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Spanish government breaks off talks with Catalonia

Deputy PM Carmen Calvo says separatist parties are rejecting offers, and warns that a veto of the budget plan could lead to early elections

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo after the Cabinet meeting.

Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, announced on Friday that talks with Catalan separatist parties are off, and that there will be no more proposals from Madrid.

“This government made a firm decision to build as many bridges as possible, but right now the framework we have created is not being accepted by the pro-independence parties,” said Calvo following the Cabinet meeting.

Without a budget, the political term gets cut short

Deputy PM Carmen Calvo

The Socialist Party (PSOE) official also noted that if these parties fail to support the government’s budget plan next week, as they are threatening to do, it could lead to early elections in Spain.

“Without a budget, the political term gets cut short,” admitted Calvo. “We have done everything we had to do as a government.”

“You are witness to the fact that we have tried. But it makes no sense for society not to be clear on what this government wants. For years there’s been a petition for dialogue. And we honored that petition. If this is not enough, then we have to stop. The separatists will have to explain why they are rejecting an offer for dialogue that is quite reasonable,” she added.

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Political storm

The announcement comes in the wake of a political storm in Spain over the government’s recent decision to accept having an observer at cross-party talks that were scheduled in the coming days.

It is unclear what this figure, which has been described as a cross between a rapporteur, a mediator and a notary, would have been tasked with doing at the talks, but the opposition said it was a concession to the Catalan separatists, who have repeatedly asked for international mediation.

On Wednesday, the Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the far-right Vox party said they would call a street demonstration in Madrid this coming Sunday to protest the move and “throw out” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Deputy PM Calvo said on Friday that Spain’s right-wing parties are not helping with the attempts at dialogue, and accused them of using the situation to their own electoral advantage.

Upcoming trial

Sánchez is leading a minority government and could face early elections this year if his budget plan gets rejected. Approval requires support from pro-independence representatives sitting in Congress, but on Monday these groups said they would veto the blueprint unless Madrid made some gesture in favor of the individuals about to stand trial for leading the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the subsequent unilateral independence declaration inside the Catalan parliament.

Budget support

Sánchez’s budget plan includes a rise in investment in Catalonia, up to 18% from 13% during Rajoy’s last year in power.

“It will be very difficult to explain to Spaniards that in this situation, there is no support for a budget that is meant to improve people’s lives,” said Deputy PM Carmen Calvo. “The separatists will have to explain to Catalonia why they are putting other issues ahead of Catalans’ problems.”

On Thursday, the PM flew to Strasbourg to support Spain’s push-back against Catalan separatists’ campaign to cast doubt on the Spanish justice system. Sánchez met with the heads of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe and other top EU officials to convey the message that the defendants will get a fair trial.

The announcement that all talks with Catalan separatist parties are now off signals a U-turn for Sánchez, who had made improving relations with the Catalan government a priority after he took power in a successful no-confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP).

English version by Susana Urra.