The Spanish Prime Minister and Catalonia’s leaders met on Wednesday to restart negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region’s separatist movement.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the two-hour meeting with Regional President Pere Aragonès was important for continuing to repair relations between their governments, but that there would be no quick fix on the separation front.
“Our positions are very different, it is important to emphasize that. We will have to talk a lot, listen to each other and make an effort to find positions where we can. We will not solve a decade-long crisis in one day,” he said. Sanchez.
“[But] We agree that these negotiations are the best way forward. “
While Aragonès reiterated its call for Spain to approve a referendum on independence and grant a general amnesty to all separatists who had problems with the law, Sanchez insisted on finding ways to improve the economic and social well-being of Catalans in Spain.
“It’s time to build trust,” Aragonès said. “Both governments today demonstrated their willingness to move forward in resolving this conflict.”
Expectations were low for all the enormous progress from the meeting that has caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Republican left-wing party in Catalonia call the talks a “historic opportunity”.
But leaders of the junior party in the Aragonese government did not attend the meeting and have expressed doubts about its chances of success. The influential grassroots group National Catalan Assembly said the talks will only derail their cause.
Shared in opinion
The talks come with 7.5 million Catalans anchored in two roughly equal camps. Surveys and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to stay in Spain, while the other half wants to break all ties.
Sanchez inherited the political crisis when he took office in 2018, not a year after the leaders of the Catalan government and separatist grassroots groups failed in a unilateral outburst that violated the Spanish constitution.
In a bold move to reduce tensions, the socialist leader made the decision in June to forgive the nine imprisoned instigators of the secession attempt in 2017. Both the pardons and the talks have been heavily criticized by Spain’s right-wing parties.
After years of scarce dialogue between Catalonia’s leaders and Spain’s then ruling conservatives, Sanchez met Aragonès’ predecessor, Quim Torra, in February 2020 in Madrid. The result of that meeting was to agree to hold meetings once a month. But they were stopped by the pandemic, which hit Spain just a few weeks later.