In Bid to End Secession Dispute, Spain Tries Talking with Catalonia

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met with the leader of Catalonia in an attempt to sort out the fate of the region.

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MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez held a long-awaited meeting with his regional counterpart in Catalonia on Wednesday, calling for an end to Spain’s territorial conflict, four years after a failed Catalan secession effort and 18 months. After the first round of talks happened suddenly. Cuts from the coronavirus pandemic.

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The talks between Catalonia’s regional leader Mr. Sánchez and Pere Aragonese mark the most significant effort for the past decade to come to an agreement on what is considered the most divisive topic in Spanish politics: the fate of Catalonia, a region 7.5 One in a million people split down the middle to become a republic.

Analysts have warned that the talks will also be full of obstacles. While Mr Aragonese, a moderate independence politician, took office this year promising a dialogue, he has faced suspicion from the hardline parties of Catalonia.

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The breakdown was demonstrated on Wednesday when one of the parties, Together for Catalonia, did not send representatives after Mr Aragonese rejected his first choice.

“The biggest obstacle will be divisions within the independence parties,” said Jose Ignacio Toreblanca, a professor of politics at the National Distance Education University in Madrid.

The talks are taking place in the shadow of a conflict that reached boiling point in 2017 and which still plagues Spain.

That year, the government of Catalonia, in defiance of the government of Spain and its courts, staged an independence referendum, which declared the vote invalid. Police officers confiscated ballot papers and even thrashed those who tried to vote. Several organizers were arrested and given long prison sentences for treason.

Both sides are outraged, but this year showed signs of a thaw.

Following the March election, Mr. Aragonese took over as regional leader. He still wants independence, but pledged to reduce conflict with Spain through negotiations. Then in June, Mr. Sanchez offered pardons to nine independence activists who had been sentenced to treason.

In an interview after the talks, Mr. Aragonese said his position boiled down to two main goals: a general amnesty for independence leaders he said were accused of crimes related to his political actions; And holding a new referendum that would be negotiated with the Spanish government, a proposal Mr Sánchez has so far dismissed as unconstitutional.

Mr Aragones said he wanted to explore the possibility of enacting a law in Spain that would legalize such a vote. “The important thing is that there should be political will to reach an agreement,” he said.

The issue of forgiveness can also be complicated. Such a deal would involve former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain to avoid charges. Spain said it did not receive an apology this year because he is still a fugitive.

But Mr. Aragonese said only a pardon deal could turn the page on the conflict.

While Catalan separatists have failed over the years to garner significant international support for their cause, particularly at the EU level in Brussels, separatism continues to dominate the political agenda elsewhere in Europe.

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon on Monday called on the British government to allow Scotland to take over Another independence referendum By the end of 2023, followed by one in 2014 in which the Scots rejected partition.

Like Scotland, not only should independence be pursued in Catalonia, but there are also divisions between the parties seeking independence. The issue has also mirrored the divide between residents of Catalonia’s capital and tourist hub, Barcelona, ​​and smaller towns that have helped separatists take control of the regional parliament since 2015.

Mr Aragones represents the left-wing Eskera Republican Party, which leapt together for Catalonia – the more rigid separatist party of former Catalan leader Mr Puigdemont – to become the largest separatist force in Catalonia in the last regional elections in March.

Those tensions surfaced again ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. Mr Aragonese simultaneously rejected for the Catalan delegation to the representatives of Catalonia, as the two of them were not in the regional government, but were former prisoners who had been pardoned on charges of treason.

The tussle between Escara Republicana and Together for Catalonia shows that “there is now a very significant division between two parties that had managed to share the same broad vision and agenda until at least 2017,” says Carlos III of Politics at the University Professor Louis Orioles said. in Madrid.

Unlike Together for Catalonia, he said, the Escara republicans have abandoned the idea that independence can be achieved unilaterally.

On the other hand, for Mr. Sánchez, a return to the negotiating table presents two opportunities in the short term, Mr. Orioles said: “to pacify the long-standing hostile environment in Catalonia and at least avoid the possibility that the conflict returns.” . Streets.”

Mr Orioles said it also expands Mr Sánchez’s options to remain prime minister if the next elections in Spain result in him and his Socialist Party continuing to govern with the support of Catalonia’s main nationalist parties. .

Since the last elections in late 2019, Mr Sánchez has led Spain’s first coalition government, with the smaller and more left-wing Unidas Podemos party, and with Catalan and Basque parties to push legislation through parliament. with support.

In terms of actually resolving the Catalan dispute, however, political experts see little room for Mr Sánchez to intervene, as the leader of the minority government in Madrid and at a time when right-wing opposition parties, particularly The ultranationalist voxes are emphasizing more centralization in Spain, no less.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of its kind since February 2020, when Mr Sanchez sought to start talks to resolve the Catalan conflict, but his plan was put on hold by the start of the coronavirus pandemic that has left Spain was especially forcefully killed.

“There is now intense debate as to whether decentralization has worked in Spain, and it is also clear that Sánchez cannot ignore the fact that any advantage given to Catalonia has been passed on to all other regions of Spain. There will be huge protests,” Mr Orioles said.

In fact, a day before Mr. Sanchez’s visit to Barcelona, ​​Juanma Moreno, the regional leader of Spain’s largest region, Andalusia, called on Mr. Sanchez to start a separate bilateral dialogue with Andalusia.

“It is not fair that privileges are being negotiated at the expense of other regions of Spain,” Mr Moreno argued.

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