Acting Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, started discussions with other party leaders on Monday, starting with Pablo Casado of the People’s Party (PP), followed by Inés Arrimadas of the Ciudadanos (Cs), in his bid to be officially reinstated as head of a new government, as invited to do so by King Felipe VI.
Sánchez is also due to have a telephone discussion on Tuesday with Quim Torra, the president of the Catalan government.
It follows on from on-going meetings between Sánchez’s PSOE socialist party and the the Catalan pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) group.
The PSOE’s 120 seats from the 10 November general election, combined with the 35 won by the left-wing Podemos party – and with whom they have already signed a pre-agreement to form a coalition government – leaves them short of the majority in the 350-seat Spanish Congress. The re-election of Sánchez as prime minister is therefore in the hands of ERC’s 13 MPs, as well as other smaller political groups.
The alternative is the possibility of a ‘plan B’ agreement between the PSOE, the PP and Cs – although this is being reported as unlikely.
The PSOE, PP and Cs together hold 221 seats, well above the 176 required for the absolute majority in the Spanish Congress that Sánchez needs to secure at the first round of the investiture vote.
Cs spokeswoman Arrimadas has been pushing for ‘a grand constitutional agreement’ since she provisionally took leadership of the party after Albert Rivera resigned and quits politics. It followed on from Cs losing 47 seats from the previous 28 April election, and they now have only 10 MPs in Congress.
Sánchez has already accepted that dialogue ‘must be the method’ for breaking the political deadlock, after the jailed head of the ERC party, Oriol Junqueras, said his party’s support for Sánchez would depend on talks between Spain and Catalonia.
In an interview with La Razón newspaper, Junqueras said ‘if there are no negotiations between the governments, we will vote “no”,’ in reference to his party’s 13 seats in the Spanish Congress that Sànchez wants in order to form a ‘progressive’ government.
In response, however, Sánchez has insisted that any such talks must be within the framework of ‘the legal security provided by our democratic laws.’
Since winning the 10 November general election without a majority, the PSOE have already met with ERC three times in search of an agreement.
In his interview with La Razón, Junqueras insisted that his party’s aim was not to invest Sánchez but to ‘find a democratic solution to the conflict’, and the jailed leader made it clear that ‘the ball is in the Socialists’ court’.
Meanwhile, the Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès, also of the ERC party, has asked the PSOE to find a solution for the 9 jailed pro-independence leaders in an interview with La Vanguardia newspaper at the weekend: ‘That should also be brought up at the negotiating table.’
According to Aragonès, ERC and the PSOE are still ‘far from an agreement’ that must be reached.
‘We will decide whether we’ll move from our initial “no” after talks are over. It will depend on [agreed upon] content: talks between [the Spanish and Catalan] governments where everything can be discussed according to a schedule with guarantees that everything that’s agreed on will be carried out,’ Aragonès maintained as essential for his party’s support.
In the interview, Aragonès also stated that the imprisonment of the independence leaders was a form of ‘repression’ as they have been ‘sentenced in a completely unfair manner’.
Also at the weekend, Spain’s acting development minister, José Luis Ábalos, called on the ERC to reach an agreement with his party.
If ERC fails to back Sánchez, then Ábalos believes ‘there will be no chance for dialogue’ on Catalonia.
Ábalos stated that there is an ‘opportunity’ to solve the ‘conflict’ politically and suggested that if an agreement is not reached now, it may not be able to be achieved further down the line.