2nd Mar 2024

Spain's amnesty law draws boos at Strasbourg debate

  • 'Sánchez has given a blank cheque to those who want to abolish the unity of Spain,' German EPP chief Manfred Weber said (Photo: European Parliament)
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A angry debate between those who believe that the rule of law in Spain is now at risk, and those who believe the row over new prime minister Pedro Sánchez's amnesty law for Catalan's separatists is confected, divided the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (22 November).

"The constitution is not in danger. Their imitation of the extreme-right is eating them [Spain's centre-right Popular Party] alive. They are incapable of understanding Spain," Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) told MEPs.

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The debate comes just over a week after the Spanish socialist party (PSOE) announced its agreement with the Catalan pro-independence party Junts on an amnesty, in order to get their backing for a fresh term in government.

The Popular Party (PP) actually 'won' the national elections in July, but did not gather enough parliamentary support to govern. After now securing 179 out of 350 seats with his deal, PSOE leader, and previous PM, Pedro Sánchez was appointed Spain's new prime minister on 16 November.

However, the decisive vote and backing from the seven MPs from Junts, the party led by Carles Puigdemont, who has been in self-exile since Catalonia's illegal referendum in 2017, came at a price — one too high, his critics say.

At the heart of the deal with Puigdemont is the amnesty law, which has caused a stir in southern Europe. The proposed law would grant amnesty to hundreds of people involved in Catalonia's pro-independence movement over the past decade, and prompted Wednesday's fractious debate.

The discussion was introduced as "light", but the outcome was far from that. There were shouts, boos, applause and even laughter from both sides of the political spectrum.

And it was even attended by Puigdemont himself, and the other two Catalan MEPs whose immunity was lifted by the parliament, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, from the gallery of the chamber.

Almost half of the MEPs who spoke in Wednesday's debate were Spanish. Of the half who are not, most are from the right or the far-right.

Thus, while the far-right described the alliance as "unnatural" and the right as a violation of the rule of law in Spain, the socialists repeatedly insisted this was a national matter and the proposed law was in line with EU values.

Leftwing MEP Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (from the junior coalition partner in the new government, Sumar) also had a few words for the opposition: "Keep your frustration in check and learn to lose".

The clash has even taken place on social media, where both parties are exchanging collages and accusations from their European accounts in the months leading up to the June 2024 elections.

Adrián Vázquez Lara, a Spanish MEP with Renew Europe, has described the political agreement between PSOE and Junts as the beginning of the demolition of the Spanish rule of law. One that has been granted "in exchange for a tailor-made amnesty law drafted by those who will benefit from it. And they are watching us from above," he pointed out, referring to the visitors.

Meanwhile, the leader of the European People's Party in parliament, Germany's Manfred Weber from the EPP, has maintained his critical stance of recent weeks against Sánchez, reiterating that this is not a party issue but a question of the rule of law in the country.

"Sánchez has given a blank cheque to those who want to abolish the unity of Spain," he wrote in an article published in the French daily L'Opinion.

A citizens' petition to MEPs, "Save the Spanish Rule of Law", said the deal was "immoral". It is a petition supported by the Popular Party itself, and gathered more than 330,000 signatures ahead of the debate.

"The European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, must now react and demand that the Spanish government fully respects the European values of democracy, the separation of powers and the rule of law," the petition states.

In another letter to members of the Party of European Socialists on 20 November, Vázquez Lara also asked for the support of his socialist colleagues, urging them not to "look away".

"Our burden has nothing to do with the validity of the new majority, but rather with the expense at which this agreement has been reached in terms of respect for the most essential European values," the MEP wrote.

Justice commissioner Didier Reynders stated that they are analysing the proposed law closely and objectively and will remain in contact with the Spanish government.


Why Spain's amnesty deal with Catalans is source of resentment

Spain's new amnesty law for Catalan separatists has sparked protests across the country, fueling concerns about the rule of law, judicial independence, and accountability. But why is the bill so problematic? And who opposes it?

Spain's Sánchez secures Catalan support to become PM

After noisy protests and prolonged negotiations, Spain's centre-left leader Pedro Sánchez has reached a deal with pro-independence Catalans in exchange for their parliamentary support. A Catalan amnesty bill and an investiture vote are expected next week.

Sanchez's 'amnesty' talks with Catalan separatists to stay PM

Spain's socialist party wants to avoid new elections and is rushing to form a governing coalition for incumbent prime minister Pedro Sánchez before the Socialists' European congress on 10-11 November. But an 'amnesty' for Catalan political separatists is a sticking-point.

Brussels denies having no 'concern' on Spain's amnesty law

The Spanish government remains secretive about its negotiations with pro-independence Catalans, but claims the EU Commission has "zero concerns" about their proposed amnesty law for Catalan separatists. The EU executive denies that.

'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, an MEP was denied access to the chamber because he was carrying his young child, due to unforeseen circumstances. The episode shows parliament's rules need to be updated, several MEPs told EUobserver.

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