MADRID – Spain’s prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are opening formal talks Wednesday in hopes of resolving the festering political crisis provoked by the region’s separatist movement.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and members of his government are hosting Catalan regional chief Quim Torra and his delegation in Madrid’s Moncloa Palace, the seat of Spain’s Government.
Sánchez greeted Torra in the gardens outside the palace where the two leaders appeared to chat amiably.
No major breakthrough is expected from the meeting given the political abyss separating the two sides.
“Today we will initiate our talks, and the way forward is going to be difficult, complex, and long,” Sánchez said earlier Wednesday before the meeting.
Torra has insisted that he will repeat his demands for Catalonia to be allowed to hold a referendum on independence and for the release of nine separatist leaders who are serving prison sentences for their role in an illegal 2017 secession attempt.
Sánchez has promised that his government won't consider an independence vote for the region. He has said instead he will focus on improving the relations between Spain and the restive region, while also decreasing tensions in Catalonia caused by the divisive issue.
Polls and the most recent election results indicate that roughly 50% of the 7.5 million residents of northeastern Catalonia are in favor of secession.
The meeting comes at a delicate moment for both governments.
In January, Sánchez agreed to open the talks in order to win the votes of some of Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers in the national parliament necessary to form a coalition government with the left-wing We Can party.
Sánchez will now need to maintain that same backing to get a national budget passed.
This trade-off has earned the Socialist leader criticism from Spain's right-of-center parties, which Sánchez accuses of doing nothing to help defuse the conflict.
Torra, meanwhile, has said he will soon call snap elections after frictions between his party and another separatist party currently in power in Catalonia have reached a breaking point.
In-fighting among Catalonia's separatist parties could grow more intense as they enter a campaign for a regional election Torra expects to call in the coming months.