The bid by Spain’s acting socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, to form a new government needs the backing of the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who appears in no rush to strike a deal.
Puigdemont and his Catalan pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) emerged as kingmaker after an inconclusive general election in Spain back in July, in which neither the left nor the right won enough seats to form a governing majority.
In exchange for the key support of his seven JxCat MPs, Puigdemont demanded an amnesty for hundreds of people who faced legal action over their roles in Catalonia’s failed push for independence in 2017, which sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. ALSO READ: Puigdemont demands ‘amnesty’ for all independence activists as ‘precondition’ for Sánchez’s investiture.
Despite the PSOE already reaching a deal for an amnesty bill with Catalonia’s other main pro-independence party, Esquerra Republicana (ERC), however, Puigdemont and his JxCat group are yet to also give the green light. ALSO READ: PSOE preparing draft Catalan amnesty bill ahead of Sánchez investiture vote.
The divisive amnesty proposal is fiercely opposed by the right-wing (PP) and far-right (Vox) parties in Spain. Among those who would benefit from the amnesty is Puigdemont himself, who headed the Catalan government in 2017 when it made a short lived declaration of independence after a violence-marred referendum banned by Madrid. Puigdemont fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and now lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, where he is also an MEP.
A deal on the amnesty seemed imminent on Thursday as Puigdemont met with top JxCat party officials at a hotel in Brussels. A lectern with a microphone and a label with Puigdemont’s name on it was even set up but in the end he did not speak.
He instead urged ‘caution’ even if ‘some are in a hurry’ in what was seen as a reference to Sánchez. If the socialist leader fails to win an investiture vote in parliament by 27 November, fresh elections will be held, most likely in mid-January.
To seal the deal with the ERC, Sánchez sent his right-hand man, cabinet minister Félix Bolaños, to Barcelona to meet with ERC president Oriol Junqueras on Thursday (see Tweet below), and which was validated by ERC party members on Friday.
The deal includes the future amnesty law, the transfer of the Catalan Rodalies commuter rail network so that it is managed and controlled from Catalonia and not Madrid, and the write off of €15 billion of debt, among other measures.
Bolaños had reportedly hoped to celebrate a parallel agreement with Puigdemont’s party at the same time but instead he told reporters he ‘hoped’ an agreement would ‘soon’ be signed with JxCat.
Jaume Asens, a member of the left-wing Podemos group – which up to now has governed in a coalition with Sánchez’s PSOE party – and who is negotiating a deal with JxCat, said ‘last minute differences’ had emerged, without giving details.
But the ‘differences are so small’ that not reaching a deal is ‘impossible’, he also told Spanish public television, adding he was convinced that such an agreement would be reached ‘in the hours or days to come’.
Spanish media has reported that Puigdemont’s reluctance to sign an agreement with the PSOE is linked to the power struggle between his party and ERC in Catalonia, which has been governed by pro-independence parties for a decade and is slated to hold a regional election in 2025.
JxCat has been an opponent to Sánchez’s government in recent years after helping bring him to power in 2018 when it backed a vote of no confidence against his right-wing predecessor Mariano Rajoy.
The more moderate ERC is open to dialogue with Madrid and has regularly helped Sánchez’s minority government to pass legislation in the Spanish Congress.
The ERC and JxCat governed Catalonia together at the time of the 2017 independence push but the two parties cut ties last year, with JxCat accusing ERC of weakness in its dealings with Spain’s central government. The ERC now governs Catalonia alone.
Puigdemont wants to ‘impose a narrative’ about the agreement that is different than that of the ERC’s so ‘the last word must be his’, journalist Enric Juliana wrote on Friday in Barcelona-based daily newspaper La Vanguardia.
Spanish media has also reported that Puigdemont is seeking to have the proposed amnesty bill more ‘far reaching’, to include names of other Catalan figures currently under investigation by the courts in Madrid, although not directly involved with the 2017 independence push.
🔴🔴 El PSOE y ERC han suscrito un acuerdo en el marco del proceso de investidura de @sanchezcastejon.— PSOE (@PSOE) November 2, 2023
Imágenes de la reunión mantenida entre el secretario para la Reforma Constitucional y Nuevos Derechos y ministro en funciones de @M_Presidencia, @felixbolanosg y Oriol… pic.twitter.com/s2jENlZoza