The Barcelona-Madrid talks and the future of the independence process

JxCat’s representatives at the negotiating table will answer to Carles Puigdemont alone

The government has revealed the names of the Catalan representatives who will engage in talks with their Spanish counterparts starting tomorrow. President Quim Torra and VP Pere Aragonès will be joined by ministers Jordi Puigneró and Alfred Bosch, plus three MPs (Marta Vilalta, Josep Maria Jové and Elsa Artadi) and Josep Rius, president Puigdemont’s former chief of staff. This came as a necessary move after Madrid announced the names of their representatives: VPs Carmen Calvo and Pablo Iglesias, ministers Carolina Darias, Salvador Illa and Manuel Castells, plus PM Pedro Sánchez.

The Catalan team includes names that do not form part of the government, but carry significant political heft nonetheless. Vilalta represents ERC as a party and Jové enjoys the complete trust of Oriol Junqueras. Besides, both of them have the experienced of having clinched the deal with the PSOE that led to the talks which are about to kick off.

JxCat’s choices can also be interpreted politically. Puigneró, Artadi and Rius are all very close to Carles Puigdemont so the party —which is busy sorting itself out at the moment— is sending a crystal clear message about the authority of the exiled president. Absent from the delegation are the minister for the Presidency, Meritxell Budó —someone who is close to Jordi Turull— and other ministers who harbour ambitions about their own political careers, such as Damià Calvet (close to Josep Rull) and Àngels Chacon, the candidate proposed by the PDECat’s pragmatic faction. All in all, Puigdemont will have full control of the JxCat representatives in these talks, a clear sign that the exiled leader is taking this opportunity very seriously. Given that there will be a snap election later this year and the Catalan government’s days are numbered, both ERC and JxCat have opted for a more political profile when picking their representatives.

At any rate, the eight Catalan representatives will be faced with a great responsibility from Wednesday: their job is to steer the negotiation towards a successful end, event though this will take time and won’t be an easy endeavour. There is no magic solution for it, but there are some prerequisites that must be met. First of all, the Catalan team must work as one and disregard the election calendar in Catalonia, as well as everyone’s individual interests. If they engage in a race to show who is the best, who makes the boldest demands or who is the most skeptical, rather than negotiating with the PSOE, failure will ensue. It has been extremely difficult to get this far and partisan shortsightedness cannot be allowed to ruin it all.

The second condition for these talks to bear fruit is that together they manage to build a climate of mutual trust between the two teams, which should be able to shield themselves from the loud chatter that will surround the negotiation. The objective will be achieved only by ignoring the more mundane issues and establishing rapport. You could argue that it is naive to think that these talks will lead to anything substantial. But the question remains: what is the alternative?

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