Harvard-educated lawyer Pere Aragones pledged to keep pushing for an independent Catalonia, pointing to Scotland's 2014 referendum approved by the UK as a positive example.
After months of squabbling between Catalan separatist parties, Catalonia lawmakers on Friday endorsed a new government led by leftist Pere Aragones.
The 38-year-old lawyer called for "immediately" restarting independence talks with Madrid, which have been suspended due to the pandemic. At the same time, he signaled a more moderate course than his predecessors.
"I want us to be like Scotland. And I would like it if the Spanish state behaved like Britain did in 2014," Aragones said.
The London-approved independence vote ended with Scotland choosing to stay in the United Kingdom, although calls for another referendum have since grown louder, primarily because of Brexit.
Who is Pere Aragones?
The new Catalan president comes from a family of industrialists and hotel owners. He joined the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party as a teenager and became a regional lawmaker at the age of 24, moving into government six years ago. Aragones also completed a part of his education at Harvard University.
He is the most senior ERC leader who is not in jail over the region's unilateral independence bid in 2017. On Monday, Aragones called for amnesty for Catalan leaders who have been jailed or exiled over the dispute.
However, the new Catalan president said he would not reassert the independence claim until there was more support among the voters. The wealthy region of over 7.5 million people remains almost equally split on the issue in opinion polls. The ERC placed second behind a pro-union Socialist party in the February election, but separatist groups combined still managed to secure an overall majority.
How did Madrid react?
The Spanish government, led by Pedro Sanchez, remains firmly opposed to both the referendum and the amnesty for separatist leaders. On Friday, Sanchez congratulated Aragones and pledged to work together reconciliation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
"Let's make it possible," Sanchez said on Twitter.
On Sunday thousands of people, among them the leaders of the three parties on Spain’s right, will once again gather in the Madrid square that boasts the world’s largest Spanish flag to protest against the Socialist-led government’s handling of the Catalan independence crisis.
The question of pardoning the Catalan leaders remains deeply divisive in Spain, a fact not lost on opposition parties and many people in Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE). A recent poll for El Mundo found that 61% of those surveyed did not agree with pardoning them, while 29.5% backed it.
Although the government will have the final say, Spain’s supreme court issued a non-binding report opposing the pardons last month, saying the sentences handed out were appropriate and noting those convicted had not shown “the slightest evidence or faintest hint of contrition”.
Sánchez, however, insists the pardons could be the best way to cool enduring tensions and move towards a political solution to the territorial impasse. “I do understand that there will be people who have objections to the decision the government might make – especially after the events of 2017,” the prime minister said on Wednesday. “But I ask them to put their trust in us because we need to work on coexistence … Spanish society needs to move from a bad past to a better future – and that will require magnanimity.”
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Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain met with the leader of Catalonia in an attempt to resolve the fate of the region.
MADRID — Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain on Wednesday held a long-awaited meeting with his regional counterpart in Catalonia to seek an end to Spain’s territorial conflict, four years after a failed Catalan secession attempt and 18 months after a first round of negotiations was abruptly curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Analysts warned that the negotiations would also be fraught with stumbling blocks. While Mr. Aragonès, a moderate independence politician, took office this year promising a dialogue, he has faced skepticism from Catalonia’s hard-line parties.
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“The biggest obstacle will be the divisions within the independence parties,” said José Ignacio Torreblanca, a politics professor at the National Distance Education University in Madrid.
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After an election in February, Mr. Aragonès took office as the new regional leader. He still seeks independence, but pledged to de-escalate the conflict with Spain through talks. Then in June, Mr. Sánchez gave pardons to the nine independence activists who had been given sentences for sedition.
In an interview after the talks, Mr. Aragonès said his position boiled down to two main goals: a general amnesty for independence leaders he said had been accused of crimes related to their political actions; and holding a new referendum that would be negotiated with the Spanish government, a proposal Mr. Sánchez so far has rejected as unconstitutional.
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Much as in Scotland, there are not just divisions in Catalonia over whether independence should be pursued but also between the parties seeking independence. The issue has also shown the divide between residents of Catalonia’s capital and tourism hub, Barcelona, and smaller towns that have helped separatists keep control of the regional parliament since 2015.
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[In regard to the divisions within the independence parties, me] The feuding between Esquerra Republicana and Together for Catalonia shows “that there is now a very significant divide between two parties that had managed at least to share the same broad vision and agenda until 2017,” said Lluís Orriols, a politics professor at Carlos III University in Madrid.
In contrast to Together for Catalonia, he said, Esquerra Republicana has abandoned the idea that independence could be achieved unilaterally.
For Mr. Sánchez, on the other hand, the return to the negotiating table presents two opportunities in the short term, Mr. Orriols said: “pacifying what has long been a hostile climate in Catalonia and at least avoiding that the conflict returns to the streets.”
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It's difficult to believe that drive for independence is driven by just half of the Catalonian population. One would think that at least 60%, and probably more, of the population would be required to effect demands for independence.
Because of the hard-line response to the independence movement by the government, and the obdurateness of the hard-line movement leaders, the issue has gone beyond the original cause of the drive for independence, the distribution of tax revenues, that isn't even mentioned anymore in regard to the independence issue.