25th February 2024
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The PSOE and Junts sign a pact that will guarantee investiture of Pedro Sánchez

Spain’s PSOE socialist party has signed a controversial pact with the Catalan pro-independence Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party that will enable acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to form a government and remain in power.

JxCat is led by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium where he is now an MEP, after leading the failed October 2017 independence attempt for Catalonia.

In exchange for their support, the pro-independence parties – JxCat and the ERC, who had already made an earlier pact with the PSOE – will get passage of a bill that will grant amnesty to Catalans being prosecuted for their involvement in the failed attempt to secede from the rest of Spain not only in the illegal referendum held in 2017, but for other actions carried out ‘between 2012 and 2023’. ALSO READ: Puigdemont demands ‘amnesty’ for all independence activists as ‘precondition’ for Sánchez’s investiture.

The agreement, which covers the entire legislature, ‘comes at a key moment for the country’ and ‘constitutes a historic opportunity to resolve a conflict [in Catalonia] that can and must only be resolved through politics’, the PSOE’s negotiator Santos Cerdán told a press conference in Brussels after the signing ceremony together with Jordi Turull from JxCat.

Cerdán added that the agreement between his party and JxCat for a future amnesty does not include names, and covers people related ‘directly or indirectly’ to actions carried out by Catalan separatists in the period ‘between 2012 and 2023’.

‘This a political agreement and an agreement for an amnesty,’ Cerdán said.

While admitting that the socialists and the separatists are still totally opposed on their vision of a united, or divided, country, Cedrán said that the deal is not just to help Sánchez form a government, but to secure the separatists’ support during the entire four-year legislature.

Cerdán said the amnesty legislation, which will need the support of several smaller left-wing and regionalist parties to be passed, will cover all crimes and alleged crimes related to the Catalan separatist movement from 2012 until now.

‘Six years have passed (since the secession attempt) and the conflict is still unresolved,’ Cerdán said. ‘Our goal is to start a new chapter … where the errors of the past are no longer obstacles to overcome.’

The amnesty would benefit Puigdemont and scores of others, from minor government officials to ordinary citizens, who ran into legal trouble for their roles in Catalonia’s illegal secession attempt that brought Spain to the brink of rupture six years ago.

Spain’s courts are currently still trying to have Puigdemont extradited from Belgium, where he fled in 2017 to avoid arrest. Given that he is considered an enemy of the state for many right-wing Spaniards, any deal that benefits him is politically toxic.

The amnesty proposal has provoked strong, on-going protests from the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox group. Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Madrid and Barcelona against the amnesty in recent weeks. ALSO READ: Right-wing and far-right politicians join thousands in anti-amnesty rally in Barcelona.

Protests backed by Vox turned nasty on Monday and Tuesday night with police having to use batons and tear gas to protect the headquarters of the PSOE in Madrid. More protests have been called by the PP for Sunday. ALSO READ: Protests against amnesty turn ugly as police use tear gas and smoke canisters.

The amnesty talks have also fallen under the scrutiny of the European Union. EU Commissioner of Justice Didier Reynders sent Spain’s government a request for more information this week. It is likely to end up in Spain’s Constitutional Court for a judicial review.

Prior to the July election outcome, Sánchez was opposed to an amnesty. But now he says an amnesty is necessary to bring about a return to normal political life in the northeast region. 

No one questions that Sánchez is now granting an amnesty mainly out of political necessity, but the issues in Catalonia have also been hanging over Spanish politics for many years and need a resolution (also see Background to Catalan political conflict below). Even former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González has said that Sánchez wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t need the extra parliamentary support.

Investiture debate and vote

The PSOEJxCat pact should finally allow Sánchez to be sworn in as the new prime minister next week, in a parliamentary debate and vote to be held next Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 November.

To be officially reinstated as PM after the inconclusive July general election, Sánchez needs to win support from at least 176 MPs within the 350-seat Spanish Congress in a key vote that must take place before 27 November. If he fails, Spain will automatically be forced to hold new elections, most likely in mid-January.

Sánchez already had the support of the 121 MPs in his own PSOE party, the 31 MPs of Sumar – and the six MPs of Basque party EH Bildu. ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz reach PSOE-Sumar coalition deal.

In addition to the backing of ERC and JxCat (both with seven seats each), Sánchez is expected to secure the Basque Nationalist Party’s (EAJ-PNV) five MPs, and possibly the support of the sole representative from the Galician Nationalist party, BNG. This would make a total of 178 MPs in the 350-seat chamber. ALSO READ: King Felipe instructs Pedro Sánchez to try and form a government.

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.

Carles Puigdemont led the government of Catalonia when it staged the referendum banned by Madrid and the courts, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence. ALSO READ: Spanish judge now wants to question Puigdemont as part of terrorism investigation.

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