Catalan Separatists Stress Dialogue After Spain Talks Stall

Charles Penty

(Bloomberg) -- Leaders of Esquerra Republicana, a Catalan separatist party that holds the key to acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s chances of quickly forming a new Spanish government, stressed the need for dialogue as they press their claim for independence.

“We need to open a time when politics overcomes repression,” Pere Aragones, Esquerra’s national coordinator, said on Twitter after addressing Esquerra’s party congress in Barcelona. He said it was it time to make the most of an opportunity for political negotiation to replace the legal crackdown and described Esquerra’s role as that of an “ice-breaker.”

Sanchez’s Socialists emerged as the biggest party in general elections held last month but well short of the majority they need to form a government on their own. Sanchez immediately sealed a pact with the anti-austerity platform Podemos but also needs the support of Esquerra’s 13 deputies to be able to win parliamentary approval to remain as prime minister.

Talks with Esquerra have been fraught with complexity. The Catalans suspended negotiations on Thursday after Europe’s top court ruled that its leader, Oriol Junqueras, had political immunity after being elected as a member of the European Parliament in May. Junqueras was jailed in October for his part in an illegal bid by the Catalan government of the day to declare independence from Spain in 2017.

Even so, Esquerra’s leaders have made clear that talks haven’t broken down altogether, giving hope to the Socialists as they press to get a new government installed before the end of the year. Even as the party broke off talks with the Socialists on Thursday as it awaits their response to the European court ruling, Junqueras himself told Catalunya Radio from jail that dialogue should continue.

“There has to be an investiture,” acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Saturday. “Spain needs a fully operating government now.”

A new poll published by the Catalan government’s own pollster shows the separatist movement still has some way to go to convince the region’s voters of its case. The poll showed 47.9% are against a Catalan republic, compared with 43.7% in favor.

(Adds comment from deputy prime minister in sixth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Charles Penty in Madrid at cpenty@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Robert Brand, Anil Varma

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