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10th Apr 2020

Catalan support for Sanchez breaks Spanish deadlock

  • According to the agreement, talks between the Spanish government and the Catalan regional administration are supposed to start soon (Photo: Montecruz Foto)

Spain's interim prime minister Pedro Sánchez has been backed by Catalonia's largest separatist party to form a coalition government, possibly ending months of political deadlock.

The pro-independence Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) said on Thursday (2 January) that it would abstain during the Spanish parliament's upcoming confidence vote to confirm the Socialist leader as prime minister.

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Spain was without proper government for most of 2019, after two elections since March failed to produce a clear majority for Sanchez.

In November, Sachez's Socialist Party (PSOE) won the most seats, but fell short of the 176 required for a majority in parliament.

The Socialist Party reached a coalition deal with the far-left party Podemos, but the combined pair do not have a majority - meaning they needed ERC's 13 MPs to at least abstain to secure the confidence vote.

The vote is due between 4 and 7 January.

The deal between the Socialists and ERC is the latest attempt to move past the political fragmentation that has produced four elections in four years in Spain, since the conservative People's Party lost its majority in 2015.

The Catalan party, whose leader has been jailed by Spanish authorities, said that a Sanchez-led government is open to dialogue on the future of Catalonia, which would then be submitted to a citizens' vote in the region.

Negotiations between the Spanish government and the Catalan regional administration would begin two weeks after Sanchez takes office, according to the deal, but it falls short of a commitment to another independence referendum.

A senior ERC official, Pere Aragones, said his party told the leader of Catalonia's regional government it would push for a new independence referendum in conversations with central government, Reuters news agency reported.

The agreement "recognises that this is fundamentally a political problem," Bloomberg news agency quoted Aragones as saying.

"It recognises the legitimacy of all the Catalan institutions, that political channels must be opened and that the judicial and police channels must be avoided," he added.

Catalonia's possible secession from Spain was a major issue during the election in November, with right-wing parties calling for a tough crackdown on Catalan separatists.

The November vote came a month after Spain's Supreme Court handed out lengthy jail sentences to nine Catalan independence leaders, over their role in organising an outlawed referendum in 2017.

That included ERC president, Oriol Junqueras, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

The European Court of Justice in December ruled that Junqueras had parliamentary immunity as an elected MEP and should have been released from prison.

The ECJ's decision was seen as ultimately benefitting ERC's political rival, Carles Puigdemont, the former head of the Catalan regional government.

He heads Junts per Catalunya, ERC's main rival for the Catalan separatist vote, which opposes the deal with the Socialists.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium in 2017, where on Thursday a judge suspended a European arrest warrant for him and another pro-secession leader because the two men had been elected MEPs.

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