Catalan-Spanish talks must resume before summer holiday, says president Aragonès
Pro-independence parties hint at jailed leaders attending 'negotiating table' alongside government officials
Catalonia’s newly appointed president, the pro-independence politician Pere Aragonès, has called for so-called ‘negotiating table’ meetings, set up before the start of the pandemic to engage in dialogue with the Spanish government, to resume before the summer holiday.
As candidate for the most voted pro-independence party in the last parliamentary election, and coming to power thanks to votes from other political groups also seeking to separate from Spain, Aragonès has championed dialogue as the best way to address the independence crisis.
The territorial dispute reached its most dramatic point in the fall of 2017, when Catalonia held an unauthorized referendum and Spain responded by sending the police to crack down on voters and later imprisoned the officials and activists responsible for the vote.
"I know a solution to the conflict won’t come overnight, but I also know we must try," said Aragonès in an interview with the Ara newspaper. "We must not let the situation rot."
"I know a solution to the conflict won’t come overnight, but I also know we must try"
Pere Aragonès · Catalan president
With Aragonès’ party leader being Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of the Catalan government who’s serving a prison sentence for sedition alongside eight other pro-independence leaders, the newly elected president wants to change the playing field of the political crisis from courts to dialogue with elected officials.
With the Spanish government now led by Pedro Sánchez and a left-wing coalition more open to dialogue with Catalonia than their conservative predecessors, Aragonès and his party, Esquerra Republicana, hope to deliver on their promise to achieve an amnesty for prosecuted leaders and agree on a self-determination referendum.
"[Sánchez’s] government has two years left, and despite the great differences that still separate us, they’ve recognized that there is a political conflict that needs to be resolved," said Aragonès.
With Junqueras being able to leave prison sporadically on day-leave permits, Esquerra Republicana officials said on Monday that they would like the party leader to attend the next summit with the Spanish government.
The Catalan branch of Pedro Sánchez's Socialist party admitted they can't prevent Junqueras from being present in the summit, as previous meetings have been attended by party officials holding no government post.
Skepticism from pro-independence allies
Yet not all pro-independence parties agree that the ‘negotiating table’ will deliver on its promises.
Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), the party led by exiled former president Carles Puigdemont and Aragonès’ coalition partners in the Catalan government, has often been pessimistic about the prospect of solving the political conflict through dialogue, advocating instead for "peaceful confrontation" and disobedience.
The current vice president of Catalonia and JxCat’s highest government official, Jordi Puigneró, has said the party will "guarantee" that pro-independence parties’ demands in the bilateral meetings are not washed out.
Elsa Artadi, a spokesperson for JxCat, welcomed ERC's proposal to have Junqueras attend the bilateral meeting with Spanish officials, and suggested that other jailed politicians could also join him.