Spain’s socialists reach controversial deal with Catalan separatists for government backing

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez Copyright Francois Walschaerts/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Mared Gwyn JonesEuronews
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Spain’s socialist party (PSOE) has struck a deal with Catalan separatist party Junts per Catalunya that could pave the way for acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez to form a coalition government as early as next week.


In the agreement, the parties say that despite their "profound differences," Junts will offer all of its seven votes in parliament to back a Sánchez-led government in exchange for a controversial amnesty for Catalan politicians and activists who participated in a failed attempt at secession from Spain in 2017.

July's inconclusive general election left no clear road to government for neither the right- nor left-wing coalition, but with Junts' seven votes Sánchez can muster sufficient support to pass the 176-seat majority benchmark in an investiture vote.

Speaking in Brussels, where intense negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, the PSOE's organisational secretary Santos Cerdán said the deal was a "historical opportunity to resolve a conflict that can only be resolved through politics."

Cerdán assured his party was "very happy" with the deal despite the difficult nature of negotiations, which have taken place in Belgium where Junts' exiled leader Carles Puigdemont resides.

Puigdemont, speaking from the same spot in Brussels where he first addressed the public following his exile in 2017, said that his party and PSOE shared the objective of "contributing to the resolution of the historic conflict between Catalonia and Spain," adding that Junts was entering an "unprecedented new phase" which the party would "explore and exploit."

He also assured that the path ahead would be uncertain and "full of difficulties."

According to the deal unveiled Thursday, Junts maintains the legitimacy of the referendum on Catalonia's independence from Spain held in October 2017 and the ensuing declaration of independence, which the socialists consider legally null.

But despite what the text describes as "mutual distrust" between both parties, they have agreed to enter a new phase of cooperation to ensure Sánchez can govern for a second term.

The deal foresees an "international" mediation mechanism designed to monitor and vet the entire negotiation process between both parties, and any ensuing agreement they might strike.

Spain divided on amnesty

The deal has drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties, who accuse Sánchez of undermining the rule of law by absolving crimes including embezzlement and maladministration for political gains. 

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of the opposition who topped the polls in July, said that Sánchez had "humiliated" Spain by cooperating with a fugitive from justice.

Dolors Montserrat, spokesperson for the PP in the European Parliament, said on social media platform X that the move marked the "beginning of the end of rule of law" in Spain, and vowed her party would continue to denounce the agreement in the European Union.

Madrid region president Isabel Díaz Ayuso described the deal as a "blank cheque" for the separatists.

Political figures from Sánchez's own political family have also expressed reservations about an amnesty law, including former President Felipe González. Legal experts disagree on whether the bill would violate Spain's constitution.

A recent opinion poll suggests 40% of socialist voters oppose amnesty, while 87% of the party's membership backed the move in a formal consultation. 

But Spain's acting deputy prime minister and Sánchez's coalition partner Yolanda Díaz said on social media platform X that after difficult months, "serenity and coexistence" had won over hate.

Violent protests have taken place in Spanish cities over the past few days, with smaller demonstrations also seen in the Belgian capital where the deal was announced.

Brussels intervenes

In an unexpected intervention, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders addressed a letter to Spanish ministers on Wednesday requesting more information on the possible amnesty law amid "serious concerns." 


The Commission had been contacted by "a large number of citizens," the letter says.

In response, Spain’s Presidency Minister Félix Bolaños said that the amnesty bill was a proposal from the parliamentary groups, and that the current caretaker status of the government prevented it from submitting bills to the parliament.

Asked whether the Commission would interfere further, a spokesperson said on Thursday that the Catalonian question "remains an internal matter for Spain" and that "it's not unusual for the Commission to ask member states for information bilaterally on issues where concerns are voiced."

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