The anniversary of the Statute and bilateral talks

The pro-independence camp may harbour reservations about holding bilateral talks with the Spanish government, but it mustn’t leave the negotiating table

In 2010 Spain’s Constitutional Court announced the ruling that struck down Catalonia’s 2006 special charter —the Statute. Ten years later we have no shared diagnostic of that historical event. Last Sunday the PSOE and [its Catalan chapter] the PSC insisted that dialogue is the only possible way forward, but they failed to point out that the 2006 Statute is precisely an example of the shortcomings that path. Catalan president Quim Torra stated that the ruling is evidence to “the futility” of any dialogue that is limited by the Spanish Constitution.

One thing is undeniable: the situation has changed a great deal in the last ten years. An increasingly large segment of the Catalan people, nearly 50 per cent if we are to believe the opinion polls and recent election results, believes that independence is the single project that guarantees the best future for their nation. At the same time, Spain’s political parties remain unable to offer an attractive alternative to the majority of Catalans. Catalonia’s independence bid arose out of this stalemate, culminating in the independence vote on 1 October 2017 and its aftermath, until repression and a disconcerting strategy left a good deal of the Catalan people outraged and in shock.

As far as Spain is concerned, the only novelty in the last two years has been the PSOE acknowledging the political nature of the Catalan conflict and, therefore, the need for a political solution. As part of the agreement between the PSOE and ERC to get PM Pedro Sánchez reelected, it was decided that the Catalan government and its Spanish counterpart would begin a dialogue [aimed at resolving the conflict], although the representatives of both sides have only managed to meet once due to the coronavirus crisis.

With the return to some kind of normality, a second meeting is still in the cards, but no date has been set yet. Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, declared on Sunday that he wishes to hold a second meeting but the the current “election climate” in Catalonia, where snap elections are due to be held some time this year or early next, poses an additional problem. That is a flimsy excuse. If PM Sánchez truly believes in dialogue, he cannot use the elections —which have yet to be called— as an excuse not to set a date for the two government delegations to meet again.

Having said that, it is common knowledge that president Torra is hardly enthusiastic about such talks and he knows that he will not be re-elected because Spain’s Supreme Court will likely disqualify him in autumn [following a conviction for disobedience]. This becomes blatantly obvious every time the subject comes up. Being reasonably skeptical —and there are many reasons to be so— is one thing; but being responsible for the failure of the talks is a different matter altogether.

Even in the hardest days of October 2017 Catalonia’s independence movement has always taken pride in being open to dialogue and it should remain that way, despite all the disagreement and distrust. The public opinion in Catalonia and abroad —the European institutions, too— must see that the Catalan delegation stays seated at the negotiating table, including the representative appointed by Carles Puigdemont himself (which makes the exiled Catalan leader an interlocutor, too, albeit indirectly). The Catalan delegation must keep offering dialogue, time and again and, therefore, laying hurdles on the path to a second meeting is a bad strategy.

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