A few days after the mass protests for Catalonia’s independence, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalonia’s separatist regional leader Pere Aragones met for talks in Barcelona on Wednesday. Both wanted to agree on the goals and processes of the “dialogue table”, which had been orphaned for over a year and a half and which met at the highest level immediately after the meeting.
The pandemic had changed the order of priorities. The first task was to overcome the corona crisis and drive the economic recovery. But now it is time for Spain and Catalonia to meet again, Prime Minister Sánchez said after the meeting.
“The essence of democracy consists in discussing, negotiating and agreeing,” was how Sánchez had already outlined the importance of the meeting, with which both sides initially wanted to reduce the political tensions between Madrid and Barcelona that had grown in the course of the Catalan struggle for independence.
The problem: the final goals of the negotiating partners are very far apart. “We continue to take very distant political positions to resolve the political crisis in Catalonia,” Sánchez admitted after the meeting. While Aragones and his separatist Left Republicans (ERC) are calling for Catalonia’s right to self-determination and want to urge Sánchez to hold a negotiated, legal independence referendum, he wants at most to grant more autonomy and improve the region’s financing.
Sánchez again asked Aragones not to announce or demand any fixed goals and timetables “which could lead to frustration again”. The problems cannot be solved overnight, says Sánchez. “Reconnecting is the goal, dialogue is the way,” said the Spanish Prime Minister.
Sánchez doesn’t want to be put under pressure. For his left minority government, the “dialogue table” is actually a hot topic politically. Spain’s conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado (PP) accused Sánchez of “betraying” Spain for resuming negotiations with the separatists.
There is also great skepticism among many Spaniards about the point of a dialogue table at which the separatists apparently only want to discuss the independence referendum, which is officially a “red line” for Sánchez. Even the pardon of detained separatist leaders, which Aragones considered a prerequisite for resuming talks, caused displeasure among a majority of the population.
Nevertheless, ERC parliamentary group spokesman Gabriel Rufian warned the socialists on Wednesday of the failure of the “dialogue table”: “If the negotiations fail, it is not separatism that will fail, but Spain’s left, and Vox and PP will come to power,” predicted Rufian.
But the Left Republicans and Aragones are also under pressure. In the past elections, they took over power within the ruling separatist bloc from Carles Puigdemont’s JxCat party. Like the JxCat, Aragon’s left-wing Republicans want an independence referendum – albeit one negotiated with Madrid. Meanwhile, JxCat continues to take the frontal course with Madrid. The party also wanted to send three of the amnestied ex-politicians to the negotiating table on Wednesday.
Aragones refused because a bilateral dialogue at government level had been negotiated with Madrid and the three former politicians are banned from office and do not belong to the regional government. All JxCat representatives promptly stayed away from the dialogue table. “Puigdemont’s formation was against it from the start. The dispute over the direction of the separatist bloc is causing controversy and increasing the pressure on Aragones to have to show tangible progress soon,” explains Catalan political scientist Oriol Bartomeus in an interview with the APA.
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans protested in Barcelona for the independence of the 7.5 million inhabitants of the Mediterranean region only on Saturday. According to surveys, around half of the population is for and the other half against the separation from Spain.
In October 2017, the then regional government of Carles Puigdemont held an illegal independence referendum. After that, the region was placed under compulsory administration and the regional government dissolved. Puigdemont fled the judiciary into Belgian “exile”. Several of his ministers have been sentenced to long prison terms for rioting and received a pardon from the government only a few months ago.