Spain’s prime minister admits huge differences remain as Catalan talks reopen – expat guide to Spain
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday resumed dialogue with separatist leaders in Catalonia with the aim of resolving a political crisis triggered by the failure of the region’s independence bid in 2017.
After an 18-month hiatus, Sanchez traveled to Barcelona where he met for two hours with recently elected Catalan leader Pere Aragones, later saying the two sides were still “very far apart”.
In October 2017, the Catalan regional government organized a referendum banned by Madrid, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering the worst political crisis Spain has seen in decades.
Since then, Catalonia has remained a major problem in Spanish politics and one that Sanchez’s government has pledged to resolve through negotiations.
“The ideas we have on how to resolve the crisis in Catalonia are very different, radically different from those of the Catalan government,” Sanchez told reporters after the meeting.
The separatists have come to talks determined to secure an amnesty for all those involved in the failed independence bid, as well as a new referendum on self-determination.
But Spain is implacably opposed to both ideas.
“For us, neither referendum nor amnesty is possible”, declared Sanchez, while insisting on the will of the Spanish government “to resolve this crisis”.
“The most important thing is to move forward without setting dates for the resolution of this conflict,” he said, pledging to work “without haste, without interruption and without setting deadlines”.
“We’re going to need time, a lot of time.
– ‘Demand results’ –
Speaking soon after in a separate press conference, Aragones agreed the dialogue “needs time,” but warned the talks must bear fruit.
“As the negotiations progress, we will demand results,” said the Catalan leader.
“I think the referendum is the most inclusive option because it allows everyone to defend their proposal.”
While Sanchez rejects an independence referendum, he said he was open to a possible vote on Catalonia’s place within Spain, but within certain limits.
The Spanish leader had vowed to resume talks in January 2020 after the ERC – Catalonia’s oldest and largest separatist party – offered crucial parliamentary support to its minority government.
Initial talks began a month later, but were quickly put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Much has changed since the referendum in October 2017 and the crisis that followed.
Those responsible were tried and jailed while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatist movement beheaded and deeply at odds on how to move forward.
The issue of dialogue with Madrid has been a huge sticking point in the region of 7.8 million people, who remain divided on the issue of independence.
– “People get tired” –
Despite the differences, negotiations would have a better chance this time around thanks to a reshuffle within the separatist-dominated leadership of Catalonia, with the moderate left-wing ERC having taken the reins several months ago.
Last time around, his hard-core JxC counterpart was in charge.
The change had an immediate effect: within weeks, the Spanish government pardoned jailed separatist leaders and agreed to resume high-level talks on the Catalan crisis.
ERC favors a negotiated strategy to achieve independence through dialogue with Madrid, while JxC, now a junior coalition partner, wishes to maintain a confrontational approach.
The split within the separatist ranks has also affected the morale of their supporters, said Ernesto Pascual, a political scientist at the Open University of Catalonia.
“People are starting to turn their attention to more tangible issues than Catalan independence, which is why we are looking for this lack of motivation,” said Pascual.
“People are tired of focusing only on the national issue… especially during this health crisis and the economic crisis that will follow. “