Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is meeting with Catalan independence groups in an attempt to ease tensions.
This includes sitting with Regional President Pere Aragonès at the Catalan government headquarters in downtown Barcelona.
Expectations are low for any huge breakthrough from the meeting that caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his party of the Republican Left of Catalonia describe the talks as “a historic opportunity”.
But the leaders of the Aragonès government’s junior party have publicly expressed their doubts about the chances that there will be any real gains for the separatists. The influential popular group Catalan National Assembly goes further, saying the talks will only serve to derail their cause.
The talks are taking place with 7.5 million Catalans entrenched in two roughly equal camps. Polls and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to stay in Spain, while the other half wants to sever all ties.
“I have always defended dialogue … the need to open a new chapter,” said the Spanish Prime Minister.
Spain said any vote on Catalonia’s future should be on a proposal to improve the northeast region’s relations with the rest of Spain.
While Sánchez has been committed to improving relations with Catalonia since coming to power in 2018, he has always said that an independence referendum was “unconstitutional”.
Spain was rocked by the campaign for Catalan independence in 2017.
Despite a judicial ban, the regional government of Carles Puigdemont held a referendum and then declared independence.
Madrid – which considered voting illegal – responded by arresting the movement’s main leaders, and nine were subsequently jailed for their roles in 2019.
In June, jailed pro-independence leaders were pardoned by Sánchez’s government, in an attempt to further improve relations.
The current Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, said he would urge Sánchez on Wednesday to accept a referendum on the independence of the region.
The leader of Catalonia had announced that he was excluding a separatist party from its regional coalition in power from talks with the central government.
Together for Catalonia (JxCat) had offered to send two of its members, who had served prison terms for their role in the secession attempt.
But Aragonès said the meeting was between the governments of Spain and Catalonia and not representatives of political parties.
JxCat took a more radical approach to confront Spain’s central government, relations between Madrid and Barcelona softened under Aragonès.
Catalonia also hopes to secure economic gains from talks with Sanchez’s left-wing coalition while continuing to push for independence.