Skip to content

Sánchez-Puigdemont Negotiations: What Can Spain Offer Catalonia?

Experts weigh in on potential concessions as talks between Pedro Sánchez and Carles Puigdemont continue.

What can Pedro Sánchez offer Carles Puigdemont? The question is already seven days old but all the signs suggest that it will take quite a few more weeks until the line to be taken by the Spanish Socialist (PSOE) leader, in his bid to reach an agreement with Together for Catalonia (Junts) and thus continue as head of the Spanish government, begins to be drawn. With the immediate future of Spanish politics in the hands of the Catalan president-in-exile, has contacted several experts to sketch out what Spain might possibly offer Catalonia without either of the two sides immediately throwing up their arms in dispair.

The starting point is well known. The arithmetic resulting from the July 23rd general election means that Pedro Sánchez could be voted by MPs as leader of a new Spanish government if he is able to reach agreements with a series of parties, but the political force that seems likely to make things most complicated for him is Junts, which is asking for an amnesty for all those investigated due to the Catalan independence process and a referendum on Catalan self-determination. The first response of Sánchez’s acting executive has been the expected one: negotiations must take place within the framework of the Spanish Constitution and neither of the two things demanded by Puigdemont’s party have a place there. But this is, for the moment, the starting position for both sides. There are voices who point out that the sacred text of the Spanish constitutionalists can be interpreted in different ways. One of those voices is Joaquín Urías, who notes that the word ‘amnesty’ does not appear in the Constitution but the text does spell out that “general pardons” are prohibited, and this section of the text causes a diversity of opinions among experts.

 The arithmetic resulting from the July 23rd general election means that Pedro Sánchez could be voted by MPs as leader of a new Spanish government if he is able to reach agreements with a series of parties. GETTY IMAGES 

Urías, a constitutional law professor and former legal counsel at the Constitutional Court, believes that, first, a comprehensive analysis should be made of which offences are being faced by the thousand-odd people who are still confronting legal action over the independence process events, in order to “find out how a new reform of the Penal Code could be carried out”. But he warns that one of the obstacles that PSOE and Junts may encounter, no matter how much “political will” there is on both sides to reach an agreement, is the Constitutional Court. He considers, however, that to avoid this, the legislation could be drafted in a “much finer” way than with the reform of the misuse of funds law and the substitution of sedition for an offence of aggravated public disorder. In those cases, in the reform carried out last year, “the judges were able to make their own interpretations”, he states regretfully.

On the other hand, Urías asserts that it is more complicated to reach an agreement over a referendum. As a progressive jurist, he insists that the important thing is not what the Constitution says, but what the various parties want. “But there is no political will here”, he underlines. However, he also affirms that “even the Spanish right is aware that at some point the debate on Spain’s territorial model will have to be opened”. And in this way he suggests that the door could open to negotiations between the PSOE and the independence movement around self-government.

It is around this issue that the demands of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) revolve too: however much ERC also voices the rhetoric on the referendum and amnesty demands, it works hard to bring to fruition the total transfer to Catalan control of Rodalies, the regional rail services, as well as to end Catalonia’s fiscal deficit. Criminal law professor Joan Queralt, who on July 23rd was elected as an ERC senator, insists that in politics “everything is possible” and that one should not have the idea that the referendum “goes against the laws of physics”. In statements to, he recalled that Carles Puigdemont is not the only person in exile as a result of the independence process, and that solutions must be found to end the persecution of the thousand people judicially accused for their alleged actions in relation to independence. “An amnesty is not prohibited”, he remarks.

Meanwhile, in Madrid

At the Moncloa palace, base of the Spanish executive, they preface comments on the issue by saying they are currently closed for holidays. The result of the 23rd July election is very delicate, they note, but it leaves a certain stability that makes it possible for the current scenario to be “left in repose” and to be “analyzed” little by little. Not only do they say in public that absolute “discretion” is necessary in negotiations with Junts, but in informal conversations, they will not be led into making predictions either. Voices close to the heart of the Spanish government point out only that it will be necessary to “help Junts to make decisions” without forgetting that ERC, Bildu, the PNV and BNG will also have to be given arguments to vote affirmatively to Pedro Sánchez’s investiture.

