Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia that what "is needed is a wide consensus that right now doesn't exist in Catalonia." Voters in the wealthy northeastern region were evenly split in supporting parties for and against secession when the last regional election was held a year ago. However, the separatist politicians who prevailed in that vote and the previous Catalan election insist on pursuing a break with the rest of Spain.
While Catalonia's regional government wants a binding referendum on independence, Sanchez is urging them to work with counterparts who favor unity with Spain on drafting a new charter law for the region, one that significantly more than half of the region's 7.4 million residents would support. Sanchez has not detailed what he would like a new charter for Catalonia to look like.
"We have always said that we can find a solution to the Catalan political crisis within the Constitution," Sanchez said. "But the problem is not independence, it is about harmonious coexistence." Many separatists have said a new charter wouldn't be enough to satisfy the region's long-song demands for autonomy, saying independence was the only answer.
Separatist lawmakers tried and failed to break Catalonia away from the rest of the country in October 2017, igniting the worst political crisis in Spain in decades. Sanchez, the Socialist leader who inherited the problem from his conservative predecessor when he came to power in June, has made mending relations with Catalonia a priority.
Sanchez traveled from Madrid to Barcelona on Thursday and met with the regional government's president, Quim Torra, a fervent separatist. The two leaders issued a statement saying they were committed to maintaining a dialogue that would lead to a "political proposal that has the backing of large part of Catalan society."
Sanchez acknowledged in the newspaper interview that arriving at a proposal backed by both sides would "take years."