The general secretary of the Junts per Catalunya party, Jordi Sànchez (Barcelona, 1964), does not hide his satisfaction with the agreement that his political group has concluded with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya to make possible the investiture of ERC's Pere Aragonès as leader of a new pro-independence government. For the jailed Sànchez, who has had to conduct negotiations from Lledoners prison, this agreement is "the first great victory" achieved in Catalonia by the independence movement in the face of the Spanish state's repression. "We have been able to overcome the effects of the repression to continue our commitment to finding a shared strategy," he says after months of tense talks and a marathon weekend of negotiations with Aragonès to close the deal.
What was it that unblocked the deal?
I believe that in the end it was the responsibility of ERC and Junts not to waste the 52% of votes won on the 14th February. If anyone was gambling on holding their position or trying to gain strength they understood that this was not the best way to make use of the mandate from the election. So what unblocked the agreement was a sense of responsibility, common sense and the verdict of the ballot box.
And the fear of a repeat election?
We have never speculated on the possibility of a repeat election. The proof is that we are consulting our party members, asking them if they will validate the agreement we have reached and, if they don't, we are not contemplating elections, but will support Pere Aragonès to assume the presidency in a minority government.
So, I ask again, what got in the way of making a deal earlier?
Always, in a negotiation, there are many factors in play. I believe that it is legitimate for the public to want to know why we have an agreement now and not four weeks ago, but in a negotiation everyone must be sure that they do not lose essential aspects, the certainty that the person opposite is not misleading them, and this is a process that takes place over time. Strange as it may seem, it was an inevitable journey.
You and Aragonés have had to lock yourselves in to do it. Were the negotiating teams a problem?
Absolutely not. But the mandate of the Junts executive last Saturday, two hours after Aragonès announced that ERC was reorienting its negotiating strategy, was very clear: I was unanimously asked to take over the negotiation and try to close it. We have been in constant contact with Pere Aragonès, and with dynamics that allowed us to reach a pre-accord on Sunday at 7:30pm.
We have managed to overcome the effects of the repression to continue looking for a shared strategy
In recent days, moreover, ERC has been demanding the votes that it declared that Junts would provide for free for the investiture of a minority ERC government if there was no agreement. Was it a mistake to express that commitment?
No. But that was a statement made on April 4th. What is not admissible is that at the beginning of May, when we have written and closed 90% of the agreement with ERC, that some people renounce this agreement to aim at the formation of a government alone and in a minority. Our will was to finish closing that agreement, where, indeed, there were some elements that needed to be specified. I think they were more questions of trust.
And have you now overcome those questions of trust?
It is obvious that one of the problems we had in the last legislature was a distrust based on a series of actions and strategic views that do not coincide in their entirety. This has caused a lot of tension in the last three years. Of course, the repression has contributed enormously and this government, this legislature agreement, is the first great victory, internally in Catalonia, that shows that repression has not beaten us, that we have been able to overcome the effects of the repression in order to continue looking for a shared strategy.
Because as the electorate has decided, no one has an absolute majority. We must all be intelligent together and prepare for this democratic confrontation that we know will come. The government agreement fits into this logic. The independence movement only has a future if it has the capacity to build a shared strategy. And what we have done has been to give ourselves a chance to re-prepare this shared strategy as we prepared it in 2017.
The independence movement only has a future if it has the capacity to build a shared strategy
Since Junts positioned strategic coordination as a key element, has this been sufficiently defined in the agreement?
The realization of this strategic space is very clear. The accord speaks about the functions, responsibilities, working groups that will exist... There is a clear will expressed on paper, that we all the pro-independence parties share, to affirm and commit ourselves to working in coordination to look for a consensus, and from that consensus to be able to set a direction of political and social independence in this country.
And where does the accord leave the Council for the Republic?
The Council for the Republic is an institution that has never sought to guide the Catalan government or the future president or even to dictate a strategy that all the political groups must follow. It is an institution that already brings together an important part of the pro-independence area and what it puts forward is the need to prepare actions for a reality that many share, which is that the Spanish state will only negotiate if it faces a strengthened independence movement which has the will to take on a democratic confrontation.
The accord is a recognition of the different strategies, knowing that both of them have limitations, both that of confrontation and that of dialogue
Junts said from the outset that a space for coordination was needed to avoid the conflicts of the previous legislature. The result that has been reached on this question, is it what you were proposing?
It is certainly not the optimal document for us, not what we would do if we had 68 deputies, just as it is not what ERC would do. But it is a sufficiently clear agreement, generous on both sides, to continue moving forward without anyone losing their identity or considering to abandoning it. It is a recognition of the different strategies knowing that all strategies have limitations. That of confrontation has them, and so does that of dialogue. And so what we need to do is see how we can reinforce one another.
I wonder why Quim Torra has criticized the strategic accord via Twitter, saying that without strategy it is difficult to govern...
