Crucial meeting between Catalan and Spanish leaders set for July 9

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Catalan president Quim Torra and Spanish president Pedro Sánchez will meet in Madrid on July 9, la Moncloa has announced. The first meeting between the two leaders is considered a crucial step towards regaining dialogue after Catalonia’s referendum on independence, the suspension of its self-government, and the imprisonment or exile of most of last cabinet.

The Catalan government has always insisted that it wants to open negotiations with Madrid “without pre-conditions.” For its part, the new Socialist government in Spain has admitted the need for dialogue, but has publicly ruled out any conversations on self-determination. The Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celáa asserted that the debate on the right to self-determination will stay “absolutely out of the discussion,” in negotiations with the Catalan executive.

“It would be nonsense to ignore millions of Catalans,” said Catalan government

However, the spokeswoman for the Catalan government, Elsa Artadi, said that Madrid should listen Catalans about independence. On Monday, Artadi said that demands for independence should absolutely be among the topics addressed in the upcoming meeting between the Catalan and Spanish presidents.

“It would be nonsense to ignore that millions of Catalans don’t want to continue being Spanish,” said Artadi. “It wouldn’t make sense to not talk about this, it’s purely logical,” she added.

Pro-independence parties won more than 2 million votes in the last election, and hold an overall majority in Parliament, with 70 out of 135 seats. Unionist groups have 57 seats, while Catalunya-En Comú Podem, which is not in favor or against independence but supports holding a referendum, has 8 MPs.

Last meeting was secret and in 2017

The meeting between Torra and Sánchez will arrive after a period of high tension between Madrid and Barcelona. The last time a Catalan and a Spanish president met was in January 2017, in a secret encounter between Carles Puigdemont and Mariano Rajoy that was later leaked to the press. The two leaders were completely at odds and did not manage to find a compromise.

Nine leaders currently in pre-trial prison

After the referendum on October 1 that the Spanish government tried to stop by using police force as it deemed it illegal, Puigdemont temporarily suspended a declaration of independence and urged dialogue and negotiations with Madrid. These never happened, though, so Parliament declared independence and the Spanish government immediately suspended self-rule.

Nine leaders are currently in pre-trial prison for their role during that period, including the former speaker of the house, the former vice president, several ministers and two activists. Meanwhile, seven others are in exile, among them Puigdemont, who is currently fighting extradition in Germany.

In fact, the situation of jailed and exiled leaders might be one of the topics on the table of Torra and Sánchez in their meeting. The Spanish president said this week it would be “reasonable” to transfer jailed politicians to Catalan prisons, closer to their relatives. Catalonia’s president wants them immediately released, but the willingness of the Spanish cabinet to at least transfer them is considered a change of tone from the hard-line strategy of the previous Rajoy government.