A few kilometres away at the Socialist party offices in Calle Ferraz, they assert that Junts will be afraid of a possible electoral rejection if no agreement is reached and a second election is called, and PSOE officials also speak of the existence of “two souls” within Puigdemont’s party, which could help to tilt the party towards more pragmatic measures. On the other hand, within the Spanish government, they are also crossing their fingers that the stress produced does not end with a “civil war” within Junts. This, they believe, would complicate things. Pedro Sánchez’s team also does not consider it a mistake to have taken the Barcelona mayoralty out of the hands of the most-voted candidate, Xavier Trias of Junts, with the help of the People’s Party (PP) and the left-wing Barcelona en Comú. “It is totally unrelated”, they maintain. In the same way that they still do not admit any importance to the negotiations between former Comuns leader Jaume Asens and Carles Puigdemont: “That is a matter for Sumar, the government does not send emissaries”.

“It’s the same challenge as in Spain’s Transition”

Jordi Palou-Loverdos, lawyer, international conflict mediator and director of the ONG Fundació Carta de la Pau (Charter of Peace Foundation), is clear when asked what Pedro Sánchez and Carles Puigdemont should do to try to reach an understanding: “In the current blockade, with the legal and constitutional framework, a political decision is needed. And first of all it is necessary to do what the first document of the dialogue table said, but which was not done: create a group of experts, prestigious and trusted by the Spanish and Catalan groups so that they can discreetly make serious proposals about the central core of the political conflict, which is the distribution of self-government, within the framework of the Constitution and beyond. And then let this creative system beyond the autonomour communities be consulted and validated.”

The lawyer, a specialist in human rights and transitional justice, maintains that Spain’s system of autonomous communities is “exhausted” and that “the fathers of the Spanish Constitution had a federalizing vocation and invented the autonomous communities, as an intermediate point between the German Länder and the Italian regions, and that the historical communities had to develop”. For Palou-Loverdos, the current moment is comparable to the Spain’s post-Franco Transition: “They went through something like a tunnel to reach a democratic system, and now the democratic system of the 70s must be moved forward.” For this reason, he sees the state as maintaining key powers, such as the armed forces, but that Catalonia could be allowed to exercise a new system of financing, justice and self-government, and that this could be reviewed, for example, in ten years”.

And the people facing prosecution over the independence process? For Palau-Loverdos, their situation is important, “but it is a legal and criminal consequence, it is not the real conflict”. And he is asserts that “various proposals” will be made, rather than a general amnesty, such as for those who are facing huge monetary demands from the Court of Accounts, those who are in exile, such as president Carles Puigdemont and Marta Rovira, or those who blocked motorways with the Democratic Tsunami protests. These, he says, “are obstacles that are collateral to the political conflict”, although he stresses that he does not want to make light of their suffering. The lawyer maintains that the reform of the Penal Code, with the repeal of the crime of sedition, and the pardons granted to the nine pro-independence leaders, were achieved “in political negotiations, not at the dialogue table, which is a powerful instrument, but it was not used well” .

“They understand the vision of others”

Palou-Loverdos affirms that the current situation between the governments of Spain and Catalonia is complex, “but, luckily, not like those cases where there are deaths on the negotiating table”, as in the case of Rwanda, where the lawyer was leading facilitator of the IntraRwandese Dialogue (2004-2011). He insists that these experts – who “act as a bridge between parties” – exist. They are people “who understand the vision of others, which does not always mean reaching an agreement”.

In the case of the Spanish-Catalan conflict, the lawyer syas he could envisage a profile of political and economics experts, in addition to people trusted by the parties, who would “recover principles of trust and mutual recognition”. The lawyer with the Charter of Peace foundation promoted discreet meetings in 2020 to recover the dialogue between members of the public, politicians and heads of key associations, in order to rebuild the bridges broken in autumn of 2017, in a programme called Being in Peace, Catalonia-Spain. Palou-Loverdos describes the result of Sunday’s general elections “as an exceptional opportunity for negotiation, taking into account the political plurality that emerged from the polls”.

Produced in association with El Nacional En

“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”

Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.

Check out our free email newsletters

Recommended from our partners