World, Europe

Spanish, Catalan leaders restart talks in rare meeting

Leaders agreed to launch official negotiating table this month to address political feud

Alyssa McMurtry   | 06.02.2020
Spanish, Catalan leaders restart talks in rare meeting Catalonia's regional president Quim Torra (R) meets Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) at the Generalitat (Catalan govenrment headquarters) in Barcelona, Spain on February 06, 2020. ( Adria Puig - Anadolu Agency )

OVIEDO, Spain

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan President  emerged optimistic from a much-anticipated meeting on Thursday aimed at thawing the icy relations between Madrid and Barcelona.

“Today is a very important day for Catalonia and the entire country of Spain, it’s the day that dialogue begins,” said Sanchez in a press conference. “The last decade has been defined by conflict and social tension… no one has won, we’ve all lost, no one can feel proud of what has happened.”

Sanchez referred to the rise of separatism in the northeastern region of Spain that has seen millions of people protesting on the streets, illegal independence referendums, a unilateral declaration of independence, the suspension of home rule and the jailing of several Catalan leaders.

In a major step towards fostering dialogue, Sanchez announced that an official negotiating table will be set later this month between the national and regional governments.

Sanchez said he appreciated the “tone and disposition of Torra,” and that he hoped to communicate his “sincere will to talk and come to an agreement.”

Yet today’s rare meeting between the leaders did not occur only because of Sanchez. Meeting with Torra and opening negotiations were conditions placed upon him by the separatist ERC -- a far-left Catalan nationalist party -- in exchange for their support in forming a government. Separatist support will also be needed for Spain to pass the 2020 budget.

“The meeting was cordial. But now, it’s time to move on from cordiality to get results,” said Torra. “We know what we will defend at the negotiation table, but we’re still not sure what Spain wants.”

Torra said he will demand a valid independence referendum and the “end of repression” in the form of amnesty for the jailed Catalan leaders.

Torra himself was found guilty of disobedience for refusing to remove separatist symbols from public buildings in December and barred from holding office for 18 months.

Despite his appeal, in January, the Catalan Parliament decided that he would lose his seat in the regional parliament. He is still, however, considered the regional president. In December, Torra announced he will trigger snap regional elections later this year.

“We aren’t here to generate false expectations. … the negotiations must be about finding real solutions to the real conflict," Torra concluded.

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