Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez – who is now certain to be officially reinstated in power after an investiture debate and vote to be held next week – is facing a fierce backlash from opposition parties and the country’s judiciary for signing a pact with the Catalan pro-independence parties, and his coalition government is set for a tough legislature ahead. ALSO READ: The PSOE and Junts sign a pact that will guarantee investiture of Pedro Sánchez.
Amnesty bill and ‘lawfare’
Under the deal signed on Thursday between the PSOE socialists and JxCat, both parties also recognise their vastly different points of view on the Catalan political conflict but agree to work together to resolve it. JxCat says it will propose holding another self-determination referendum but agrees to not do it unilaterally, as in 2017. Instead, it will be under Article 92 of the Constitution, which requires the authorisation of the prime minister, the Congress and the monarch – and which is highly unlikely to be granted. JxCat has also demanded that more tax revenues stay in Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest regions, similar to agreements signed with the Basque Country and Navarra regions.
In an earlier agreement on amnesty between the PSOE and the more moderate ERC, signed 10 days ago, Sánchez’s party also agreed to the transfer of the Catalan train operator Rodalies, currently controlled from Madrid, and ‘correcting the fiscal deficit’. ALSO READ: PSOE preparing draft Catalan amnesty bill ahead of Sánchez investiture vote.
However, JxCat considered that the amnesty text signed with ERC was insufficient and demanded that the future law also include cases not directly related to the 2017 independence push, which they consider ‘lawfare’ – a term used by JxCat to describe the alleged use of the courts to persecute pro-independence activists.
The PSOE and JxCat therefore also agreed that the amnesty must cover all those who have been subjected to judicial processes — both before and after the 2017 referendum. A clause that is seen as a possible interference in the judiciary is the mention that commissions may investigate if there were cases of ‘lawfare’, meaning that the justice system was used for political purposes against secessionists that might require legislative modifications.
Spain’s tax inspectors, judges and lawyers took issue with proposals that Spain might hand back taxes to the wealthy industrial region and address ‘lawfare’.
In a statement, Spain’s four main judge associations, which represent left-wing and right-wing members, said that the deal threatened judicial independence and that Sánchez’s agreements with Puigdemont represent a ‘rupture in the separation of powers’ and an ‘unacceptable disrespect for the role of the legal system’.
Scale of opposition
Tough parliamentary term ahead
Beyond the current tensions and going forward into a new parliamentary term, a major issue for Sánchez will be the reliability of Puigdemont, who for years has strongly opposed Spain’s left-wing governments.
The entire pact between the PSOE and JxCat prompted further ire on the political right and left over the proposal of a role for an international mediator to oversee the rollout of the agreement.
Puigdemont confirmed on Thursday his support would be ‘conditional’, dependent on a ‘permanent negotiation that yields results and that those are accomplished throughout the legislative term’.
Without the support of JxCat – and with the fierce opposition of the PP that controls the senate – the PSOE–Sumar coalition could struggle to pass legislation including budgets, risking a vote of no confidence against Sánchez, in power since 2018, or the forcing of another snap election. ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz reach PSOE-Sumar coalition deal.
Many political commentators predict that a full four-year parliamentary term will be a tough challenge, and that Sánchez will have his work cut out just holding the deal together with the ERC and JxCat parties.
Others have said that the next legislature is ‘a huge risk for Sánchez’ – but that he has shown in the past that he likes a risk, and that he has often gambled politically and won.
Investiture debate and vote
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, which would be 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.
In addition to the backing of ERC and JxCat (both with seven seats each), Sánchez also has the support of the sole representatives from the Galician Nationalist party (BNG) and the Canary Islands Coalition. This will make a total of 179 MPs in the 350-seat chamber. ALSO READ: King Felipe instructs Pedro Sánchez to try and form a government.