU will have to have a policy for dealing with separation in member states because it’s not just Scotland and Catalonia who are assessing their positions.
    “One of the reasons for this lack of conviction is that Scotland is not one of Europe’s richer regions, and is even arguably fiscally dependent on England” apart from being very very arguable misses the point.Many Scots think they could run their own affairs better regardless of present economic statistics.

  2. If we need a speedometer to show that pro-independence sentiment can grow very fast (something many Catalan separatists would like, their slogans being “now or never” and “we’re in a hurry”) we might not be well served by looking at Slovenia -btw. not a region, but a republic of Yugoslavia, its richest one and not one of its richer, and which did not peacefully separate: there was a war.

    Many things happened in 1990. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia fell apart, first democratic elections changed the government of Slovenia, negotiations with Yugoslavia (dominated by Serbia’s president Milošević) were leading nowhere, the repression in Kosovo reached new heights and the new Croatian government was faced with the Log Revolution of the ethnic Serb minority; in brief, democracy within Yugoslavia was impossible and war was coming closer. There was only one way out.

    Catalan nationalism is avidly using its own do-or-die arguments. Teaching in Spanish language, too, at public schools? A bilingual society? Catalan language would disappear, the death of the Catalan nation! Maintaining the present fiscal system? Catalonia would be starved! On the far end (which is actually not so far out, given that one of its prominent proponents, Heribert Barrera, has just received, posthumously, highest recognitions of the Barcelona city council) there is even the argument that immigrants will ultimately dilute the Catalan soul beyond recognition.

    Many of the thoughts of this article indicate that not only Catalonia, but also Spain and even the EU could be worse off if Catalonia should become independent in the present economic crisis, if Catalonia is kept outside of the EU.

    The author has drawn a poignant conclusion in one of his recent tweets:
    https://twitter.com/Edward_hugh/status/263197665905491970

    Translation: “Don’t worry. The Euro will not survive if Catalonia drops out. Maybe it will not survive anyway, but in any case CAT will be part of the EU.”

    Does this effectively mean that Catalonia holds a leverage that would, if the case presents itself, force the EU to recognise its independence and accept it as a member state, rendering moot all other considerations concerning, for instance, legality and democracy?

    In the case of Yugoslavia, the EC insisted for too long on maintaining a dictatorial state united. It did not chose the other option, that of validating a democratic process that had started in Slovenia. It had practical reasons. Should a similar lack of criteria now work to break up a democratic state, one of its members, for similar practical reasons?

    Or will we see the purported “in any case”-scenario be dressed at least in a fig leaf of democratic process, that not only lets the Catalans decide their future, but also insists that the new state grant full cultural rights to that half of its population that has Spanish as its mother tongue, and assures that it will not endanger regional security by claiming more territories?

    Presented with the far-reaching implications of a break-up of Spain, we might just pray the Catalans be accommodated by Madrid in such a way that neither part gives up too much, and the third one, being the EU, does not fall apart.

    • One inch to the ground

      Why don’t you let that half of the population with spanish-mother tongue speak by themselves (as they are doing)?.

      By claiming more territories you probably mean Gibraltar, doesnt you?

  3. The Catalan independentist bloc and its leaders obviously expected institutional opposition from EU leaders and individual EU states, but it seems that many of the Catalan public in favour of independence did not.

    In Barcelona many pro-independence Catalans feel a cold shock of disappointment at the negative views voiced from Europe; though naturally they foresaw strong opposition from Rajoy’s government and the PSOE, the position of EU authorities like Barroso, Redding, et al were unexpected. Going out into the non-Euro wilderness is not something ordinary Catalans can accept, so they would be very unlikely to vote for a proposal which implies that outcome. Mas needs time to negotiate some kind of transitional status with Brussels, if such a thing is possible.

    Perhaps Barroso’s proposal to create a federated state of Europe provides the opportunity to do so, with Scotland, Basque Country, Catalonia and Flanders potentially seceding just as this new confederation is being created, and being accepted as “founder members” of the new United States of Europe. Fanciful? Maybe, but these do seem to be revolutionary times, and many people suggest that the EU must either centralise on a federal model or fragment along with the Euro. In that context, with a federal EU fiscal, diplomatic and defence structure, national sovereignty ceases to have so much meaning and becomes like the limited sovereignty of a state in the US. Hence Mas’s many references to Massachussetts – he probably believes that he can “get in on the ground floor” at the foundation of a Barrosian United States of Europe.

    However, for the time being there is a great deal of “euro-scepticism” about the idea of a new Catalan state within the EU. Combined with the 60-70% or so of these pro-independence voters who would foresake full independence for a fiscal pact like the one proposed, the so-called “tactical independentists”, there is room for Spanish unionists to make a winning move.

    The solution for Rajoy seems simple – propose a fiscal deal (without having to change the sacred constitution) while at the same time permitting a Catalan independence vote within a strict timeline, say before the end of 2013 or mid 2014. Support for independence would drop off sharply as a fairer share of infrastructure investment and tax revenue became available, and Mas would have to put up or shut up – either he calls the referendum “prematurely” and faces defeat, or he postpones it, losing his chance for democratic legitimacy.

    Most importantly for the Spanish unionists, time would be bought to negotiate some more permanent kind of reform to the autonomous state structure, one that does require constitutional reform – probably an asymmetric regime with Catalonia sharing the tax powers of Navarra and Basque Country, and the other autonomous regions being rolled up into the central government.

    Timing seems to be key in strategies both to gain independence and to prevent it – he who controls the calendar of events calls the tune. But all this presupposes that the PP government can be moved to act in this matter and take the initiative. Of course Rajoy could just stick to his present policy of passive denial and see the whole situation move toward the brink of de facto rebellion.

