State-Generalitat relations
Politics 08/07/2022

Aragonès and Sánchez will meet on July 15 in Madrid to resume dialogue

Generalitat and Spanish government agree to "a minimum" of two meetings of the negotiating table before the end of the year

4 min
Meeting between Laura Vilagrà and Fèlix Bolaños at the Generalitat on July 8.

BarcelonaFriday July 15 at the Spanish presidential palace in Madrid. This is the date and place chosen for the meeting between Catalan president Pere Aragonès and Spanish president Pedro Sánchez, in what should be the meeting which definitively restores relations between the two governments. These have been deeply affected by a series of events, most recently the Catalangate spying scandal. The date was decided this Friday in a face-to-face meeting held at the Palau de la Generalitat by Catalan and Spanish Presidency ministers, Laura Vilagrà and Félix Bolaños.

"Today we give a definitive boost to the process of dialogue that has to advance in the next months", Bolaños proclaimed, appearing before the press after the meeting. The minister highlighted the meeting's "constructive tone" –which lasted almost two hours– and announced "important agreements to strengthen institutional relations". He referred to the fact that, apart from the date of the meeting between presidents, the two governments have also agreed on a document that lays the the guidelines for this dialogue's evolution.

The agreed text's highlight is the commitment for the dialogue table to meet at least twice before the end of the year. In addition, it includes some of the "guarantees" that the Generalitat demanded from the Socialists so that it would not be able to avoid convening meetings, as has often been the case up until now. It says, for example, that the table will meet alternately between Madrid and Barcelona and that the meeting will only be made public if there are "agreements to be communicated". There is also a reference to the need to put "an end to the judicialisation of the political conflict"; however, no specifics are given despite the fact that the cases affecting the independence movement are still accumulating in the courts.

Be that as it may, Generalitat sources consulted by ARA assure that this text is "a first step" to build back trust in the negotiation and that documents like this are usual in conversations on political conflicts. "There are times when this document takes years, especially in armed conflicts," they add. The last point of the document makes a reference to the need to respect "at all times fundamental rights", which the Generalitat interprets as the first commitment – albeit "between the lines", they admit – of "non-repetition" of espionage cases such as Catalangate.

It is not the first document the Spanish government has agreed with the independence movement: there was the Pedralbes declaration of December 2018 and the joint agreement after the first meeting of the dialogue table in February 2020. In 2020 the Spanish government already took on the commitment to convene the dialogue table alternately between Barcelona and Madrid – it was even said that it would be once a month – yet never fulfilled it.

Recovering the narratives

After Bolaños's appearance, it was Catalan Presidency minister Laura Vilagrà's turn; she was less euphoric than the minister. She did celebrate that both today's meeting and the agreed document prove once again a shared commitment to the "path of negotiation" as the only possible way to achieve the "resolution of the political conflict", but warned that relations between governments are not yet completely "normalised". She did not hide the fact that she had a different interpretation to Bolaños's: "I am less optimistic than the minister".

From this Friday's meeting no great advances have come out, but it allows the two governments to recover their respective stories about the political conflict. The Generalitat –or at least ERC– can claim that its commitment to negotiation can bear fruit – proof of which would be today's agreement. This would help it shed the pressure from the most radical pro-independence sectors, which question this strategy. Meanwhile, the Spanish government can claim the situation is more peaceful than under the previous prime minister, despite not making major concessions to the independence movement. The question, however, remains the same as always: whether all this can lead to great final agreements, taking into account that one side defends self-determination and amnesty and the other rejects both outright.

The composition of the dialogue table

Now that the question of when the meeting between presidents will take place has been resolved, it remains to be seen when the dialogue table will take place. The Government would like the first meeting to be held before August, but the date has not yet been decided. One of the controversies that revolves around this negotiation instrument is who should its members be. Very briefly: ERC wants that only Catalan cabinet members, while JxCat wants to open the door to former political prisoners. This morning, before the meeting, the Minister of Culture, Miquel Iceta, seemed to align himself with JxCat's thesis by opening the door to former political prisoner Jordi Turull attending – "And why not?", he said. Bolaños, however, closed ranks with ERC hours later: "The dialogue table is a table between governments and therefore is formed by members of the governments of Spain and Catalonia".

Relations between ERC and JxCat are always delicate, but one of the thorniest issues is how to face this dialogue. There have been numerous skirmishes between them. In order to try not to reproduce this tension today, ERC sources in the Catalan government assure that before the meeting between Vilagrà and Bolaños they had already informed JxCat their will to close a date for the meeting between presidents and also to agree on this framework document on the negotiation. At the end of the meeting, Aragonès informed JxCat secretary general Jordi Turull, and Vilagrà informed vice-president Jordi Puigneró.

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