After a lot of toing and froing, with letters between Madrid and Barcelona and failed arm-wrestles to try and make the Spanish government arrive at the dialogue table with some basic guarantees, the meeting between the Catalan and Spanish executives is to be held on Wednesday 26th in Madrid.
In a negotiation - and the constitution of the dialogue table was that and not anything else - the party which ends up winning is the one which has most arguments in its favour and plays its cards best. In this case, the narrative favoured the Sánchez government, since there was no way the Catalan pro-independence side could justify its absence from a dialogue table, when it has nailed its colours to this demand for the last few years and always strongly criticized the Spanish government for its refusal to sit down to talk. As for those letters, the Catalan government was bluffing, since despite its defence of a mediator or a rapporteur, something so often demanded in public, it has in the end put up with what Sánchez wanted.
In politics it is very important to take the initiative and the Spanish government has always been a step ahead. Sánchez had not even entered the meeting with Quim Torra, on the 6th, at the Catalan government's Generalitat palace, when the Spanish contingent were already distributing the 44 proposals of that so-called agenda for the re-encounter. First goal. Then it was Sánchez who spoke first at the end of the meeting and dominated all the news programmes. Second goal. Torra was still demanding the mediator when from the Moncloa palace in Madrid came a unilateral announcement of the date for the meeting, Monday 24th. Third goal. With the result already decided, the Generalitat then scored the consolation goal: changing the date of the meeting from Monday to Wednesday.
While the Catalan side was licking its wounds, the Moncloa Panzer continued to roll forward and Sánchez, from Brussels, affirmed that the negotiations would be very lengthy and complex; and that it was best to start talking about issues on which agreement could be reached much more easily. I have found two points that at the pace proposed by the Moncloa could very well take up the rest of 2020: market unity and trade policy. Issues that are listed at numbers 14 and 16 respectively on the list and which the Spanish side has already indicated that it is willing to negotiate.
While waiting for the Catalan government to announce its six negotiators - it is known that Torra and Aragonès will be there and it would be surprising if Meritxell Budó (presidency) and Ester Capella (justice) were absent - the Spanish delegation has a choral presence of sensitivities that is worth noting. With Sánchez will be his right-hand woman, Carmen Calvo; Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias; territorial minister Carolina Darias, prominent Catalan Socialist figure and also minister, Salvador Illa, and universities minister Manuel Castells, giving representation to the Commons (En Comú Podem).
The presence of Castells and to a lesser extent Illa closes the strange debate that was opened in Catalonia on whether the Catalan government's representation at the table had to go beyond the parties which form the executive. Some even argued that leaving out parties like the Commons was to exclude a part of the Catalan population. On the chat programmes and at Parliament's lectern almost everything can be floated, but in the end things are as they are. The Spanish negotiating team doesn't include representatives from PP, Cs, Vox or the pro-independence parties, but it does have members from the PSC and En Comú Podem. Is it conceivable that the Catalan party could have had members from the Commons or the PSC? It would be as if some of them were sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.