BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The president of the Spanish government and the president of Catalonia met on Wednesday to resume negotiations in the hope of finding a solution to the political crisis caused by the regional separatist movement.
The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the regional president Pere Aragonès met at the headquarters of the Catalan government in the center of Barcelona.
There was little expectation of big breakthroughs at the meeting, which has caused a split in the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party called the talks a “historic opportunity,” but leaders of the junior partner in Aragonès’ governing coalition have publicly expressed doubts about the chances of the separatists obtaining real concessions.
The influential Catalan National Assembly, a grassroots group, went further and claimed that the talks will only serve to divert the cause.
The 7.5 million Catalans are divided into two almost equal camps and the electoral results of the last five years reveal that half of Catalonia wants to stay in Spain while the other half wants to break ties.
Sánchez has been determined to find a solution to the crisis he inherited when he took office in 2018, less than a year after Catalan leaders and separatist grassroots groups made a failed attempt at secession.
In June, Sánchez took the bold step of pardoning the nine instigators of the 2017 secession attempt who were in jail. Right-wing parties have strongly criticized both the pardons and the talks.
At the beginning of the meeting in Barcelona, Sánchez said that he will insist on finding a way to improve the economic and social well-being of the Catalans, while rejecting any claim to separatist sovereignty.
Aragonès insists that the only thing under discussion is the possibility of Spain authorizing a referendum on independence and a general amnesty for separatists who have problems with the law.
In February 2020, after years of little dialogue between Catalan leaders and the ruling right in Spain, Sánchez met in Madrid with Aragonès’ predecessor, Quim Torres. The two agreed to meet once a month, but the pandemic forced that plan to be suspended.