A fierce three-day debate commenced in the Spanish Congress on Saturday, with the Socialist (PSOE) leader and Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez still on course – just – to be invested officially in the role after the vote scheduled for Tuesday 7 January.
Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos party, officially presented their coalition agreement on Monday.
The PSOE’s 120 seats from the 10 November general election, however, combined with the 35 won by the left-wing Podemos party, left them short of the majority in the 350-seat Spanish Congress. The re-election of Sánchez as prime minister has been in the hands of the Catalan pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party’s 13 MPs abstaining in the forthcoming investiture vote, as well as the support from other smaller political groups.
With the Catalan issue at the centre of Spain’s political deadlock, on Thursday the ERC party finally agreed to abstain in the forthcoming vote, based upon an agreement to pursue solutions to the conflict via dialogue.
The ERC-PSOE agreement sets out the creation of a bilateral negotiating table between the Spanish and Catalan governments up to 15 days after the formation of the Spanish government and states that ‘political means’ should be favoured whilst ‘overcoming the judicialization’ of the Catalan independence conflict.
On Saturday the ERC party has stated that they will maintain their agreement to abstain, despite the news on Friday that Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC) has ordered Catalan president Quim Torra be disqualified from his post.
This was also followed by news that the electoral board has decided to not grant jailed pro-independence ERC leader Oriol Junqueras his MEP seat, despite being elected by citizens on the 2019 European election and being granted immunity as such by the EU court in December 2019.
‘We need to resume the political dialogue, where grievances began to pile up, we need to leave the judicialisation of the conflict [with Catalonia] behind,’ Sánchez stated during his opening speech in the Spanish Congress, which started on Saturday at 9am in Madrid.
Sánchez insisted on the need for dialogue on the independence issue and put the focus on politicians and not judges, saying that ‘a political conflict needs to go back to politics’.
Sánchez also announced that he would launch ‘a bilateral negotiating table between the Spanish and Catalan governments,’ as agreed with pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party.
‘Resuming the path to dialogue, negotiation and pact is our duty,’ he added, although making clear that it has to be within ‘Spain’s legal framework’ and the ‘constitution’.
At the moment, Sánchez has still ensured a successful bid in the final investiture vote on 7 January, despite the electoral board’s rulings. If his vote fails on Tuesday, it will again open a two-month period to find a candidate to lead Spain. If MPs fail to agree on an alternative, then a third general election within a year would be immediately called.
Meanwhile in Barcelona, the Catalan Parliament is scheduled to hold an extraordinary plenary session on Saturday afternoon, following the ruling by Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC) to disqualify the Catalan president Quim Torra from office.
The head of the far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, has said that Torra ‘must be arrested’. During the debate at the Spanish Congress on Saturday, he also said that his party would ‘never back a government that risks national unity’.
In Barcelona, the Ciudadanos (Cs) party has called for the Catalan Parliament plenary session to be suspended. ‘Torra is no longer an MP, and nor president, so the plenary session cannot be called,’ said Cs leader in Catalonia, Lorena Roldán.