    However, an objective observer might think that it would be much safer for his constitutional order to be proactive, proposing strategies to defuse Mas’s consensus in the short term and moving to reform the discredited “café para todos” model in the longer term.

    • I share most of your keen observations, Murph. A year ago, I thought that “Madrid only has to throw money at the region” to placate the “tactical independentists”. See http://iberosphere.com/2011/11/spanish-news-solution-to-the-catalan-problem/4159

      Alas, Rajoy didn’t do it. This does not mean he can’t do so in the future, and I still opine it would be a smart move on his side.

      The European component is indeed another decisive one, and if we want to debate it we’d be well served if we distinguish between unilateral independence and a negotiated one. The economic dimension of it, I think very well explained in this article, can work both ways, for or against Catalan independence. But all in all, Europe is not willing to interfere in domestic affairs right now. Which is wise, as the Catalan elections are still to come, and a referendum on independence isn’t even date-stamped. At a later stage, the EU might finally have to set some standards.

      I subscribe to your last paragraph, Murph. But I’d like to add a thought. There are two prominent conservative parties in Spain, Rajoy’s PP and Mas’s CiU bloc. They have indeed been in a quasi-coalition in Catalonia, until most recently, even though Mas could have chosen separatist ERC to assure a majority for his government.

      Both PP and CiU share a political opponent, the Socialists. And in the present debate it is the Socialists (initially hit hard by the Zapatero mess-up) who continue to lose votes both in Catalonia and in all of Spain. Food for thought.

      • If I follow your train of thought, you’re suggesting it’s in Rajoy’s interest to see Socialist support collapse on this issue (and meanwhile distracting the plebs from the horrors of social collapse) and that therefore he should allow the Catalan issue to build up for a while before crushing it with his legal authority a year or so from now.

        That is quite possibly his strategy, but it has tremendous risks inherent that he really can’t put the genie back in the bottle when the time comes, that the Catalan challenge posed by Mas will undermine the Spanish order of 78, perhaps fatally weakening it when some other constitutional crisis (for example royal succession) comes up.

        If he really is toying with Mas and his alliance for domestic electoral reasons, he might consider that at the same time he is playing with fire. Rajoy doesn’t seem like such a reckless gambler, but maybe he genuinely doesn’t understand the mood of defiance in Catalonia.

        • What I suggest is that Rajoy and Mas are in cohabitation to crush the Socialists. This might work even better if in the end they come up with a compromise that (barely) keeps Catalonia in Spain. Your have had your own ideas that total independence might not be the outcome, and Mas is speaking of “interdependence”.

          There you go, a New Spain that saves face with the Spanish right, realises the (con)federal idea brought forward by the Socialists (and part of Mas’s CiU) *and* is something the EU can settle for.

          With the outcome of both Catalonia and all of Spain being governed by the Right for ages. This is how the present nationalist smokescreen can work, hoping that while we’re distracted by oh-so-bigger issues of the survival of the Nation (works for both nations, Catalonia and Spain, a kind of institutionalised emergency situation) the economy will finally sort itself out (let’s be frank, from the Spanish point of view that’s what there is to hope, that the economy simply gets out of the slump if we wait long enough).

          Still that’s playing with fire, no doubt.

          I have absolutely no evidence that this is happening, except that of converging interests of Rajoy and Mas. And given that their respective parties are quite close on everything else but the Catalan question, this is an idea I find interesting.

    • >Reasons to choose the city to study abraod to learn Spanish according to the NY (Some of them really laughable):1)Language:”Barcelona is bilingual”. Well, Valencia, Alicante, Seville and Granada are not. Pure Spanish (with different accents)2)Weather: Barcelona has a superb weather”. Apparently in Valencia,Alicante and Seville is freezing all day long. Granada could be a little bit colder than the other four but still a good weather. Weather in Seville and Alicante is also superb.3)”Easy access to historic cities”. Sevilla and Granada are historic cities from themselves. Cordoba is not too far. Cadiz probably has more relevance in the Spanish history than Granada.4) Access to the Pyrenees. That is true, although if you like skiing you can go Granada and maybe Alicante since Sierra Nevada is not far away (specially from Granada).5)”Striking architecture”. Are not La Giralda, Seville’s cathedral and La Alhambra for citing a few, striking architecture?6)”Distance to North of Africa” Seville, Granada and Alicante are closer to the North of Africa than Barcelona. They miss for a little with the rest of Europe and they are probably worst communicated with the rest of Europe than Barcelona although not isolated at all.5)”Night life and notable cuisine” You can find it all around Spain, although I do not know if in the other cities is going to be “hedonistic” or not. If you are looking for “hedonism” check with your travel agency, locals or the international program in your school before to go.First of all, the arguments given by the NYT are shallow, laughable and biased. What about of universities programs, history of the cities, different purposes of studying abraod, other students experience . I have not read the NYT article but it seems that the other cities are not interested, cold, boring, isolated, and this is not true.Probably Barcelona is the coolest city in Spain,I do not know and that is very personal, but come on, the other are excellent places too (Granada and Seville are superb in almost all the aspects). And if the whole purpose of spending a semester abraod is to learn Spanish and Spanish culture (do not forget that), regretably for Barcelona, it loses some points because it is bilingual (of course and you still can learn a very good Spanish and have a Spanish experience). If you want to learn Spanish and Catalan because you like languages Barcelona is the place to go. If you want to learn Spanish and you do not mind certain degree of another language in your day to day, then Barcelona is still an option. Best. Pablo

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