Meeting of Catalan and Spanish presidents underway
Referendum again set to be central issue more than two years since leaders of both governments officially held talks
The Catalan and Spanish presidents were already holding talks in Madrid on Monday morning. Starting at 11.35am, the meeting was the first time that leaders of both governments have officially sat down at the same table in more than two years.
It was April 20, 2016, when the then government heads Carles Puigdemont and Mariano Rajoy met in Madrid, with the former Catalan president pressing his host to agree to a binding independence referendum in Catalonia.
Puigdemont’s demand was turned down, and everything suggests something similar is likely to happen in Monday’s meeting between Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez.
The Catalan president has said several times in the past few weeks that he will again lay the possibility of an agreed referendum on the table.
Yet, the Socialist Spanish government has already said that the answer will be no, as it is beyond the framework of the Spanish Constitution and the law. It is the same argument that the conservative president Mariano Rajoy used in the past few years while still in power.
However, the referendum is not the only hot topic of the meeting. Quim Torra intends to talk about "the situation of the political prisoners," referring to the nine leaders in jail for their part in last October's referendum and the subsequent declaration of independence.
As they are being held in pre-trial custody as part of a judicial procedure, Sánchez's answer is predictable: the Spanish government cannot interfere in the legal process.
Meanwhile, the several Catalan laws on social issues suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court after they were challenged by the former Spanish government will also be a key part of the talks. Quim Torra wants the appeals withdrawn, and on this issue the positions of the two leaders could be closer.
In the last meeting between Catalan and Spanish leaders, Puigdemont handed Rajoy a document containing 46 proposals his government wanted addressed.
Sánchez's executive says it is ready to tackle 45 of the points –all but the referendum. Yet, despite other relevant issues up for debate, from infrastructure to education, Torra has made it clear that in this meeting his priorities are the referendum, the jailed leaders and civil rights in Catalonia.
Another thing Torra wants to agree is a follow-up meeting in Barcelona in September, something Sánchez's team has not yet confirmed. The success of this Monday's meeting will be key to whether the inter-governmental dialogue will continue.