"We Catalans have been complete idiots for 500 years. So, should we stop being Catalans? Nope. We should stop being complete idiots”.
The so-called table will actually be two tables: a great table, a large one; and a small table, a little one. An opportunity or a fresh disappointment. It will ultimately depend on the political responsibility of the interlocutors and their ability to read the current situation and to act without being affected by self-deception. Of their willingness to give dialogue an honest chance or to make it fail by acting so that it does precisely that.
After many ups and downs, the thing which has ultimately proven most effective in forcing the Spanish government to change its strategy is parliamentary arithmetic. That is, the ability to influence the viability of the Spanish government.
A date has been set for the first meeting. The Spanish government is finding it easier to adapt to the new circumstances than its Catalan counterpart. Pedro Sánchez has chosen to disregard the dissenting voices in his own party following his recent act of contrition at Barcelona’s Palau de la Generalitat, where he admitted that he did not have the right to choose his Catalan interlocutors, thus acknowledging that President Torra is indeed the President of the Catalan government. Last week, Sánchez’s coalition government named its negotiating team, which will include the PSC's Secretary of Organization, Salvador Illa and Manuel Castells, the Minister for Higher Education, a Catalan from Hellín. The latter, a renowned sociologist, soon accepted the contradictions between theory and political reality by quickly leaving his personal views on the right to self-determination to one side.
While the Spanish government benefits from having these negotiations on the political calendar for their first year in office, in Catalonia the pro-independence camp risks running into an election campaign that will exposes the deep chasm that divides it. The strategic distance between JxCat and ERC gives Madrid’s negotiators a key advantage and weakens the Catalan government’s position and its ability to influence events, since it is made up of parties which are bound by a mutual distrust. Therefore, the political representatives of Catalan independence must decide how they will respond to the first opportunity they have had to negotiate with Madrid in ten years, and they are about to do so while divided by a short-sightedness which is worsened by the proximity of the upcoming snap elections. Divisions exist between the parties, as well as within (JxCat), as a disenfranchised president strives to be recognised as the leader of the independence movement by the numerous factions, but fails in the attempt.
Wednesday's meeting will be a great photo opportunity which will offer a poor outcome in return, and the parties are well aware of the fact. Everyone knows that the negotiations will only truly begin after the election, with new interlocutors on the Catalan side, and that if the PSOE wishes to retain ERC’s precious votes [in the Spanish parliament], it will have to move ahead in the Bilateral Commission's parallel negotiations and on a budget agreement. Some agreements are being drawn up between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, paving the way for a deal with ERC. The first of these are the changes to Spain’s Criminal Code, which will partially benefit the sentences handed down to the Catalan political prisoners. Secondly, the harmonization of inheritance and estate tax laws to reduce unfair competition with the Madrid region, which acts like a fiscal black hole, swallowing up the state's resources, due to the capital-effect which allows it to offer tax breaks, thus affording it a competitive edge. Thirdly, the acceptance that historically Madrid has failed to fulfil its obligations in terms of public spending in Catalonia and that in the meantime an investment calendar needs to be agreed upon. The Spanish government seems to have also understood that Carles Puigdemont won’t disappear off the political map and that his influence is important and that he mustn’t be underestimated if it wishes to build a climate of real dialogue.
It will take time for both sides to agree to see the events of recent years the same way, as Spanish VP Carmen Calvo wishes, but it is worth a try. It won’t be possible to reach a stable solution without a consensus between the political parties regarding the events which have occurred since the court ruling which shattered the Estatut, the Catalan home rule Charter. Or perhaps it will be necessary to go even further back in time, with the violation of the constitutional spirit —thanks to the imposition of a reactionary view of the unity of Spain— which led to the political Transition [after the Franco regime]. In the current climate it is hard to imagine a solution, which will require the passage of time, but the foundations can be laid nonetheless. There is no guarantee that these difficult talks will ultimately prove successful. Nevertheless, there is also no alternative, as even those who oppose them are well aware, but dare not say.