The first round of the ‘bilateral negotiation table’ talks between the Spanish and Catalan governments will commence in Madrid on Wednesday 26 February, with the overall objective to resolve the Catalan political conflict.
The first meeting will be held at Moncloa, the official residence and office of the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez.
It follows on from newly-elected Sánchez‘s meeting with the Catalan president Quim Torra in Barcelona on 6 February. It was the first time they have held any official talks since December 2018.
The concept of the ‘bilateral negotiation table’ dialogue process was a prerequisite for the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party abstaining in the investiture vote for Sánchez to become prime minister again in January, thereby facilitating the Socialist (PSOE) leader taking office again.
The ERC-PSOE agreement set details for the creation of the bilateral negotiating table and stated that ‘political means’ should be favoured whilst ‘overcoming the judicialisation’ of the Catalan independence conflict.
Sánchez and Torra will lead the initial talks. With the first objective of deciding on a start date out of the way, both sides are now finalising the details for discussion, as well as the contents of the first meeting, and who will take part on either side of the table.
The Spanish delegation will be made up of Sánchez himself, deputy prime ministers Pablo Iglesias and Carmen Calvo, and the ministers Salvador Illa, Carolina Darias, and Manuel Castells.
The Catalan team has not yet been confirmed, beyond Torra and the Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès, who is from the ERC party.
Ahead of the talks, the tone from both sides suggests that discussions will be far from straightforward.
Sánchez, speaking in Brussels on Thursday, suggested it would be best to ‘talk first about the easiest things’ that can be agreed on. The Spanish PM also warned that he views offering the dialogue table to his Catalan counterparts as a ‘quite substantial step’ forward.
Torra, meanwhile, is going into the talks with a clear set of goals. He wants an amnesty for the Catalan leaders convicted last October of sedition and sentenced to jail sentences of 9-13 years. The Catalan executive will also push for discussing the right to self-determination, the end of ‘repression’, and a working schedule in moving forward with the dialogue talks.
Torra and his Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party also believe a mediator is essential in guaranteeing that any agreements made in the talks are fulfilled, whilst the ERC party doesn’t see the position as necessary. Sánchez and the PSOE party agree with ERC, arguing ‘the 47 million Spaniards’ will be the mediators because there is ‘a desire for absolute transparency’.