A pleasant stroll around the Moncloa’s gardens followed by a three-hour meeting, served to “pave the way for dialogue", according to the joint statement issued by the two governments, the Spanish and the Catalan. The key, therefore, is that the talks have got off to a good start, with an agreement as to the ground rules governing how the negotiations will proceed. Basically it involves the creation of a joint working group which will hold monthly meetings that will alternate between Barcelona and Madrid. It was also agreed that all decisions will be made "within the secure framework of legality". For now both sides view the result of this first meeting as "positive".
These are just the ground rules, as we said, but they contain highly positive elements which would have been unthinkable only a few months ago. Firstly, in keeping with the agreement between ERC and the PSOE to get PM Sánchez elected, there is the recognition that a "political conflict" exists in Catalonia which requires a "political solution". Secondly, there is the acceptance on behalf of the Spanish government that the pro-independence parties are legitimate interlocutors, insofar as they represent Catalan government and a majority in parliament. It is an indirect acceptance to negotiate with the direct political representatives of both Carles Puigdemont, exiled in Brussels, and Oriol Junqueras, an inmate of Lledoners prison.
As a result, it is no exaggeration to say that the events which occurred last Wednesday completely change the version of the Catalan process which Spain has had up until now, both inside Spain and outside, in particular. It is now clear that a political conflict exists involving two parties which mutually recognise each other, and it is not a "coup" or a matter of public order which can only be dealt with by applying the Criminal Code. The European Union ought to make a note of that.
Catalonia’s independence process, after many twists and turns, is now entering a new, perhaps less epic yet more realistic phase, which will require large doses of patience and persistence, a long-term strategy which will achieve both the immediate objective of improving the lives of the Catalan people and reinforcing self-government, and also the ultimate objective: holding a referendum on self-determination and obtaining an amnesty for all those persecuted as part of the witch hunt against independence.
This new phase will also call for large doses of pedagogy. The leaders of the independence movement need to be forthright and explain to the people that the way of dialogue, undoubtedly the only viable way, will not be an easy one, nor will it yield immediate results. And in the meantime there is a country to govern and a social majority to win. It is logical to assume that Pedro Sánchez will fail to generate much confidence due to the fact that he continually changes his position, but in politics one needs to know how to make the most of a situation. And right now one has to accept that the Spanish PM has gone far beyond what anyone could have imagined a while ago. Wasting such an opportunity would be unforgivable.