Meeting between Catalan and Spanish presidents comes to an end
Conversation lasts two and a half hours, separate press conferences expected soon
The meeting between the Catalan and Spanish heads of government came to an end on Monday at about 2pm. It lasted around two and a half hours.
Separate press conferences to assess and explain the meeting are expected this afternoon. The Catalan president Quim Torra will talk to the press at 4pm, while Spain's vice president was also talking to the press on behalf of leader Pedro Sánchez at 3pm.
The meeting was held in Madrid and Torra gave the Spanish leader a bottle of ratafia, a sweet Catalan liquor, and two books: one about the Aran valley and one with historical maps of Catalonia.
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 Quim Torra wants the appeals withdrawn, and on this issue the positions of the two leaders could be closer.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.