The new leader of Catalonia’s government, Quim Torra, says he is committed to achieving independence for the region and wants to enter into talks with new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to end a stand-off between Barcelona and Madrid.
Nationalists regained control of Catalonia’s regional government on Saturday as a new cabinet was sworn in, automatically ending just over seven months of direct rule from Madrid by Spain’s central government.
The new cabinet, led by Torra, a close aide to former Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont, took over on the same day that Sanchez was officially sworn in as new Spanish Prime Minister.
“This government is committed to moving towards an independent state in the form of a republic,” Torra said.
Sanchez, 46, a Socialist, has said he wants talks on Catalonia but opposes any independence referendum.
The unexpected coincidence of the central and regional governments taking over at the same time could open a new chapter after dramatic months that have seen Catalan politicians jailed or flee abroad to avoid arrest.
Sanchez was sworn in at a ceremony before King Felipe at the Zarzuela Palace, a day after successfully leading a no-confidence vote to oust his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.
On Friday, Parliament voted 180-169 to replace Rajoy’s government with one led by Sanchez, following a court ruling in a major corruption case involving the conservative leader’s Popular Party. One lawmaker abstained.
Rajoy had imposed direct rule over Catalonia at the end of October after nationalists, led by Puigdemont, held an independence referendum that the Spanish courts deemed illegal.
According to the Spanish constitution, direct rule from Madrid was due to end the moment a new regional government was put in place in Barcelona.
It took several tense months, after snap regional elections were held in December, for Catalan nationalists to get a new cabinet approved by the regional Parliament and bypass Madrid’s moves to block any candidate in self-imposed exile, such as Puigdemont, or in jail.
Sanchez was sworn in with his right hand on the constitution – the first time that was not done with the Bible or a crucifix.
He became Prime Minister with only 84 seats for his Socialist Party in the 350-member assembly thanks to support from the hard-left Podemos and smaller nationalist parties.
He said he intends to steer the country through to mid-2020 when the parliamentary term ends.
But his majority – the smallest for a Spanish government since the return to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 – makes it unclear how long his administration can last.
Spain is the eurozone’s No. 4 economy and an influential member of the European Union.
Sanchez and his party are staunch supporters of the EU and the shared currency.
Sanchez is Spain’s seventh prime minister since the return to democracy.