Madrid eyes fresh dialogue with Catalonia after jailed separatists’ trial

Madrid hopes the upcoming ruling in the case of 12 Catalan separatist leaders will enable it to open fresh dialogue with the wealthy northeastern region, a junior minister said Tuesday.

Madrid eyes fresh dialogue with Catalonia after jailed separatists' trial
People hold banners demanding unity and acquittal for jailed Catalan separatist leaders during a demonstration in late September. Photo: AFP

Speaking just days before the Supreme Court is due to rule on the fate of those responsible for the abortive 2017 independence bid, Irene Lozano said she hoped the trial's end could provide fresh impetus to resume dialogue.

“It will be a good moment to re-open the door… and start to resolve the conflict politically,” she told reporters.

But the looming verdict has hiked tensions in the region, with prosecutors calling for a harsh penalty that could see former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras facing up to 25 years behind bars for rebellion.

Lozano was appointed last year to head Global Spain, a public diplomacy agency set up by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government to defend the country's image abroad, particularly over the Catalan crisis.

There were many aspects “which fell within the remit of the Constitution”, that could be discussed in terms of possibly increasing regional autonomy, she said, noting it was time “to reduce the tensions” in Catalonia.

But it was necessary for the pro-independence movement to “recognise the failure” of its strategy of “misinforming its own people” by promising them independence which never materialised.

Although staunchly opposed to any vote on independence, Sanchez has tried to talk with the separatists since taking power in June 2018.

But it quickly fell apart with the separatists withdrawing their support for Sanchez's government, which was forced to call new elections in April that did little to resolve the political deadlock.

The country will once again head to the polls next month for its fourth election in as many years, with the Catalan question a central issue in the campaign.

At the weekend, Sanchez said the Catalan separatist project had “failed”, saying it had been “based on a pack of lies”.

“When a false and exclusive idea about identity and democracy endangers… coexistence within society… there is clearly a failure, which is what has happened with the sovereignty movement in Catalonia,” he said.

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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.