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EU Commission, Spain exchange bitter letters over Catalan amnesty

8 months ago 38

A letter from the EU Commission expressing concerns about Spain’s rule of law developments and requesting information on the controversial Catalan amnesty law sparked a tense response from the Spanish government on Thursday.

Meanwhile, tensions in Spain escalated as some far-right “Francoists” took part in riots outside the socialist party’s headquarters.

Spain’s socialist PSOE party is “negotiating” an amnesty law for those involved in the October 2017 secession attempt in Catalonia.

Adopting such a law is a precondition for far-left groups to give acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez the necessary majority to remain in power in a progressive coalition government with the leftist Sumar platform.

Read more: Catalan separatist leader demands amnesty law as precondition to start negotiating with Madrid

As a general practice, the European Commission avoids intervening in EU member states’ discussions on draft laws negotiated at the national level.

But in the case of Spain, the EU executive showed rapid reflexes.

The letter flagged “serious concerns” over the controversial amnesty law and included a request for information on its personal, material, and temporal scope.

Leaked to media first

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders signed the letter addressed to Spanish minister of the Presidency Félix Bolaños and Justice Minister Pilar Llop.

Bolaños responded on Thursday evening, saying the amnesty law still does not exist, as it is being negotiated, adding that the Spanish acting government – which learnt about the letter via the media – is not responsible for it because it will be the political groups processing it in parliament.

“However, as always, we are happy to work with the European Commission to inform you of all the issues you wish to know and, of course, to provide you with all the information you need. This is how we have always worked and will continue to do so”, Bolaños said in the letter.

“Should an amnesty bill be registered, rest assured that we will explain to you and Vice-President Vera Jourova all the details of the law”, he added.

Reynders’ letter follows complaints by a “large number of citizens” and points out that the amnesty law “has become a matter of considerable importance in public debate”.

Meanwhile, the centre-right opposition party Partido Popular (PP, EPP) urged the Commission on Monday to intervene to protect the rule of law in Spain, following widespread protests in Spain and criticism from several other parties, including far-right VOX and liberal party Ciudadanos.

Reynders also expressed concern over the lack of progress regarding the Commission’s request since 2020 to renew Spain’s highest judicial authority – the CGPJ.

The General Body of the Judiciary (CGPJ), which governs Spain’s judicial branch and safeguards its independence, has been under fire since 2018 due to the failure of the socialists and centre-right to renew the body’s members, whose mandates expired five years ago.

In his answer, Bolaños told Reynders that the PP is at fault for the lack of renewal, as the party keeps coming up with “excuses” not to find a compromise with the socialists.

“As you will remember, in the meeting we had in Madrid in July 2022, I gave you a document with all the excuses that the Popular Party had given until then for not complying with this obligation […] I would be grateful if you would approach the Popular Party to try to get this party to comply with the Spanish Constitution finally”, he said.

In his letter, Bolaños concluded by telling Reynders that the amnesty law is a “bet” for the final overcoming of the conflict and division in Catalonia, issues he said “that I know you are firmly committed to”.  (Max Griera | Euractiv.com)

Socialist Conservative leaders clash.

Meanwhile, Sanchez’s Socialist PSOE Party and Partido Popular (PP) accused each other on Wednesday of being indirectly responsible for the violent riots organised by radical and far-right groups that took place on Tuesday night outside the Socialist Party headquarters in Madrid.

On Wednesday, PP leader Feijóo condemned the serious events but rejected the PSOE (S&D), giving him “lessons in democracy”.

“While the ultras are being criticised, and we share that criticism, the same people who criticise them [PSOE] are giving impunity [with the amnesty law] to the violent actions [of 2017 in Catalonia] that they [PSOE] are interested in [to return to government]” the PP leader stressed, Euractiv´s partner EFE reported.

Sanchez, for his part, met with his party workers on Wednesday, to whom he expressed his anger “at the violence that is being used to intimidate” the progressive political formation, the Spanish public television RTVE reported.

Sánchez assured that the attacks “will not succeed in intimidating the socialists” and stressed that the serious events demonstrate the need for the PSOE’s project to pass the controversial amnesty law – and form a left-wing government with the progressive platform Sumar – is now more necessary than ever.

On Tuesday night, around 7,000 people demonstrated outside the PSOE headquarters in Madrid’s city centre to protest against the amnesty law being prepared by the party to benefit those involved in the secessionist attempt of 2017 in Catalonia, El País reported.

‘Patriotic’ riots

Neo-Nazi and far-right groups managed to get within a few metres of the PSOE’s headquarters, waved pre-democracy Spanish flags (with an eagle and arrows), and chanted slogans against the socialist party and against Sánchez.

Some of them even sang “Cara al Sol”, the anthem of the Spanish Falange of the JONS, written in 1935, which represents the most complex core of the former “Francoism” and still amalgamates the few remaining nostalgics of Franco rule.

Chanting slogans such as “Sánchez traitor” and “The Constitution (of 1978) destroys the nation”, the most radical group of demonstrators approached the PSOE headquarters, although the police prevented them from entering the party building using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Among the main instigators of Tuesday’s demonstrations are extreme right and radical organisations, including Desocupa, a company specialised in the violent eviction of tenants who have occupied homes, and members of Bastión Frontal, a neo-Nazi group that has almost disbanded, whose members define themselves as “social patriots”.

Núñez Feijóo and VOX President Santiago Abascal announced days ago that if the government goes ahead with the extraordinary measure of grace, they would call for numerous demonstrations and go to the Constitutional Court to try to stop the norm.

On the parliamentary side, the PP will even use its Senate majority to delay the law’s approval, El País reported.

On Sunday, the PP called for another demonstration against the controversial law, following the one called a couple of weeks ago by VOX in Madrid, which brought together around 100,000 people.

The PP and VOX, which jointly govern several regions and city councils, are vying for the leading role in defending patriotic values and trying to stop what they see as Sánchez’s “coup d’état” against Spanish democracy, as Abascal defined it.

Complex negotiations in Brussels

Meanwhile, the main negotiators of the PSOE and the Catalan separatist party JxCat of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont are still hard at work on the final details of the controversial amnesty law, which is key for Sanchez to have enough parliamentary support to rule.

Sources close to the negotiations told EFE in Brussels that both parties are now opting for prudence, and despite the initial optimism of a quick investiture of Sánchez this week, PSOE and JxCat believe that the parliamentary debate could probably take place next week.

The deadline set by the Spanish constitution for a new prime minister to be sworn in is 27 November; otherwise, new elections will be called on 14 January 2024.

Asked about Tuesday’s serious incidents, neither party said it felt under pressure.

(Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.Euractiv.es – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)

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