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In Catalonia Secession Talks, 2 Leaders in Spain Try to Bridge Divide

MADRID — Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain on Wednesday held a long-awaited assembly together with his regional counterpart in Catalonia to hunt an finish to Spain’s territorial battle, 4 years after a failed Catalan secession try and 18 months after a primary spherical of negotiations was abruptly curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The talks between Mr. Sánchez and Pere Aragonès, the regional chief of Catalonia, mark probably the most vital try but to come back to an settlement in what has been for the previous decade probably the most divisive subject in Spanish politics: the destiny of Catalonia, a area of seven.5 million folks cut up down the center on whether or not to develop into a republic.

Analysts warned that the negotiations would even be fraught with hindrances. Whereas Mr. Aragonès, a reasonable independence politician, took workplace this 12 months promising a dialogue, he has confronted skepticism from Catalonia’s hard-line events.

The ruptures have been on show Wednesday when one of many events, Collectively for Catalonia, didn’t ship delegates after their first selections had been rejected by Mr. Aragonès.

“The largest impediment would be the divisions throughout the independence events,” mentioned José Ignacio Torreblanca, a politics professor on the Nationwide Distance Schooling College in Madrid.

The negotiations are happening within the shadow of a battle that reached a boiling level in 2017 and which nonetheless roils Spain.

That 12 months, Catalonia’s authorities staged an independence referendum in defiance of Spain’s authorities and its courts, which declared the vote unlawful. Law enforcement officials confiscated ballots and even beat individuals who tried to vote. A lot of the organizers have been arrested and given lengthy jail sentences for sedition.

Each side stay embittered, however indicators of a thaw appeared this 12 months.

After an election in February, Mr. Aragonès took workplace as the brand new regional chief. He nonetheless seeks independence, however pledged to de-escalate the battle with Spain by talks. Then in June, Mr. Sánchez gave pardons to the 9 independence activists who had been given sentences for sedition.

In an interview after the talks, Mr. Aragonès mentioned his place boiled down to 2 major targets: a common amnesty for independence leaders he mentioned had been accused of crimes associated to their political actions; and holding a brand new referendum that might be negotiated with the Spanish authorities, a proposal Mr. Sánchez thus far has rejected as unconstitutional.

Mr. Aragonès mentioned he needed to discover the opportunity of creating laws in Spain that might legalize such a vote. “What’s essential is there’s a political will” to get to an settlement, he mentioned.

The difficulty of an amnesty may be a thorny one. Such a deal would come with Carles Puigdemont, the previous Catalan chief who fled Spain to flee costs. He didn’t obtain a pardon this 12 months as a result of he stays a fugitive, Spain mentioned.

However Mr. Aragonès mentioned solely an amnesty deal might flip the web page on the battle.

Whereas Catalan separatists have failed for years to garner vital worldwide help for his or her trigger, most notably on the stage of the European Union in Brussels, separatism has additionally dominated the political agenda elsewhere in Europe.

On Monday, Nicola Sturgeon, the chief of Scotland, known as on the British authorities to permit Scotland to carry one other independence referendum by the tip of 2023, following the one in 2014 by which Scots rejected splitting off.

A lot as in Scotland, there usually are not simply divisions in Catalonia over whether or not independence needs to be pursued but additionally between the events searching for independence. The difficulty has additionally proven the divide between residents of Catalonia’s capital and tourism hub, Barcelona, and smaller cities which have helped separatists maintain management of the regional parliament since 2015.

Mr. Aragonès represents the left-wing Esquerra Republicana celebration, which leapfrogged Collectively for Catalonia — the extra hard-line separatist celebration of the previous Catalan chief Mr. Puigdemont — within the final regional elections to develop into the most important separatist drive in Catalonia.

These tensions surfaced once more within the run-up to Wednesday’s assembly. Mr. Aragonès rejected Collectively for Catalonia’s nominees to the Catalan delegation, as a result of two of them weren’t within the regional authorities, however have been former prisoners who had been pardoned on the sedition costs.

The feuding between Esquerra Republicana and Collectively for Catalonia reveals “that there’s now a really vital divide between two events that had managed at the least to share the identical broad imaginative and prescient and agenda till 2017,” mentioned Lluís Orriols, a politics professor at Carlos III College in Madrid.

In distinction to Collectively for Catalonia, he mentioned, Esquerra Republicana has deserted the concept that independence could possibly be achieved unilaterally.

For Mr. Sánchez, however, the return to the negotiating desk presents two alternatives within the quick time period, Mr. Orriols mentioned: “pacifying what has lengthy been a hostile local weather in Catalonia and at the least avoiding that the battle returns to the streets.”

Mr. Orriols mentioned it additionally will increase Mr. Sánchez’s choices to stay prime minister ought to the subsequent elections in Spain produce a outcome that might require him and his Socialist celebration to proceed to manipulate with the help of the principle nationalist events of Catalonia.

Because the final elections in late 2019, Mr. Sánchez has led Spain’s first coalition authorities, alongside the smaller and extra left-wing Unidas Podemos celebration, and with the help of Catalan and Basque events to push laws by Parliament.

When it comes to really resolving the Catalan dispute, nonetheless, political specialists see little room for Mr. Sánchez to maneuver, because the chief of a minority authorities in Madrid and at a time when right-wing opposition events, particularly the ultranationalist Vox, are pushing for extra centralization in Spain, not much less.

Wednesday’s assembly was the primary of its sort since February 2020, when Mr. Sánchez had sought to kick-start the negotiations to resolve the Catalan battle, however his plan was placed on maintain by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that hit Spain significantly forcefully.

“There’s now an intense debate over whether or not decentralization has labored out in Spain, and it’s also clear that Sánchez can not ignore the truth that any profit given to Catalonia can be resented closely in all different areas of Spain,” mentioned Mr. Orriols.

In actual fact, the day earlier than Mr. Sánchez was resulting from journey to Barcelona, Juanma Moreno, the regional chief of Andalusia, Spain’s largest area, known as on Mr. Sánchez to open a separate bilateral negotiation with Andalusia.

“It isn’t cheap that privileges are being negotiated on the expense of the opposite territories of Spain,” Mr. Moreno argued.

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