In ‘cordial’ meeting with Catalan leader, Sánchez signals thaw

A handout photo made available by the Spanish Government shows Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L), and Catalonian regional President Quim Torra (R) talking during a meeting at Moncloa Palace, Madrid, Spain, 9 July 2018. [EPA/EFE]

Spain’s Prime Minister signaled a thaw in relations with Catalonia yesterday (9 July), signing up to joint initiatives in a first meeting with the region’s leader but again ruling out any moves toward Catalan independence.

In an atmosphere his office described as cordial, Pedro Sánchez spoke with pro-independence Catalan leader Quim Torra for more than two hours.

Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in October, prompting the then government of Mariano Rajoy to impose direct rule from Madrid.

Torra’s newly-elected administration continues to push for a split from Spain, but Socialist Sánchez has taken a less hardline tone on the region than his conservative predecessor, whom he replaced in June.

Sánchez and Torra agreed to re-instate a joint ministerial-level forum for discussing bilateral issues, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told a news conference. It last met seven years ago.

They also discussed organizing a joint commemorative event in the Catalan capital Barcelona for the 15 people killed in Islamist attacks in the region last August, Calvo said.

But she emphasized that, under Spain’s constitution, there was no possibility of a referendum on independence for the wealthy northeast region. Sánchez has made clear his firm opposition to any referendum or attempt at secession.

The two men smiled and shook hands before the meeting, which included a stroll around the grounds of the prime ministerial residence. Their next meeting will take place in Barcelona, Calvo said.

Torra – who presented Sánchez with a book of ancient Catalan maps and a bottle of ratafia, an after-dinner liquor – said his predecessor Carles Puigdemont should have been representing the region.

“But the meeting has been long, sincere and hard-working and we’ve been able to put forward our vision on Catalonia,” Torra said.

Puigdemont fled Spain after declaring independence following the referendum and is currently in Germany awaiting the outcome of a Spanish extradition request.

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