Catalan and Spanish governments to resume independence conflict talks in September
Pere Aragonès and Pedro Sánchez agree to relaunch dialogue table after holding first official meeting in Madrid
The governments of Catalonia and Spain will resume the dialogue table to address the independence conflict next September, as agreed by presidents Pere Aragonès and Pedro Sánchez in their first official meeting on Tuesday.
"We're not interested in a photo—we must deal with the underlying political conflict, and that won't be easy," Aragonès said in a press conference held after the meeting. He described the upcoming talks as "the most complex and difficult negotiation ever faced by the Catalan government."
The Spanish government spokesperson María Jesús Montero described the political differences between Sánchez and Aragonès as "abysmal", but defended the need to establish a framework of "mutual loyalty" to "end confrontation."
Both governments agreed to convene in Barcelona in the third week of September, more than a year and a half after they held the first dialogue table meeting in Madrid in February 2020.
The original agreement established that government officials would convene once a month to find a way out of the independence conflict, but the coronavirus pandemic and political disagreements left the talks on hold up until now.
The long-awaited meeting between Aragonès and Sánchez was only made possible after nine pro-independence leaders sentenced over the 2017 referendum push walked free from prison last week after being pardoned by the Spanish government.
The pardons were presented by Sánchez as paving the way for "reconciliation" after years of political animosity, but Araognès has made it clear that the Catalan government believes they're not sufficient.
"We must find a solution for all of the repression, which also affects people in exile, those pending trial, and those who faced persecution by the Court of Auditors today," Aragonès said. Earlier on Tuesday, former Catalan officials were charged over €5 million combined for spending public money on the independence push abroad between 2011-2017.
Speaking on behalf of Sánchez, Montero cooled off the possibility of facilitating the return to Spain of exiled Catalan leaders such as former president Carles Puigdemont, whom she called "a fugitive."
With Spain's Socialist-led government relying on votes from Aragonès' pro-independence ERC party to have a majority in the Spanish Congress, relations between both governments have improved over the past years.
After a decades-long independence push, the territorial dispute between Catalonia and Spain reached a tipping point in the fall of 2017, when pro-independence parties called an unauthorized referendum and Spain's then-conservative government sacked regional officials and imposed direct rule.
The two leaders also agreed to resume bilateral government meetings in July to address more specific issues, such as Spain's economic investment in Catalonia, which regional authorities have long seen as insufficient.