In the space of just six hours on Thursday afternoon, President Pedro Sánchez performed an inelegant about-face on an earlier surprise decision by his government to postpone talks with Catalan regional government officials, as agreed with Catalonia’s Esquerra Republicana in exchange for the abstention in Congress by Esquerra deputies that brought Sánchez to office earlier this month.
At around noon on Thursday, the Sánchez government announced it was postponing a first meeting of the so-called mesa de dialogo talks aimed at resolving the political conflict in Catalonia until after a new Catalan government is in place, following upcoming regional elections expected to be held later this Spring.
But, following an hour-long meeting later in the afternoon at the Moncloa presidential palace between Sánchez and Esquerra Republicana’s spokesperson in Congress, Gabriel Rufián, the government reversed its decision and said that a first meeting of the mesa would indeed be held prior to the Catalan elections.
The first announcement of the day by the Sánchez government came just hours after Catalan President Quim Torra gave a radio interview in which he made it clear that he would make the mesa de dialogo talks between the two governments contingent upon Sánchez’s response to demands Torra said he intended to put forward in a 6th February one-to-one meeting with Sánchez.
Torra, who lost his seat in the Catalan regional Parlament earlier this week, announcing within hours that he would dissolve the Parlament and call snap regional elections for an-as-yet-undetermined date later this Spring, said in the radio interview that in his upcoming meeting with Sánchez the Spanish president must provide an adequate response to what Torra said were Catalonia’s just demands for self-determination, namely the right to hold a binding referendum on the region’s separation from the rest of Spain.The first in a series of mesa de dialogo meetins between Spanish and Catalan government officials to attempt to resolve the ongoing political conflict in Catalonia was agreed by negotiators of Sánchez’s Socialist party and Catalonia’s ERC to take place within 15 days of Sánchez taking office on 8th January.
But, that deadline faded when Torra demanded that he first meet one-to-one with Sánchez to discuss the outlines of the talks that were to take place.
Immediately following Torra’s radio interview Thursday, Spain’s 1st Vice-President and Minister for the Presidency, Carmen Calvo, referred to the upcoming talks tentatively, saying that “if they were” to take place then there would be no discussion of anything that would run contrary to Spain’s juridical framework, a kind of code-language used by the Socialists to mean Spain’s Constitution — which does not allow referendums on independence from Spain by any region of the country.
The statement issued by the Sanchez government postponing the talks aid that while the Sánchez government remains eager to begin the “dialogue process with the Catalan government to resolve the political conflict” the talks will not start until after Catalonia’s regional elections. “The sooner the elections are held and there is a new government,” said the statement, “the sooner we will start the dialogue.”
That announcement prompted harsh reactions from the ERC, however, and within hours Rufián was dispatched to Moncloa to make clear to Sánchez that the Catalan party expected him to stick to their agreement that the dialogue between the central and regional governments would take place immediately.
Whatever argument Rufián put forward to Sánchez obviously was a strong one, since just prior to 7 p.m. on Thursday a new statement reversing the government’s decision of just a few hours earlier was forthcoming: “We express our willingness to hold the dialogue table between governments agreed before the Catalan elections”.
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