a busy dialogue begins – Tom Canetti
The leaders of the Spanish government and that of Catalonia have met across the table, but the gap between them remains wide.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro SÃ¡nchez on Wednesday rejected the amnesty and a second referendum on independence as part of the much-awaited dialogue between Spain and Catalonia. But Catalan leader Pere AragonÃ¨s said opening negotiations between the two sides was a victory in itself.
The purpose of the meeting, which lasted two hours at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, ââwas to discuss the “process”, the issue of Catalan independence vis-Ã -vis Spain. In 2017, the Catalans voted in a referendum that the Spanish state deemed unconstitutional, leading to the 2019 sentencing of nine political and cultural leaders to 9-13 years in prison.
The date of the dialogue between the president of the Generalitat and the Spanish Prime Minister was organized in June, following pardons granted by SÃ¡nchez to former political prisoners. It symbolized the start of what both sides describe as a transition to gradual deliberation between Spain and Catalonia.
Both left the meeting on Wednesday agreeing that the dialogue table was the right instrument to resolve the conflict. Spain’s prime minister said he was attached to “the reunion agenda” (the retrobament agenda in Catalan), meaning that its ambition was to promote discourse and negotiation between the two parties rather than a unilateral approach. AragonÃ¨s, who belongs to the Republican Party of the Left of Catalonia (ERC), has been a supporter of the deliberative approach since taking office earlier this year and agreed that Wednesday’s meeting was the first in a long series. The two leaders agreed to engage in âpublic and non-publicâ meetings to conduct the negotiations âwithout rushâ and âwithout delayâ. But the two sides admitted to having very contrasting positions.
AragonÃ¨s has always defended two main objectives for dialogue: amnesty for exiles and former political prisoners and another referendum for Catalan independence. SÃ¡nchez, referring to the Spanish constitution (a clause on the âindivisibilityâ of Spain) and consistent with his dialogue throughout this year, said that âneither amnesty nor referendum was possibleâ and suggested that both parties should talk about “closer issues”.
The Prime Minister’s position led AragonÃ¨s to describe the two leaders as “very far away [apart] in positions â, but did not deter him from praising the meeting, saying they had achievedâ what seemed impossible â- referring to the Spanish executive coming to the dialogue table. The Catalan Republican maintained his ambition of another referendum and said “there is room to raise options” regarding constitutional limitations.
AragonÃ¨s recognized the pardons handed down in June as a progressive step towards recognition by the executive, but said “the repression continues”. The Catalan leader will continue to fight for the amnesty of all those who were persecuted by the Spanish Supreme Court for their involvement in the 2017 independence referendum. The difference between amnesty and pardons would be recognition by the executive that the convicted former leaders did not actually break the law, rather than what some see as an olive branch offer of forgiveness.
The controversy was sparked the day before the dialogue when the Catalan president rejected the participants proposed for the meeting of JuntsâThe other half of the Catalan coalition in power. AragonÃ¨s justified his decision by saying that the participants should only be made up of members of the government.
Jordi SÃ nchez, former Catalan political prisoner and general secretary of Junts, responded that it was not a necessary requirement. But he blamed the Spanish executive for what he called a âvetoâ from members of his party. âWe feel that we have been opposed to the veto of the government of Pedro SÃ¡nchez. This veto represents the conviction that the Spanish side is failing to approach dialogue, âSÃ nchez said on Tuesday.
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Junts, who governed Catalonia under the leadership of the now exiled Carles Puigdemont during the 2017 referendum, was therefore not represented at the dialogue table. The Catalan side was made up of AragonÃ¨s, Laura VilagrÃ (minister of the presidency) and Roger Torrent (minister and former president of the Catalan parliament). The Spanish side was made up of SÃ¡nchez, Yolanda DÃaz as vice-president and ministers FÃ©lix BolaÃ±os, Isabel RodrÃguez and Miquel Iceta. SÃ¡nchez reduced the number of participants from the Spanish side to take into account the lack of Junts members.
How these discussions unfold and their circumstantial results will surely have an impact on SÃ¡nchez’s fate in next year’s general election.