Pro-independence Catalans seek to bring Madrid back to negotiating table

Talks on territorial issue have been on ice since for nearly a year

The Catalan independence movement is hoping to persuade the Spanish government to return to the negotiating table, more than 10 months after incipient talks were put on hold and with a regional election on the horizon.

Fifty international personalities have signed a manifesto calling for political engagement between Madrid and Catalonia and the release of jailed political leaders.

The document, published on Monday and drawn up by the pro-independence civic organisation Òmnium Cultural, called on “the Spanish government and its Catalan counterparts to enter into unconditional dialogue in order to find a political solution enabling the citizens of Catalonia to decide their political future”.

Signatories included Nobel Peace laureates Jody Williams, of the United States, Shirin Ebadi, of Iran, and Northern Ireland's Maireád Corrigan. The manifesto had several other Irish signatories – Gerry Adams, lawyer Bill Shipsey and writer Colm Tóibín – as well as cultural figures such as Yoko Ono and Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.


Calling for an end to “political repression”, the manifesto also supported an amnesty for nine Catalan leaders who were given jail sentences in October of 2019 for their role in a failed bid for independence two years earlier. Last year, Catalan president Quim Torra was barred from office for disobeying an order by the electoral board, a move his supporters saw as politically motivated.

In early 2020, Spain’s new coalition government, led by Socialist Pedro Sánchez, agreed to hold a series of negotiations with the Catalan regional administration. The prime minister said he hoped to resolve the longstanding territorial crisis although he ruled out accepting the independence movement’s two main demands: a referendum on secession and the immediate release of prisoners.

Only one meeting was held, in late February, before coronavirus pushed the issue aside.

Pardon request

However, Catalonia has returned to the political arena recently, with the right-wing opposition claiming the Spanish government is attempting to appease pro-independence parties and therefore endangering the country’s unity.

Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), has accused the prime minister of making “a deal with radicals”.

The government’s willingness to process a pardon request for those jailed in 2019 has drawn particular ire, although no final decision has been made on the matter.

Also, Mr Sánchez, who governs with the leftist Podemos, has received the parliamentary support of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) in approving his 2021 budget. A partner in the north-eastern region’s governing coalition with the more unilateralist Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party, ERC sees talks with Madrid as the best path towards eventual independence.

If the Catalan and Spanish governments do resume their negotiations, they are unlikely to do so before a Catalan election on February 14th. The result of that vote – assuming it is not delayed by a new Covid-19 surge – is likely to be crucial in deciding how the independence movement, which has been divided in recent months, proceeds.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain