It is blatantly obvious that the Spanish government and the PSOE are in no rush to resume the political talks with the Generalitat, just as they are toying with the idea of ditching ERC and picking Ciudadanos as their preferred parliamentary partner. On Tuesday Spanish government sources explained that the rift within the Catalan government and its president’s “erratic” moves are the reasons why no attempts have been made to set a date for the next bilateral meeting. Mertixell Budó, the Catalan government’s spokesperson, was also reluctant to suggest a date and passed the buck to Madrid.
Everybody knows that bilateral talks between Barcelona and Madrid are highly unlikely to yield any results before the snap elections are held in Catalonia and the political scenario becomes clear; that is, once we know how much electoral support each actor has received. But that is hardly a reason not to hold a meeting in July as, just like with movement, dialogue requires practice. If the Spanish government expects its willingness to dialogue to retain any credibility before the Catalan public, it must take action and set a date for a meeting with the Catalan representatives. Otherwise the message they will be sending is that PM Sánchez’s U-turn after the November elections was just a ruse to secure his reelection.
It is also worrying that the Catalan camp has failed to agree on a position when it comes to these talks. In principle both ERC and JxCat support the idea of dialogue as a means to resolve Catalonia’s political conflict and, therefore, they should both put pressure on the Spanish government to keep their end of the bargain: one meeting per month. However, only ERC seems truly interested in holding a meeting this month. JxCat remains wary of a negotiating table that was agreed upon by ERC only.
Beyond these suspicions and squabbles, the parties that support the Catalan government ought to appreciate the importance of this instrument, which places the president of Catalonia and his Spanish counterpart on equal terms and sends a message about Catalonia’s willingness to find a negotiated solution to the Catalan issue. These talks take a toll on PM Sánchez before Madrid’s opposition and that is why he shuns the idea of another meeting, but they legitimise Catalonia’s independence claims before the international community. For that reason, it is a mistake for anyone in Catalonia to throw a spanner in the works, as it only benefits the PSOE and its leader, Pedro Sánchez, who is hoping to use the pandemic crisis to put the Catalan issue on the back burner.
At the very least, the Catalan strategy should aim to expose the Spanish prime minister and make him choose between Ciudadanos and Catalonia’s pro-independence parties. If someone must sabotage the talks, it cannot be the Catalan side, whose best credential is its solid predisposition for dialogue. That is why now is not the time for partisan electioneering, but to play the game on the Spanish chessboard; that is, on Europe’s.