29th May 2020
Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez
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Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra face ‘long talks process’

Newly elected Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez met with the Catalan president Quim Torra in Barcelona on Thursday, the first time they have held any official talks since December 2018.

Previous talks failed in early 2019 when Catalonia had proposed a mediator to oversee the negotiations to the Catalan crisis, brought on by the independence referendum of October 2017.

The meeting on Thursday lasted an hour and a half, and took place at the Catalan Government’s headquarters – the Palau de la Generalitat.

Sánchez and Torra
Pedro Sánchez meeting with Quim Torra on 6 February 2020. (Photo – Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

Torra and Sánchez met with the aim of setting up and kicking off a ‘bilateral negotiation table’.

To gather enough support to stay in power, Sánchez’s socialist PSOE party had to forge an agreement with the Catalan pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party to commit to dialogue over the Catalan political crisis.

The ERC-PSOE agreement sets out the creation of a bilateral negotiating table between the Spanish and Catalan governments up to 15 days after the formation of the Spanish government and states that ‘political means’ should be favoured whilst ‘overcoming the judicialization’ of the Catalan independence conflict.

ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez greeted by ‘Sit and Talk’ protestors in Catalonia

Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez
Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez on 6 February 2020. (Photo: catalangovernment.eu)

Sánchez and Torra expressed openness to engage in dialogue during their press conferences after their meeting on Thursday – although they made it clear that their positions are very distant on self-determination for Catalonia and an amnesty for the pro-independence jailed leaders, jailed by Spain’s Supreme Court in October.

Sánchez put forward that a ‘bilateral committee’ to include government ministers would meet before March, as part of a four-page document he handed Torra called the ‘Agenda for rekindling ties.’

According to Sánchez, the paper responds ‘constructively’ to 44 demands put forward by the three most recent Catalan presidents, suggesting that the negotiation table should revolve around six points: political dialogue and institutional regeneration, regional funding, improvement of cooperation among administrations, social policies, support to infrastructures, and backing in natural disasters.

ALSO READ: No Catalan independence ‘offline or online’, warns Pedro Sánchez

Quim Torra, who last week announced that he would be calling for elections in Catalonia just as soon as the budgets are approved, welcomed the readiness of Sánchez to engage in dialogue, but also said that the Catalan government’s proposal to find a way out of the independence crisis is clear: self-determination and ‘end of repression,’ including an amnesty for the jailed leaders.

Torra and Sánchez
Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra in Barcelona on 6 February 2020. (Photo Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

However, he cast doubt on Madrid’s idea of resolving the conflict. ‘We know what we’re going to defend at the negotiating table,’ said Torra, ‘but I’m sorry to say that we still don’t know what the Spanish government’s proposal is.’

During the meeting, Torra urged the Spanish prime minister to recognise that addressing the issue of the prisoners and exiles must be part of the solution: ‘If we don’t find a solution for the prisoners and exiles, we won’t be able to resolve the political conflict.’

ALSO READ: Quim Torra: ‘an act of vengeance, not justice’

In his briefing to the press, Torra also stressed the importance of maintaining unity among pro-independence forces, arguing that ‘without unity, responsibility and a commitment to putting Catalonia’s national interests first’, it would be impossible to reach a solution.

At the meeting with the Sánchez, Torra also offered to designate specialist teams to prepare the negotiating table to be headed by the two leaders in order to ensure that it is ‘really useful and effective’. Torra said that Sánchez had agreed to this proposal. According to Torra, the role of these teams will be to set the content, format and date for the first meeting as well as sketching out how the negotiations will move forward in the medium term.

ALSO READ: Catalan president refuses to step down, despite court confirming suspension

Sánchez, addressing the press after the meeting, said that the fact that Torra proposed a Catalan referendum shows ‘how far both stances are from each other’. ‘We are facing a long talks process,’ said Sánchez. ‘It won’t be easy, it will be complex, this is a path we have to walk.’

Meanwhile, Spain’s right-wing parties have criticised Sánchez for his meeting with Torra.

The Ciudadanos (Cs) spokeswoman in Catalonia, Lorena Roldán called it ‘an absolute disgrace’ in an address to the media gathered in the Catalan parliament.

Roldán said that Torra ‘no longer represented Catalans’ and was ‘dedicated to attacking the rule of law’ and called for the Catalan president to ‘go home’. As Torra was stripped of his MP status, ‘common sense’ dictated that he also could not be president.

The People’s Party (PP) said that Pedro Sánchez was not meeting the president of the Catalan government, but a ‘separatist activist’.

ALSO READ: Quim Torra ratified as Catalan president, despite electoral authority ruling

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