BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister and Catalonia's leader met Wednesday to restart negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region’s separatist movement.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the two-hour meeting with regional president Pere Aragonès was important to continue mending relations between their governments, but that there would be no quick fix to the secession conundrum.
“Our positions are very different, it is important to underscore that. We will have to talk a lot, listen to each other, and make efforts to bring out positions together where we can. We are not going to resolve a decade-long crisis in one day,” Sánchez said.
“(But) we agree that these negotiations are the best way forward.”
While Aragonès repeated his demands that Spain authorize a referendum on independence and grant a general amnesty to all separatists in trouble with the law, Sánchez insisted on finding ways to improve the economic and social wellbeing of Catalans inside Spain.
“It is time to build trust,” Aragonès said. “Both governments demonstrated today the will to advance forward in the resolution of this conflict.”
Expectations were low for any huge advances from the meeting which has caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Republican Left of Catalonia party call the talks a “historic opportunity.”
But leaders of the junior party in Aragonès’ government did not attend the meeting and have voiced their doubts about its chances of success. The influential grassroots group National Catalan Assembly said that the talks will only serve to derail their cause.
The talks come with 7.5 million Catalans entrenched in two roughly equal camps. Polls and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to remain in Spain, while the other half wants to sever all ties.
Sánchez inherited the political crisis when he took office in 2018, not a year after the leaders of Catalonia’s government and separatist grassroots groups failed in a unilateral breakaway bid that violated the Spanish Constitution.
In a bold move to reduce tensions, the Socialist leader took the decision in June to pardon the nine imprisoned instigators of the 2017 secession attempt. Both the pardons and the talks have been heavily criticized by Spain’s right-wing parties.
After years of scant dialogue between Catalonia’s leaders and Spain’s then ruling conservatives, Sánchez met with Aragonès’ predecessor, Quim Torra, in February 2020 in Madrid. The outcome of that meeting was to agree to hold meetings once a month. But those were put on hold by the pandemic, which struck Spain just weeks after.
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