Catalonia prepares for dialogue with Spain’s central government

A referendum on Catalonia’s independence held on 1 October 2017 was declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. About 90% of Catalan voters backed independence, but the turnout reached only 43%. The Catalan parliament then declared “independence” unilaterally. [Shutterstock/Josep Curto]

Political contacts between Spain’s central government and Catalonia’s pro-independence executive are due to start on Thursday or Friday, with both sides expressing opposing views on the prospects of independence for the prosperous Spanish region, a red line for Madrid, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

On Saturday (11 September) thousands of pro-independence Catalans marched in Barcelona as part of a massive demonstration organised by Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) to mark the National Day of Catalonia (“Diada”).

About 108,000 people took part in the march, according to the police while ANC spoke about 400,000 people, EFE reported.

Pro-independence referendum

The Catalan parliament unilaterally declared “independence” following a 2017 referendum which was declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Last June, nine Catalan separatists were released from prison after their sentences for their role in the banned pro-independence referendum were commuted by Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government.

They were more than three years into sentences of between nine and 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds, including pretrial detention.

Although not officially confirmed, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, will probably take part in the “Mesa de Diálogo” (dialogue table) later this week, Spanish media reported on Monday.

Asked whether he could confirm Sánchez’s presence in the conversations, Catalonia’s pro-independence president, Pere Aragonès, said last week that “the natural thing” would be that the socialist chief of the Spanish executive attends the meeting, Catalan newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya reported.

Spanish PM: Socialists will 'never' endorse Catalonia independence vote

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Wednesday that there will not be an independence referendum in Catalonia because the Socialist Party (PSOE) he leads “will never ever accept it.”

Dialogue only in the framework of the Spanish Constitution

Sources close to Catalonia’s regional executive (the “Generalitat”) stressed that Aragonès wants to touch upon sensitive issues such as the independence of Catalonia, a prosperous region in the northeast of Spain, with 7.5 million inhabitants, but wants to set aside the last political row with Madrid over the expansion of Barcelona’s El Prat airport.

The Spanish government however made clear on several occasions that it is ready to discuss topics with the Catalan executive strictly in the framework of the Spanish Constitution.

The Spanish government, a coalition of the socialist party (PSOE) and left-wing Unidas-Podemos (United We Can), has recently ruled out an expansion plan for El Prat airport until at least 2026.

Spanish official sources explained last week that the planned investment of €1.7 billion for the project was being put on hold due to deep political differences with the Catalan executive.

Spain’s minister for Transportation, Raquel Sánchez, said in an interview with private radio station Cadena SER that this was “a missed opportunity” for Catalonia and Spain. The plan was to transform Barcelona’s airport into a key international hub.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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