A busy weekend of contacts has paid off. President Quim Torra and his vice president Pere Aragonès, respective leaders of the Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Republican Left (ERC) parties in Catalonia's coalition government, have managed to temporarily put aside their latent tensions to agree on the names that will make up the Catalan delegation at the table for dialogue with Madrid. Apart from the president and vice president, the chosen representatives are ministers Jordi Puigneró and Alfred Bosch, MPs Elsa Artadi, Marta Vilalta and Josep Maria Jové, and the former head press officer for both presidents Puigdemont and Torra, Josep Rius. A balanced line-up from the Catalan government's viewpoint. Later the Socialists criticised it as "not serious" and even accused it of breaching the rules of the agreement.
According to sources close to the executive, the final composition of the Catalan team was decided over the weekend, as talks were intensified with a view to the first official meeting of the dialogue table with the Spanish government, on Wednesday in Madrid. In a statement, the Catalan president's department made it clear that its ideal selection would include "president Carles Puigdemont, vice president Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and the secretary general of ERC, Marta Rovira" and that "these are the four people the government of Catalonia wants at the forefront of its negotiation." However, since "their situation of imprisonment and exile as a result of the political repression prevents negotiation from operating normally", this alternative delegation had been chosen.
Both president Torra and vice president Aragonès will only be present at the opening meetings and also in decisive moments when it is necessary to "reach specific agreements with the Spanish party, if this case arrives". The other six members will be responsible for taking forward the in-depth substance of the discussions with Madrid and will report to both the president and the vice president.
The make-up of the team is balanced. JxCat and ERC will each have four representatives: Torra, Puigneró, Artadi and Rius from the party of the exiled Puigdemont; and Aragonès, Bosch, Vilalta and Jové for the political group led by the jailed Junqueras. In contrast with the Spanish team, the Catalan line-up goes beyond the members of the government: of the eight nominees, four are from outside the cabinet - two from JxCat and two from ERC.
The Catalan cabinet plans to pass a government accord tomorrow which will formally appoint the members to the Catalan government's negotiating team.
Last Thursday, the Spanish government announced the composition of its own delegation: in addition to prime minister Pedro Sánchez when required, the team will consist of Pablo Iglesias, Manuel Castells, Carmen Calvo, Carolina Darias and Salvador Illa, giving representation to the Spanish level components of the governmennt, the PSOE and Podemos, as well as their respective Catalan associates, the PSC and the Commons.
Socialists criticise Catalan team
However, neither Catalan nor Spanish Socialists had a good word to say in response to the announcement of the Catalan government's negotiating table line-up.
The most criticial was Eva Granados (PSC), who spoke of her "disappointment in the composition" of the team chosen - one more consequence, she said, of the partisan struggle between the two pro-independence parties that form the Catalan government. From her point of view, it was irrefutable proof that "the government of Spain takes negotiations more seriously" than the Catalan side. Granados called on the Torra government to "think of the general interest, not just the families of the independence movement".
From Madrid, PSOE party president Cristina Narbona accused the Catalans of violating the ERC-PSOE agreement under which the two sides committed to the talks - and allowed the formation of the Sánchez government - in January. Specifically, she referred to the point in the text of the document which states: "Composition: the Government of Spain and the Government of the Generalitat of Catalonia. Delegations will be established to have parity and with the members that both parties decide."