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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