Spain’s acting deputy prime minister and labour minister, Yolanda Díaz, who is also the head of the left-wing Sumar group of parties, went to Brussels on Monday to meet exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, primarily seeking support from his Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party to keep Pedro Sánchez’s left-leaning coalition in power – yet announced as ‘exploring all democratic solutions to unblock the political conflict’ with Catalonia.
An inconclusive general election on 23 July resulted in a hung parliament in Spain, making Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since leading Catalonia’s failed push for independence from Spain in October 2017, the unlikely kingmaker. ALSO READ: With Sánchez and Feijóo both claiming victory in the election … what happens next?
Alberto Núñez Feijóo, whose right-wing People’s Party (PP) won the most votes in the election, will make the first attempt at an investiture vote on 27 September, although his chances of winning are seen as slim, as he is still four votes short after receiving support from his few allies including the far-right Vox party. ALSO READ: Sánchez rejects Feijóo’s request to back his premiership bid and two-year term proposal.
Meanwhile, Sánchez, the socialist (PSOE) head of the caretaker leftist coalition government, is in talks to get the necessary support for his own candidacy in a hypothetical second vote, once the PP leader’s attempt to form a government has failed.
The support or abstention by Puigdemont’s JxCat party, and an array of other pro-independence or regionalist parties that have supported Sánchez in the past, will be crucial for winning the right to form a government.
Yolanda Diaz’s Sumar group said in a statement that her planned talks with Puigdemont were ‘another step in our firm bid to open a new era of solutions based on dialogue and democracy’. Meanwhile, Sánchez’s PSOE party said the meeting was strictly Sumar’s agenda although they had been informed it would take place.
Sumar brings together 15 small left-wing parties (including Podemos, the PSOE’s previous junior coalition partner), and is led by Díaz. She was accompanied to the meeting in Brussels on Monday by Jaume Asens of the Podemos group. Puigdemont, now an MEP, was accompanied by Toni Comín, another Catalan MEP.
‘We agree to explore all democratic solutions to unblock the political conflict [with Catalonia],’ read a short statement released to the media after the brief words of the Sumar leader as she left the meeting room in Brussels. One of the main objectives of the meeting was to address the investiture of Sánchez, despite the PSOE distancing themselves from the conversations and emphasising that Díaz had attended on behalf of Sumar and not on behalf of the Spanish government.
The parties on the right have condemned Sánchez’s reliance on pro-independence parties in the previous legislature, and the current attempts to sway JxCat, as betrayal of Spain’s interests for the sake of preserving power.
Feijóo’s PP, however, had previously said they would also be looking to speak to JxCat, but that any discussions would have to be ‘within the framework of the Constitution’.
Regarding the meeting between Díaz and Puigdemont on Monday, Feijóo tweeted: ‘Today, the government meets with a fugitive from justice in Brussels. They have gone to negotiate an amnesty contrary to the Constitution and self-determination referendums.’
Yolanda Díaz tweeted: ‘Dialogue is a method and a compromise. To promote social advances and to move towards a multinational country where politics is the centre of solutions. We will continue talking, we will continue looking for solutions through dialogue and democracy.’
Carles Puigdemont tweeted: ‘The meeting we had this afternoon with Yolanda Díaz, Jaume Asens and Toni Comín is part of democratic normality in the European Union. Dialogue and maintaining political relations between formations of different ideologies should not be a surprise, nor an exception.’
Background to Catalan political conflict
Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.
Late last year, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.
Misuse of public funds can carry prison time of between six months and up to five years if convicted, but disobedience only carries a disqualification from public office.
El diálogo es un método y un compromiso. Para impulsar avances sociales y para caminar hacia un país plurinacional donde la política sea el centro de las soluciones.— Yolanda Díaz (@Yolanda_Diaz_) September 4, 2023
Seguiremos hablando, seguiremos buscando salidas en el diálogo y la democracia. pic.twitter.com/0J8aA69hM6
La trobada que hem fet aquest migdia amb @Yolanda_Diaz_ , @Jaumeasens i @toni_comin és part de la normalitat democràtica a la Unió Europea. Dialogar i mantenir relacions polítiques entre formacions de diferents ideologies no hauria de ser cap sorpresa, ni cap excepcionalitat. pic.twitter.com/zTDoTgzGgB— krls.eth / Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) September 4, 2023
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