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Catalan-Spanish summit: what to expect

Opposition skeptical as governments are set to meet on Wednesday after 7-year break

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31 July 2018 01:41 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

Governments in Catalonia and Spain will meet on Wednesday as part of the bilateral commission. With such a meeting taking place for the first time in seven years—and most notably, with the two executives engaging in dialogue after months of political turmoil over the independence bid—the stakes are remarkably high.

The meeting will take place at the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona. The Catalan delegation will be led by Ernest Maragall, the foreign minister, and will also include vice president Pere Aragonès and government spokesperson Elsa Artadi. On the Spanish side, the highest-ranking official to take part in the meeting is Meritxell Batet, minister of territorial policy. Spanish state secretaries for infrastructures and finances will also join the meeting.

  • “We’re waiting for the best offer for Catalonia from the Spanish government. We’ll then freely decide”

    Ernest Maragall · Catalan foreign minister

Both executives will discuss a vast array of topics, from infrastructures to finances, including education and the situation of Catalan language. The Catalan government has highlighted the importance of the point number 6 of the agenda, which refers to the situation of "rights and freedoms" in Catalonia and ways for citizens “to democratically participate in the decisions concerning their future"—a reference to the imprisonment of pro-independence leaders, as well as demands for a self-determination referendum.

The Catalan government is not expected to settle for anything less than a referendum on independence, something that the Spanish executive has rejected countless times. With the red lines clearly drawn, both governments are interested in presenting the meeting as a political success despite their great discrepancies.

Catalan government: “waiting for the best offer”

The Catalan government has made clear that it will not give up the independence bid, and while it will welcome offers to improve Catalonia’s self-government—such as a better financing or greater investment in infrastructures—this will not make them renounce their call for the right to self-determination. “80% of Catalans want to vote and choose the best option for our future as a country,” said Maragall.  “We’re waiting for the best offer for Catalonia from the Spanish government. We’ll then freely decide.”

Spanish executive to reconsider suspended laws

Ahead of the meeting, the Spanish government opened the door to recovering some of the laws approved by Catalan parliament in recent years and suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Officials from the new Socialist executive have also suggested the possibility of “recovering” the basic lines of the current Statute of Autonomy suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010, and which galvanized the independence bid.

Batet said that “political parties need to do an effort beforehand in order to reach an agreement and get a wide consensus.” She then continued that such agreements should then be validated at the ballots. “It’s not a matter of counting how many people are on each side, but reaching a wide consensus that represents what 80%, or 90%, or 100% of what society wants.”

Main unionist party dismisses meeting

Ciutadans (Cs), the largest opposition party, criticized the Catalan government for focusing on independence. Opposition parties were informed of the latest developments on the summit in a meeting on Monday.

“The aim of the meeting was not to discuss ways to improve the lives of Catalan people. They just read the summit’s agenda and they made it clear that they only cared about the independence bid, and depending on what [the Spanish government] says on this regard, they’ll either go on or not,” said Cs MP Sonia Sierra.

Left-wing coalition demands moving “from gestures to facts”

The left-wing coalition Catalunya En Comú-Podem (CatECP) urged both governments to move “from gestures to facts,” and stressed the importance of focusing the meeting on “dialogue, self-government and social rights.”

In a joint press conference by the party’s deputy spokespersons in the Catalan and Spanish parliaments, Jéssica Albiach and Josep Vendrell, they also took on Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont for his “menacing tone" when he warned Spain’s new president Pedro Sánchez that his “grace period" was coming to an end.

Pro-independence CUP avoids meeting

Far-left CUP, the main partners of the pro-independence executive, is not interested in the bilateral summit. The anti-capitalist party warned its allies that the party will no back any “bilateral relationship" that does not recognize Catalonia’s right to self-determination, and said that all their efforts were directed at promoting Catalonia’s own institutions.

PP: only objective showing “one on one" relationship

The People’s Party (PP), ousted from the Spanish government by the Socialists with the support of pro-independence parties, dismissed the summit, arguing that its sole objective was to show that there was a “one on one” relationship between the Catalan government and Spain.

PP MP Santi Rodríguez criticized the fact that independence and the situation of jailed leaders was part of the agenda. During the time when PP was in power in Spain, the bilateral commission did not meet a single time.

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  • Catalan foreign minister Ernest Maragall and Spain's minister of territorial policy Meritxell Batet (by ACN)

  • Catalan government spokesperson Elsa Artadi and vice president Pere Aragonès (by ACN)

  • Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès (left) and minister Ernest Maragall (right) meet with minister Meritxell Batet (by Núria Julià)

  • Catalan foreign minister Ernest Maragall and Spain's minister of territorial policy Meritxell Batet (by ACN)
  • Catalan government spokesperson Elsa Artadi and vice president Pere Aragonès (by ACN)
  • Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès (left) and minister Ernest Maragall (right) meet with minister Meritxell Batet (by Núria Julià)