Preparation for Catalan-Spanish dialogue table advances
The date is set, but who will form the Catalan delegation and the contents of the first meeting are yet to be set
The negotiation table between the Catalan and Spanish governments finally has a start date: Wednesday, February 26.
The official dialogue process was secured by pro-independence ERC, for abstaining in the voting to name Pedro Sánchez as Spanish president, which facilitated the Socialist leader in taking office.
Presidents Sánchez and Quim Torra will lead the talks, and with the first objective of deciding on a start date out of the way, both sides are now finalizing surrounding details for the discussions, such as the contents of the first meeting, and who will take part on either end of the table.
The first round of talks will take place in Madrid, in the official workplace of the Spanish president, known as Moncloa Palace.
Who will take part
On Thursday night, Quim Torra proposed that the far-left CUP party, civic groups Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, as well as the organisation Council for the Republic, headed by exiled former president Carles Puigdemont, of the dialogue table.
However, this has been another point of disagreement between the pro-independence forces, as CUP, ANC, and Òmnium all declined to take part. Esquerra Republicana, who are in a coalition government with Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) in Catalonia, also disagreed with the propositions, and are of the opinion that only the government partners should take part in the talks.
The Catalan team has not yet been confirmed, beyond the already decided Torra and vice president Pere Aragonès.
Identifying who will take part in the Catalan delegation has not been the only issue that JxCat and ERC have failed to see eye-to-eye, as there is also disagreement over the potential role of a mediator.
Quim Torra and Junts per Catalunya believe a mediator is essential in guaranteeing the agreements made in the talks are fulfilled, while Esquerra don’t see the position as necessary. For his part, Pedro Sánchez and the Socialists side with ERC, arguing "the 47 million Spaniards" will be the mediators because there is "a desire for absolute transparency."
As for the composition of the table, the Spanish delegation will be made up of Sánchez himself, vice presidents Pablo Iglesias and Carmen Calvo, and the ministers Salvador Illa, Carolina Darias, and Manuel Castells.
What both sides want to start with
In the week ahead of the start of talks, the tone of both presidents paints a contrasting picture.
Pedro Sánchez, speaking in Brussels on Thursday, suggested it would be best to "talk first about the easiest things" that can be agreed on. The Spanish president also warned that he views offering the dialogue table to his Catalan counterparts as a "quite substantial step" forward.
On the other side, Quim Torra is going into these talks with a clear set of goals. He wants an amnesty for those convicted last October of sedition and sentenced to jail sentences of 9-13 years and for the imprisoned and exiled to be recognised as implicated parts in the political conflict.
The Catalan executive will also push for discussing the right to self-determination, the end of “repression,” and a working schedule in moving forward with the dialogue talks.