NOTE! This site uses cookies

By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more detalis, see Read more


What are you looking for?

Spain cools on referendum as Catalan government divided ahead of talks

Madrid pledges dialogue ‘within the law’, but some pro-independence parties are wary of taking a seat at the negotiating table


25 August 2021 02:52 PM


ACN | Barcelona

After years of political animosity between Catalan and Spanish governments, the agreement to resume bilateral talks next September to address the independence conflict was hailed as a paradigm shift in the ongoing territorial dispute.

But with Spanish officials cooling on the prospect of an agreed referendum, and some pro-independence parties seeing no point in sitting at the negotiating table, it remains uncertain how long the talks will last and, most importantly, whether they will be able to produce any substantial outcomes.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, the delegate of the Spanish government in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera, stuck to the long-held stance on Catalonia’s independence aspirations, which Madrid sees as unconstitutional. "Within the law, everything. Outside of it, nothing," she said.

  • "Within the law, everything. Outside of it, nothing"

    Teresa Cunillera · Spanish government delegate in Catalonia

In 2017, Catalonia held an unauthorized referendum deemed illegal by Spain, with police violently cracking down on voters. Catalan officials later staged a short-lived declaration of independence, and Madrid responded by dissolving the parliament and imprisoning Catalonia’s top politicians and activists, who were later convicted of sedition.

Political tensions between Catalan and Spanish governments remained high, even if pro-independence parties were instrumental in helping the Socialist Pedro Sánchez become Spain’s president and oust the conservatives from power.

The success of Esquerra (ERC) in the latest Catalan election held in February meant a change of the guard in the independence camp, with Pere Aragonès becoming president while pledging to achieve a referendum through dialogue. 

After pro-independence leaders jailed over the 2017 referendum push were freed by Sánchez last June, Catalan and Spanish governments agreed to resume the so-called negotiating table meetings the third week of September, with the goal of addressing the independence dispute through dialogue.

Pro-independence allies remain skeptical

While conditions for engaging fruitful talks may be as good as they’ve been since 2017, or even since the independence issue became ubiquitous a decade ago, the challenges ahead remain huge.

While ERC hopes that pro-independence allies will stick to the two-year period they agreed on before deciding whether talks are worth it, skepticism over the Spanish government’s good faith has never really gone away, and hardliners insist that the Catalan government must be ready to lead a new unilateral push for independence.

"If Spain sees that we’re giving up [the unilateral way], we’re done," said Catalan vice president Jordi Puigneró last weekend. As the most senior government official of Junts per Catalunya, the biggest pro-independence party before the February election, and government partners of ERC, Puigneró distrusts the negotiating table and warns that it could become a "waste of time."


  • Spain's president Pedro Sànchez (left) and Catalan president Pere Aragonès at the Spanish government headquarters (by Bernat Vilaró)

  • Spain's president Pedro Sànchez (left) and Catalan president Pere Aragonès at the Spanish government headquarters (by Bernat Vilaró)