Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s socialist (PSOE) acting prime minister, is still hoping to be sworn in as leader of a new coalition government before the Three Kings holiday (Epiphany) of 6 January.
However, it will depend largely on a pending report from Spain’s Solicitor General regarding Oriol Junqueras, the jailed Catalan leader of the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party.
The PSOE’s 120 seats from the 10 November general election (Spain’s fourth general election in four years), 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 – has left 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.
Since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 19 December that Oriol Junqueras has parliamentary immunity after being elected as an MEP back in May – the on-going negotiations between the ERC party and the PSOE to reach a deal on investing Sánchez as prime minister have been complicated further still.
The EU court’s confirmation of Junqueras’ immunity is having a direct impact on Spain’s political deadlock, which has so far led to eight months of an interim socialist government.
The judges in Luxembourg said that Junqueras should have been freed in June in order to take up his seat as an MEP after being elected to the European Parliament on 26 May.
Yet, the court did not specify if he should still be freed, because at the time he was in custody during the Catalan Trial and is now serving a 13-year sentence following the verdict on 14 October.
It is now up to Spain’s Supreme Court to decide whether to free Junqueras, and the judges in Madrid have given until 3 January for all sides in the Catalan Trial to have their say before they make a final decision.
Andreu Van den Eynde, defence lawyer of Junqueras, formally requested on Tuesday 24 December that Spain’s Supreme Court order the ‘immediate’ release of the jailed Catalan independence leader so that he can attend the European Parliament.
Whilst the defence of Junqueras argues for the jailed leader’s release and the overturning of his sentence, the far-right Vox party (which is the ‘popular prosecutor’ in the case), has called for him to remain in prison, and Spain’s Public Prosecutor has accused Junqueras of ‘abuse of rights’ in demanding his sentence be revoked.
All parties have so far presented their arguments to the Supreme Court, leaving only Spain’s Solicitor General still to do so – and which is expected on Monday 30 January. The Solicitor General represents the Spanish government, via the Justice Ministry, with the pro-independence ERC party believing the PSOE can influence the institution.
PSOE spokeswoman Isabel Celaá said in Friday’s press conference that if the Solicitor General presented its report on Monday then there would still be ‘physical time’ to close the agreement with the Catalan pro-independence ERC party and schedule a full investiture debate and vote during 2-5 January.
She said that the CJEU’s ruling ‘has stated that Junqueras has immunity as a European Parliamentarian since being proclaimed’ a winner in the May election, and therefore the Solicitor General is doing a ‘thorough study’ of the situation, ‘meeting technical and legal criteria’.
Celaá said that the government has no knowledge of the content of the lawyer’s report or the timing of its release.
At the very least, the ERC party is seeking a ‘judicial gesture’ from the Solicitor General that would eventually allow Junqueras to leave prison in order to collect his accreditation as an MEP. The party is also seeking that the Catalan Trial is declared null and void – yet this is highly unlikely, as any final decision would remain with the Supreme Court itself.
ERC spokeswoman Marta Vilalta previously said that Sánchez’s investiture will depend on what the Solicitor General’s report says. ‘If the State wants to continue on the path of repression, defeat will only be tougher for the Spanish justice system. The later it rectifies, the harder it will fall.’
Meanwhile, the leader of the Ciudadanos (Cs) party, Inés Arrimadas, has called on some members of the Socialist party to ‘raise their voices’ to ‘curb the madness’ of Pedro Sánchez ‘pressuring’ the Solicitor General.
In a press conference, Arrimadas criticised Sánchez’s ‘intolerable pressures’ for the Solicitor General ‘to act as Oriol Junqueras’s defender,’ in order to secure the support from ERC and form a government.
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