Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez held a much-anticipated meeting with the Catalan regional premier Quim Torra today, as part of promised talks on the future of the northeastern Spanish region. The two politicians met at the seat of the premier in Catalonia, the Palau de la Generalitat, in the regional capital of Barcelona, and during their encounter Sánchez proposed that political dialogue starts this very month.
Catalonia has for years now been immersed in an independence drive, which peaked in 2017 when an illegal referendum on secession from Spain was held, followed by the passing of a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament. Last year saw nine of the pro-independence politicians and civil association leaders jailed for their involvement in the events of that year, while the trial of four figures connected to the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, for their role in the same events is ongoing.
The promise of talks on Catalonia between the regional government and Madrid was promised by Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) in the wake of the inconclusive repeat general election of November 2019, which saw the prime minister win the most votes but fall short of an absolute majority. As well as agreeing to form a coalition government with leftist Unidas Podemos, Sánchez also secured the abstention of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party at his investiture vote in January, in exchange for the promise of talks on the political situation regarding the region. Along with the support or abstention of several other parties, Sánchez was returned to power by the deputies in Congress.
Today’s meeting between Sánchez and Torra was considered a formality before the actual dialogue begins, but was controversial among the political opposition given the ongoing legal problems of Torra, who is a hard-line supporter of Catalan independence. The Catalan premier has already been stripped of his seat in the regional parliament and risks being barred from holding public office altogether, should the Supreme Court uphold a ruling that found him guilty of disobedience over his failure to take down banners expressing support for the jailed Catalan politicians from public buildings during an election campaign, something that violated Spain’s electoral rules. For opposition groups such as the Popular Party (PP), Torra should already be considered as having been stripped of his role as premier and they have harshly criticized Sánchez for not canceling the meeting.
But despite the controversy, the meeting went ahead on Thursday, and speaking to reporters afterwards, Sánchez argued that there should be dialogue between the two governments.
“What I am proposing, as I have already said, is that we need to start over,” the prime minister told reporters after the 90-minute encounter between the pair. “We need to restart the dialogue where our paths separated. The dialogue should begin with the recognition of the other side, of understanding the reasons of the other side.
“The law is the condition, as I said, but dialogue is the path,” Sánchez continued. “I have come to talk. I appreciate the tone and the willingness of premier Torra. It was a respectful dialogue between two leaders.”
At the same news conference, Torra said he was happy about the serene tone of the conversation with Sánchez, but noted that both men are deeply divided over two points that the Catalan delegation wants to include in the talks: “exercising the right to self-determination” and the “end of repression.”
“He told me that his proposed solution is more devolved powers. And I didn’t get any answers about the end of repression,” said Torra. “I would have very much liked for Sánchez to say what his starting point is, but I still don’t know.”
The first meeting will be held before the end of the month, and it will be presided by Sánchez and Torra, according to the terms of the deal reached on Thursday by both leaders. The talks will be attended by representatives from the PSOE, Podemos, ERC and another pro-independence party, Together for Catalonia.
English version by Simon Hunter.