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Five key points of upcoming Catalonia-Spain presidents meeting

Quim Torra willing to focus on holding an agreed independence referendum, while Pedro Sánchez wants to talk about sectoral issues

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08 July 2018 10:56 AM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona
The Catalan and Spanish presidents are due to meet on Monday. It will be the first time that both heads of governments sit at the same table since last autumn's political turmoil, peaking with the October 1 independence referendum and the declaration of independence some four weeks afterwards.
 
Both presidents, Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez, are new in office, and it remains to be seen if that prompts a new climate and consensus between these two territories.
 
Here are five of the key points to watch out for ahead of the meeting:
 
1- Debate on an agreeed a referendum
 
President Torra wants to ask his Spanish counterpart "how Catalonia can culminate the exercise of the right to self-determination started on October 1."
 
In other words, he will try to persuade Pedro Sánchez to the holding of a Scottish-like agreed referendum.
 
His predecessors Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont already tried this -for over a decade. They were met with clear opposition, told no each time, and although the ruling party in Spain is now different, the answer is set to be the same. 
 
Concerning a referendum on self-determination there won't be an agreement," the Catalan Socialist leader Miquel Iceta said on Friday . The only thing Sánchez agrees on is that Torra brings it forward in the meeting.
 
2- Jailed and exiled leaders 
 
This is without doubt one of the hottest topics in Catalonia. Since the 70s there have not been such high-profile politicians in jail, and Torra has said several times that "political prisoners should be immediately released."
 
But, as they are hold in pre-trial custody as part of a judicial procedure, Sánchez's answer is predictable: the Spanish government cannot interfere in the process.
 
Moreover, Madrid refuses those in jail as "political prisoners." "There are no politicial prisoners in Spain," said vicepresident Carmen Calvo in an interview published on Sunday.  
 
Yet the whole independence procedure started with a criminal lawsuit for violent rebellion and misuse of funds by Spain's general prosecutor's office, a body which is part of the Spanish Justice ministry. With Sánchez's rise to power, the general prosecutor also changed. 
 
If the new attorney general lowered the charges against Catalan leaders before the judge’s verdict, a potential sentence for rebellion could be less likely. Ultimately, the final decision will be for the judge to make.
 
There are also seven leaders on exile, fighting extradition from abroad. Three in Belgium already know that they will not be sent back. A ruling on Puigdemont's case, in Germany, is expected soon. The European courts decisions could well influence how the trial goes in Spain. 
 
The Spanish government has allowed the jailed leaders to be closer to their families in Catalan prisons, instead of 700km far from home as they were for months. Sánchez is likely to say that's all he can do. 
 
3- More self-government
 
Over the past years, the Spanish government took several Catalan laws on social issues to the Spanish Constitutional Court, on the grounds that they were going beyond Catalan powers and self-government.
 
This happened especially during direct rule, when Catalonia had no government to defend its position. Because of that, this court suspended over a dozen such laws.
 
Torra will ask Sánchez to withdraw previous government appeals to those pieces of legislation. The outcome in this case might be a bit more positive, as Madrid has already said it will "reconsider" these appeals.
 
4- The 46 proposals of Puigdemont
 
When in office, Carles Puigdemont made a list with 46 proposals for the Spanish government to improve Catalonia's self-rule. He handed them in in a meeting with Mariano Rajoy in April 2016 – this was the last official meeting between both presidents.
 
Last month, one of Pedro Sánchez's new ministers, Catalan Meritxell Batet, said discussions over 45 out of the 46 proposals have to be "resumed."
 
The only one left out from the beginning is, predictably, the proposal for a referendum on independence. The Socialists want to debate on infrastructures or funding instead.
 
Yet Quim Torra said this week he will not tackle sectorial issues in the debate, as bilateral committees might go through them. He wants to priorize the referendum, jailed leaders, and civil rights.
 
5- Strength of dialogue
 
Not few voices coming from Catalonia, Spain and Europe have been asking for both governments to engage in a dialogue. The day Quim Torra was sworn in as president, he asked Madrid to "start dialogue." 
 
With the People's Party ruling Spain, this did not come, but barely two weeks after Torra's inauguration, power changed hands in Madrid.
 
Rajoy's successor agreed to meet Torra, and whether there is any progress of the session on Monday will probably shape the future and continuation of the talks. The Catalan government has said that there has been "incomunication" with Madrid for the last 8 years. 
 
Torra said agreeing with holding a follow-up meeting in September would be a good outcome of July 9, and he asked Sánchez to hold this potential second round of talks in Barcelona. 
 
The Spanish government's answer, last Friday, was clear: first of all, let's "focus" on next Monday, then we discuss about further meetings. 

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  • Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra (by ACN)

  • Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra (by ACN)