What you need to know about the breakthrough Catalan-Spanish cabinet meeting
First summit to take place in Madrid with 16 officials sitting at the table, with a potential vote by Catalans on any deal as final aim of process
Almost two and a half years after the peak of the independence crisis in 2017, which saw a referendum and the subsequent exile and incarceration of its leaders, the Catalan and Spanish governments will talk about the political conflict for the first time face-to-face.
The introduction of new governments both in Catalonia and Spain in spring 2018 lead to a thawing of relations between both sides, including two meetings between presidents – but talks failed in early 2019.
Now for the first time in the whole decade of open debate on Catalonia's future, both sides are set to begin uncertain negotiations.
The Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, committed to launch a "bilateral negotiation table" with the Catalan government to try to find a way out of the "political conflict" between Barcelona and Madrid.
This was in exchange for key support from the pro-independence party Esquerra's in Sánchez's presidential bid.
Spain's and Catalonia’s presidents met on February 6 to kick off the dialogue process.
The opening session of these talks will take place in Madrid in the afternoon of Wednesday, February 26, specifically in the Spanish government HQ. But it is expected to be only the first of a set of summits.
The Catalan delegation will include President Quim Torra and Vice President Pere Aragonès, who will attend only the first meeting and potentially those to seal agreements.
They will be joined by the digital minister, Jordi Puigneró, the foreign minister, Alfred Bosch, Esquerra MPs Marta Vilalta and Josep Maria Jové, Junts per Catalunya MP Elsa Artadi (also former presidency minister) and Torra’s former chief of staff, Josep Rius.
The fact that not all the members appointed are in the cabinet has sparked controversy, especially in the Socialists. Each government party will have four members at the table.
As for Spain, President Pedro Sánchez will attend at least the first meeting. Seven cabinet members will also take part in the talks: Carmen Calvo (vice president), Pablo Iglesias (social rights minister and also vice president for Unidas Podemos), José Luis Ábalos (transports and mobility), María Jesús Montero (finance), Carolina Darias (regional policy), Salvador Illa (health minister and member of the Catalan Socialists) and Manuel Castells (universities minister and appointed by the Catalan allies of Unidas Podemos).
All in all, there are 16 names, 10 of which have sided at some point in favor of an independence referendum in Catalonia.
What will the talks revolve around? This might be the most contentious issue: the Catalan side wants to negotiate an amnesty for the jailed and exiled leaders, an “end of repression” against the independence camp and self-determination.
They also want to set a calendar for the talks, see those in exile and jailed recognized as parts in the conflict, and include an international mediator in the process.
Meanwhile, Sánchez’s cabinet has just said that they want to talk about the 44-point document they made to respond to specific demands raised by Catalonia in the past ten years, including infrastructures and funding. They also say reflecting on what has happened and why would be a good starting point.
The aim on both sides is to end the political deadlock with the independence bid in Catalonia, although both sides have very different approaches, even contradictory.
Yet, the pact between Socialists and Esquerra includes that Catalan citizens will vote on whatever is agreed between both sides. Whether there will be anything to vote for remains an unanswered question ahead of the beginning of the talks.