28th Nov 2023

Spain's Sánchez secures Catalan support to become PM

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Spain's Pedro Sánchez has reached agreement with the Catalan pro-independence party Junts on an Amnesty Law, in exchange for support for Sánchez's re-election as the country's socialist prime minister.

The law is expected to be unveiled next week. An investiture vote could take place next week on Wednesday or Thursday.

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  • 'Freedom for political imprisoned' banner at a 2018 protest in Barcelona against the detention of Carles Puigdemont (Photo: Assemblea.cat)

"We are ready to open a new historical stage, in which a political and negotiated solution is sought based on respect and recognition of the other," Sánchez's PSOE party negotiator Santos Cerdán told a press conference.

Sánchez had until 27 November to secure enough parliamentary support to form a government, but the PSOE leader was in a hurry to call the vote early.

His initial plans were for the investiture vote to take place this Thursday (9 November), allowing Sánchez to attend the pan-European Socialists & Democrats congress in Málaga as prime minister-elect.

Following Spain's general election in July, Sánchez was unable to secure a majority. With the support of some small regional parties since secured, Sánchez's fate has since been mainly in the hands of Carles Puigdemont's Junts party.

Their agreement comes after months of intense negotiations between Sánchez's PSOE and Junts' team, which have intensified during the last weeks in Brussels — the residence of self-exiled Junts leader and current MEP Puigdemont since 2017.

One of the most controversial points of the amnesty bill was the inclusion of 'lawfare' cases. This would mean that the law would also cover Catalan pro-independence leaders who have been prosecuted by the justice system for political reasons, but not directly related to the illegal 2017 referendum.

Puigdemont was cautious, admitting that there was neither "optimism" nor "trust" in the agreement between the two parties.

"We don't trust words and promises. And I am sure the other side feels the same way and will not trust us. Let's hope that one day this will not be the case," he told journalists at a press conference in Brussels, where he explained that they will seek a referendum on self-determination for the people of Catalonia.

The Catalan leader also stressed the role of an international and independent intermediary to supervise the negotiation process.

The agreement announced on Thursday also marks the anniversary of the non-binding Catalan self-determination referendum, held on 9 November 2014.

Rule-of-law concerns

The controversial amnesty law, which would drop judicial action against those connected to the pro-independence movement, was one of Puigdemont's main conditions.

But the bill has raised concerns within the judiciary in Spain as well as in Brussels.

Earlier this week, conservative judges of the General Council of the Judiciary warned that the amnesty law could see a "degradation, if not abolition, of the rule of law in Spain".

And on Wednesday, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders wrote to the government in Madrid for more details about the "personal, material and temporal scope" of the law.

The delay in the renewal of the National Council for the Judiciary (CGPJ), the body that ensures the independence of courts and appoints some magistrates, raises "serious concerns" related to the rule of law, Reynders also said in his letter.

In response to the commissioner, Spain's EU presidency minister and senior PSOE official Felix Bolaños replied the issues mentioned in it were not "within the government's decision-making scope".

In an ironic tone, Bolaños "thanked" the commissioner for "his interest" and assured him that if the amnesty bill was passed, the commission would have "all the details".

The amnesty law has been met with opposition from Spanish liberal and centre-right MEPs, who have criticised the deal for undermining the judiciary system in Spain.

Fidesz Hungarian MEP Balázs Hidvéghi claimed that the rule of law is now in danger in Spain.

Amnesty for who?

The agreement between Junts and PSOE took an extra week of negotiations because the separatists feared that the law would not be sufficiently binding.

Junts worried that the text would not cover all of Puigdemont's close circle, or that there would be loopholes for judges' discretion in the future.

The agreement came after large protests in Spain against the amnesty law. Thousands of demonstrators, mostly conservatives and from the far-right, have taken to the streets of Madrid in recent days to protest against the amnesty law.

The protests have mainly been outside the Madrid headquarters of the Sanchez' socialist party, where protesters have chanted and raised banners.

Meanwhile, the centre-right conservative Partido Popular has begun the process to delay as much as possible the approval of the amnesty law, which will have to be given the greenlight by the Congress (lower house) — where there is a majority in favour of the bill, under the new agreement between the PSOE and Junts.

Also on Thursday, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, former head of Spain's People's Party in Catalonia and founder of the far-right party Vox, Alejo Vidal Cuadras, was shot in the face in Madrid.

This article has been updated

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