Arturo Puente, 5 January 2024
Catalan MEP Carles Puigdemont in the European Parliament, under the gaze of the minister José Manuel Albares EFE/EPA/RONALD WITTEK
Experts in international relations defend the importance of knowing what the functions of each of the figures involved in a negotiation are and what can be expected in each case.
During the presentation of Pedro Sánchez’s latest book, Tierra Firme, the President of the Government and Jorge Javier Vázquez joked about the President’s possible participation in Supervivientes. “You do that in Honduras, don’t you? If it were in El Salvador, where we now have a mediator…”, Sánchez laughed. The politician used the colloquial term “mediator”, a term frequently used in informal conversations, but which surprised the experts. Because what was agreed with ERC and Junts is a verifier, a very well-defined figure among scholars of international relations, which is not analogous to that of a mediator, and which has connotations that are not in the interests of the person who appointed him.
The phrase that appears in the agreements signed by the PSOE with ERC and Junts, each on one side, speaks of establishing a mechanism for “accompaniment, verification and monitoring”, which in the case of Junts also stresses that it will be “international”. At the beginning of December, the name of Francisco Galindo Vélez, chosen by the Socialists and Carles Puigdemont’s party as spokesman for the third party in the negotiations between the two, came to light, while the names in the case of Esquerra are still unknown and may not even be made public.
Public or not, experts consider it important to be clear about the different roles that a third party can play in a negotiation and to know what can be expected of each of them. “The main difference between each figure is the power they have over the parties, whether they can force them to accept an agreement, propose ways forward, or whether they are there to build trust,” explains Kristian Herbolzheimer, director of the Institut Català Internacional per a la Pau (ICIP).
Like other scholars of negotiation processes, Herbolzheimer differentiates between four scales of neutral parties, from the most to the least interventionist. “The most powerful is arbitration, which is a kind of court that imposes the resolution on the parties, for example the Hague on sea boundaries. Then there is mediation, which leaves the parties to decide on solutions but proposes possible options. It is therefore a proactive role,” he explains.
After these two figures, the ICIP director describes two other roles, in this case more passive than the previous ones. “One is that of the facilitator, who is a person who provides the means, the logistics and makes it possible for two parties to meet. And on the last scale, there are several terms that fit: companion, verifier, rapporteur… This is usually a person or persons who are present at the negotiation but who, if everything goes well, don’t do anything,” he says.
The role of a verifier, different from that of an accompanier
Rafael Grasa, professor of International Relations at the University of Barcelona, stresses that the role of a verifier and that of an accompanier can be very different. “In Colombia, the Kroc Institute carries out monitoring reports on the agreements reached between the government and the FARC, and it is important insofar as they verify what has been fulfilled and what has not,” he explains. “A verifier can also propose a negotiation method,” says Grasa.
“In the case of the negotiation between the PSOE and Junts, the verification mechanism is a group of people who have a known spokesperson. And this spokesperson has many qualities: on the one hand, he has a discreet profile, knows Spanish, knows the European Union well, has not spoken out about the Catalan conflict, and has the Henri Dunant Foundation behind him, who are experts in discreet diplomacy and mediation”, says the professor.
For Herbolzheimer, on the other hand, both a verifier and an accompanying person can play two roles indistinctly. The first is of a symbolic nature, giving confidence to the parties by introducing an observer. “It is usually the part that we could call weak that seeks to have someone watching in order to generate credibility to the process,” he says. “And then there is the technical part; if as an accompanier or verifier you are asked for opinions or technical contributions, you do them. And if not, then you don’t”, he sums up.
What can be expected from Galindo and whoever occupies the verification role in the case of ERC? For the moment, the Salvadoran diplomat’s role has been to be present at the first inter-party meeting and for his name to be specially displayed by Junts to show that the negotiation is serious. But what he might do in the future is unknown. If the parties agree, a profile such as his can range from taking minutes of the meetings, to acting as spokesperson for the negotiation before the press, or even trying to unclog the talks if they reach an impasse.
A negotiation with a lot of “staging”.
According to the two experts, a verification mechanism such as the one agreed by the PSOE and the two pro-independence parties can be useful insofar as it serves to keep the actors at the table in search of a satisfactory solution for a broad majority of the population. But both also recognise that it is unusual for there to be a mediated negotiation in a conflict without violence and between parties that are, moreover, parliamentary allies.
The Catalan conflict is complex, of course, but it does not have the political intensity of others because there are no victims, no armed violence, and so on. For this reason, there are not many conflicts similar to the Catalan one that have been mediated internationally. But this does not mean that it is strange or negative to do it this way”, stresses Rafael Grasa.
“It is a staging. But often, in order to resolve complex political conflicts, these stagings are necessary, as we say that they are necessary as a landing strip”, Herbolzheimer acknowledges. “The Catalan conflict is a unique conflict, where politicians have been imprisoned and others have gone to European countries whose judiciary has refused to return them to Spain. A conflict like this may also need a unique resolution mechanism,” says the ICIP director, who also opts for: “The most discreet mechanism of all is the most appropriate”.