Spanish and Catalan presidents to meet on June 29 as imprisonments ‘no longer obstacle’ for talks

Date comes just two hours after the release of nine independence leaders

Catalan president Pere Aragonès (left) and Spain's president Pedro Sánchez (Collage with photos by Jordi Play and La Moncloa)
Catalan president Pere Aragonès (left) and Spain's president Pedro Sánchez (Collage with photos by Jordi Play and La Moncloa) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 23, 2021 08:05 PM

The Spanish and Catalan presidents, Pedro Sánchez and Pere Aragonès, have announced the first meeting out of a series of bilateral talks taking place at the Moncloa, the Spanish leader's official residence in Madrid. This first meeting will be held next Tuesday, June 29, at 5pm.

According to the Spanish government, the gathering should be the starting point for discussions over the conflict over independence, as the imprisonments of the 2017 referendum leaders, pardoned on Tuesday and released on Wednesday, now no longer impede negotiations. The Spanish executive stated that “it is a necessary exchange for the main needs and aspirations of citizens.”

Madrid assures that Pedro Sánchez wants to discuss Catalonia’s most urgent and important issues, in the same way that he did recently with the Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla. Sánchez also faces an upcoming meeting on July 9 with Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Community of Madrid.

Yet, Aragonès’s main aims are quite unique: he wants to persuade the Socialist-led cabinet to accept a referendum on independence and put forward an amnesty law that enables politicians in exile, such as former president Puigdemont, to return. 

On 4 June, both presidents broke the ice with a 40-minute phone call, in which they also agreed to “win the battle against Covid-19 and to work towards economic reconstruction, with a special mention to the Next Generation funds." 

What happened to pro-independence leaders? 

The meeting’s announcement came just two hours after the release of the nine independence leaders who had been serving time behind bars under sedition convictions. 

They had been given decade-long sentences for their role in the 2017 referendum. The Spanish president granted a pardon to nine of them this week, indeed, "reconciliation" was the reason given by the Socialist leader when announcing the measure. Yet, there are also catalan leaders and other officials in exile, and their trials are still pending.

The nine activists are now out of jail, but the leaders' convictions are not 100% exonerated, since theirdecade-long disqualifications from public office will still apply, meaning that they will be unable to run in elections until between 2027 and 2031. 

Aragonès celebrated the nine leaders’ freedom and declared that “the joy for these prisoners and their families needs to be used to spur on work towards a global solution to this conflict.” 

Meanwhile, Spain’s regional policy minister, Miquel Iceta, rejected Aragonès’s points of discussion for his meeting with Sánchez, saying “there will be no amnesty nor self-determination, just dialogue and politics.” 

Both welcomed the pardons, but unionist right-wingers flatly rejected them shortly after the convicted politicians were out of jail. For instance, Carlos Carrizosa, leader of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, expressed that he did not like the pardoned prisoners’ narrative because it was “a narrative of victory and not of concord.” 

On the other hand, the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafel Ribó, said he is “convinced” that the European calendar “precipitated” the pardons’ granting and calls for the creation of a committee in the Parliament to study the implementation of the Council of Europe report in which the institution called for the release of the officials and the withdrawal of the extradition arrests for those in exile.