In the Spanish Congress on Wednesday, prime minister Pedro Sánchez reiterated his call for ‘dialogue’ in search of an ‘agreement’ with Catalonia, and asked opposition head Pablo Casado to be ‘brave’ and prevent his right-wing People’s Party (PP) from being ‘dragged’ into ‘extremist’ positions.
It follows on from Sánchez meeting with the Catalan president Quim Torra in Barcelona on 6 February, with the aim of setting up and kicking off a ‘bilateral negotiation table’ to resolve the Catalan political conflict. It was the first time they have held any official talks since December 2018.
The People’s Party (PP) led by Mariano Rajoy was in power during the 2017 Catalan independence bid, and Sánchez accused them of leading a ‘collective failure’ that has left ‘politicians in prison’ and ‘fugitives’ in its wake, in reference to the jailed and exiled Catalan independence leaders.
Sánchez appealed to Pablo Casado to show ‘useful and loyal opposition in Spain’, inviting the right-wing leader to join him on the path of ‘dialogue’ in putting right a situation in which ‘democracy and politics has lost out’.
To gather enough support to stay in power, newly elected Sánchez’s socialist PSOE party had to forge an agreement with the Catalan pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) group 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.
After their meeting on 6 February, Sánchez and Torra expressed openness to engage in dialogue – 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.
Quim Torra, who has 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.
Responding to Sánchez in the Spanish Congress on Wednesday, Pablo Casado accused him of failing to respect the rule of law with such things as agreeing to talks with the pro-independence Catalan government, as well as proposing to reduce the penalty for sedition, the main offence for which the independence leaders have been jailed.
‘We’ve already seen that for you the gravity of a coup d’etat depends on what you need from the coup-mongers. But you are going too far,’ said Casado, in reference to the agreement with the ERC party that allowed Sánchez to stay in power.
Spokeswoman of the Catalan pro-independence Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party, Laura Borràs, objected to the use of the term ‘fugitives’ to describe exiled leaders, such as the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who she insisted are ‘European parliamentarians’ and ‘free citizens’.
Meanwhile, the ERC party spokesman Gabriel Rufián called upon the Spanish government to act as a true left-wing party to stop the spread of fascism in Spain.
Rufián asked Sánchez how he planned on preventing ‘the rise of fascism’ to which the prime minister responded by inviting him and his party to discuss proposals on how to deal with the legacy of the Francoist dictatorship.