The exiled former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, demanded on Tuesday an amnesty for hundreds of activists facing legal action over a failed 2017 independence bid.
Puigdemont said the ‘complete abandonment of judicial proceedings’ against Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists was needed for his Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party to give its crucial backing for Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to be sworn in for another term, after an inconclusive national election on 23 July. ALSO READ: With Sánchez and Feijóo both claiming victory in the election … what happens next?
‘[We demand] … the complete and effective abandonment of the judicial process against the independence movement and the pro-independence activists. The 1-0 [October 2017 referendum] was not a crime, nor was the declaration of independence,’ said Puigdemont.
Puigdemont, 60, led the government of Catalonia when it staged a referendum banned by Madrid and the courts on 1 October 2017, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence. [See background to Catalan political conflict below, and click here for all our reports related to: Catalan independence.]
The JxCat leader fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and now lives in Belgium, where he is also an MEP. His JxCat party unexpectedly emerged as kingmaker following the 23 July early general election in Spain. ALSO READ: Spain’s right-wing PP win the election, but not a majority, even with far-right Vox.
The main opposition, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), won the most seats but neither it nor Sánchez’s PSOE socialists emerged with a clear path to achieve the 176-seat majority needed to win an investiture vote and take office.
King Felipe VI has called on PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo to try to form a new government but he lacks enough support to win an investiture vote in parliament slated for 27 September. ALSO READ: Sánchez rejects Feijóo’s request to back his premiership bid and two-year term proposal.
If he fails as is widely expected, Sánchez will get a shot. The PSOE and its left-wing allies grouped under the platform of Sumar can manage a working majority in parliament if they win the support of Catalan pro-independence and Basque nationalist parties, including Puigdemont’s JxCat.
In Brussels on Tuesday, Puigdemont said that his JxCat party was ‘ready for a new Spanish election, but also for talks for a historic agreement’, stating that his party is willing to enter into negotiations but only if certain conditions are met.
An amnesty for all pro-independence figures – including Puigdemont himself – would be a ‘precondition’ before any talks to elect Sánchez, he said.
‘This is within the reach of the Spanish parliament, via an amnesty law,’ he said.
He warned that conditions for negotiations were not yet in place and asked that the process for eventual negotiations be ‘serious, honest and ambitious’.
He said that negotiation would also depend on self-determination, which he said was necessary to ‘solve the fundamental problem’. He said that Spain must eventually ‘recognise and respect the democratic legitimacy of independence’.
He said that all these requests, however, would not be possible if no organisation or ‘mediator’ supervises the accomplishment of the deal, as the ‘lack of trust among parties’ would make reaching an agreement difficult.
Avoiding a new election ‘only depends on the willingness of politicians’, he added.
Meeting between Yolanda Díaz and Puigdemont
Puigdemont met with Spain’s acting prime minister and the leader of Sumar, Yolanda Diaz, on Monday in Brussels as part of efforts to secure support for another PSOE-led coalition government. ALSO READ: Yolanda Díaz ‘looks for democratic solutions via dialogue’ with Puigdemont in Brussels.
Congress approving an amnesty before a vote on Sánchez’s investiture would be ‘difficult but not impossible,’ according to a negotiator for Sumar.
‘For it to pass, the socialists should move now,’ Jaume Asens from Podemos told Catalunya Ràdio on Tuesday morning, ‘because it should be registered in mid-September so that it can be ready before 27 November.’
However, the PSOE agreeing on a referendum on Catalan independence ‘doesn’t seem possible right now’, he said. Asens had also been at the meeting between Díaz and Puigdemont on Monday.
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 remain 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.
Carles Puigdemont pide "el abandono completo y efectivo de la vía judicial contra el independentismo y los independentistas. El 1-O no fue un delito ni tampoco la declaración de independencia"— RTVE Noticias (@rtvenoticias) September 5, 2023
▶En #Canal24horas: https://t.co/0Ix6dDsBAd pic.twitter.com/An7dKImdKv
🗣 President @KRLS Puigdemont 👇🏽— Junts per Catalunya🎗 (@JuntsXCat) September 5, 2023
❗️Condicions necessàries per poder emprendre el camí de la negociació:
1️⃣ El reconeixement i respecte a la legitimitat democràtica de l’independentisme.
2️⃣ L’abandonament complet i efectiu de la via judicial contra l’independentisme i els… pic.twitter.com/YOiyXnVyqJ