Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez will meet the new Catalan head of government Pere Aragones for the first time on Tuesday when the pair are likely to discuss a date to resume negotiations to resolve the country’s territorial crisis.
It comes after the Spanish government’s move last week to grant pardons to nine Catalan separatist leaders who were jailed for their roles in the 2017 failed secession bid.
The controversial decision was made with the hope that the pardons would diffuse tensions between Madrid and the pro-independence regional government in Catalonia.
Mr Aragones, who took office last month, has said his main requests at the meeting will be an official referendum on independence and an amnesty for the more than 3,000 separatists under legal investigation.
At his inauguration, the Catalan president pledged to make “self-determination inevitable” and has promised to “lead the social and economic reconstruction for the country” while continuing “the struggle for amnesty and self-determination”.
But both of these demands have been ruled out by Mr Sanchez, who opposes independence.
Separatist sentiment has skyrocketed in Catalonia over the past two decades, fuelled by the global recession and an increasingly polarised political climate.
In October 2017, the Catalan government pushed through with an independence referendum despite repeating warnings that the vote violated the country’s constitution.
Despite a violent police crackdown that injured hundreds, 2 million people voted for secession and the Catalan parliament declared independence but failed to garner any international support.
Its president at the time, Carles Puigdemont, and some associates fled the country, while a dozen leaders of the secession bid were arrested. In 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court found the 12 guilty of crimes including sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience.
Following the announcement regarding the pardon of nine Catalan separatist leaders last week, Mr Sanchez said in a live television address to the nation: “The government has taken this decision because it is the best decision for Catalonia and the best decision for Spain.
“We hope to open a new era of dialogue and build new bridges.”
The decision by the left-wing government has angered many in Spain, including from the conservatives and far-right parties but also a large sector of the public.
But the decision has been widely backed in Catalonia, where many hope it can help mend bridges.