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Spain’s acting PM and opposition leader agree to open talks on Catalan crisis

The move represents a U-turn for Popular Party president Pablo Casado, who garnered a disastrous result at the April 28 election

Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Casado at their Monday meeting.
Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Casado at their Monday meeting.

Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and opposition leader Pablo Casado of the Popular Party (PP) have agreed to open up a permanent communication channel on the issue of Catalonia, where the independence drive has deeply divided the region.

In this new climate of goodwill, Sánchez and Casado spent 90 minutes discussing the need for deals

Such an initiative would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, and it showcases how the PP has performed a U-turn following its resounding defeat at the general election on April 28, when it won just 66 seats in Congress, down from the 137 it took in 2016.

Casado, who until recently had described Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) as a “traitor,” a “squatter” and “a stand-in,” has now adopted a completely different tone.

Until now, the Catalan crisis had created seemingly unbridgeable differences between both men. The last time Sánchez and Casado had met at La Moncloa, on August 2, the latter had walked out with the feeling that he “didn’t trust” Sánchez not to yield to what he described as “separatist extortion.” And in October, Sánchez officially broke off all talks after Casado called him “an accomplice to coup plotters,” alluding to the fact that Sánchez had become the prime minister in June after leading a successful no-confidence vote against then-PM Mariano Rajoy, with support from Catalan separatist parties in Congress.

On Monday, both men made a commitment to keep discussing the Catalan crisis. Casado said that his party will, in any event, remain “very vigilant” in case there should be “any concessions” to the Catalan separatists, “either on budget issues or devolved powers.” But he did not insist on an immediate reintroduction of the special constitutional powers that suspended Catalonia’s self-rule for several months following the unilateral independence declaration of October 2017. For months prior to the general election, Casado had campaigned for a renewed application of Article 155 of the Constitution, which introduced central rule in the northeastern region.

In this new climate of goodwill, Sánchez and Casado spent an hour and a half discussing the need to reach deals on Catalonia and also on pensions, gender violence, scientific research, environmental measures, defense issues and even the situation of the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who recently took refuge inside the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas.

Casado said he will remain vigilant in case there are any concessions to Catalan separatists

However, the conservative leader said his party will not facilitate Sánchez’s reinstatement with an abstention at a potential investiture vote. Instead, Casado suggested that the third-largest force in Congress, Ciudadanos (Citizens), should abstain to make sure that Sánchez’s government is not propped up by Catalan separatist parties. Ciudadanos won 57 seats, up from 32 in 2016, and only received 200,000 fewer votes than the PP.

But it takes 176 seats for an overall majority, and the PSOE’s 123 representatives will need to find additional support to get their candidate back into La Moncloa, the seat of government.

On Tuesday, Sánchez will meet with Ciudadanos leader Rivera and with Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias, who is widely expected to support Sánchez’s bid for a new term in La Moncloa. But even Podemos’s 42 seats are not enough to reach the required figure.

Spaniards will be going to the polls again on May 26 to vote in local, regional and European elections.

English version by Susana Urra.

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