I understand him saying this, after his experience in government, that without a strategy it is difficult to govern. I understand that perfectly. But when you read the accord document, you will see that there is a desire to detail how we should coordinate and work together. Because no one, neither parties nor civil socirty organizations, will be able to impose a strategy on their own. Firstly, because everyone has the strength they have, and also, because no one has the whole truth about strategy. There will be a time when Catalan independence, if it wants to move forward, will have to stop and once again propose a serious struggle with the state, because the Spanish state up till now has had no explicit desire to reach an agreement with the independence movement to resolve the political conflict.
There will be a time when Catalan independence, if it wants to move forward, will once again have to propose a serious struggle with the state
For now, however, you back the dialogue table, which is ERC's commitment...
Junts doesn't expect much from this offer of dialogue. We have a well-known skepticism because we see how Pedro Sánchez and the Spanish government have acted. We are not fooled. We know that the Spanish state may be wasting time and dividing the pro-independence forces with its supposed desire for dialogue, but we also say with the same clarity that to the extent that this is an ERC commitment, we will be loyal to it, because we have decided to, because, for strategic unity, we will commit to it. However, this is limited in time, and there are indicators, an evaluation, a transparency that allows us that in a year and a half, two years...
Is the time frame not specified in the agreement?
No, because there is already a document signed by ERC and the CUP that already sets a deadline. Two years means half of the legislature, it is a sensible period of time.
What will the independence movement do from then on? Will that be when the coordination space intervenes?
It is indeed the coordination space that needs to make the analysis and the preparation to see when and what we need to do if the path of dialogue and negotiation does not bear fruit.
And is this coordination team being given guidelines on which way its response should go?
There are proposals; the CUP, in fact, is backing a referendum.
The Spanish state won't give us the ability to exercise the right to self-determination. We will only exercise it if we are able to take that right from the state.
But is there a proposal on this in the agreement you have signed?
No, precisely because we believe it would not be honest to try and find an answer in three months when we have gone for three years without our views coinciding. And you have to be realistic. We don't have a magic formula for independence, no one has it. But we do have a determination and a conviction. The determination is that we won't stop and the conviction is that they won't give us anything for free. The state won't give us the ability to exercise the right to self-determination. Therefore, we will only be able to exercise the right to self-determination if we are able to take that right from the state. In the meantime, and in a very transparent way, with little certainty of success but with loyalty, we will take the word of the negotiation that Mr Pedro Sánchez has held out. Let him show himself up. Two years from now, my surprise would be that the Spanish state might have agreed to an accord on the issue of Catalonia’s self-determination.
Will this government agreement that Junts and ERC have concluded please Madrid?
I don't know. What interests me is that Catalonia likes it. What it has to show in Madrid is that independence in Catalonia remains alive and that the people of Junts, whom many would like to wipe off the map, because it represents an image of an independence movement that is not accommodating with certain actions by the Spanish state, that is strong and determined, and willing to search for complicity with the rest of the pro-independence groups because that is what makes us strong. This agreement will not please Madrid because it breaks the theory proposed by Mr Aznar that we will rupture before we rupture Spain. Well, we have shown for the umpteenth time that we are not rupturing, that we will work together to win the independence of our country.
What this has to show to Madrid is that the independence movement in Catalonia remains alive
How did Carles Puigdemont rate the agreement on Sunday?
President Puigdemont, in line with his own wishes, has stated since February 14th that he did not want to be part of the framework of the talks because he did not want people to use him to justify or criticize the decisions that Junts might take. Despite all that has been said, he has not taken part in any meetings, nor in the preparation of any documents. Aragonès himself knows, because in the two or three conversations they have had, he has stated that at the moment his role is not to take part in the negotiations and he accepts whatever the Junts executive agrees to.
Puigdemont plays a key reference role in preserving the legacy of the 1st October referendum. He will not interfere in the future government of Catalonia
And what role should Puigdemont play?
Carles Puigdemont will have the role he wants to play. He is the president of Junts and has never wanted to get into the executive affairs of the party. He plays a key role in preserving the legacy of the 1st October referendum. He has been working on preparing scenarios we may have in the future through the Council for the Republic. It plays an essential role in international projection and in denouncing the abuses of the Spanish state. He will not interfere at all in the future government of Catalonia or in the next legislature. And Aragonès has known this for many weeks as well. Let no one doubt that he will be loyal and will serve the government of Catalonia, which cannot be otherwise for any president of the Generalitat.
Are you satisfied with the accord?
Yes. It's not the accord of my life. No one can be fully happy with this accord. ERC isn't either, I'm sure, and that’s the best guarantee that it’s a good deal. We have reached an agreement of possibilities, that we respect each other, we recognize our differences but also the need to move forward together. In this sense it is good and solid and will allow us to move forward with a strength that we have not had in recent times.