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Sanchez's 'amnesty' talks with Catalan separatists to stay PM

8 months ago 28

Spain's incumbent caretaker government, led by socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez, is keen to avoid another election and is finalising details to secure a second term, which he hopes could begin as early as next week (7-8 November).

The Popular Party leader, Alberto Feijóo, tried to push through his own investiture after his centre-right party came out on top in the July elections, but failed to attract enough other coalition partners to form the majority needed for government. After that failure, it is now the turn of the incumbent prime minister, Sánchez.

  • Carles Puigdemont has been on the run from Spanish justice since October 2017, when he self-exiled to Belgium following the illegal referendum in Catalonia (Photo: European Parliament)

Sánchez has until 27 November to gather enough parliamentary support for his investiture to go ahead, although the party's aim is for Sanchez to arrive as president-elect at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists in Malaga on 10-11 November.

With this deadline in mind, last Tuesday the socialist party (PSOE) concluded its agreement with the leftwing Sumar party led by Yolanda Díaz, but still needs the vote of the Catalan pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya, led by Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont has been on the run from Spanish justice since October 2017, when he self-exiled to Waterloo, outside Brussels, following the illegal referendum in Catalonia.

That's why Brussels — and Waterloo in particular — has been in the national and international spotlight recently, as it's where the victory or failure of the progressive government Sanchez has been negotiating since July hangs in the balance.

And the conditions Puigdemont has put on the table in exchange for his support are not straightfoward.

The first of them is a so-called amnesty law, which would give something like a legal clean slate to those who took part in the 2017 referendum. In other words, to drop the legal proceedings against Catalan independence supporters, including himself.

Puigdemont has also requested exploring the possibility of holding a new referendum in Catalonia and recognition of the 'political conflict' in the region.

If these negotiations fail, Spaniards would have to go to the polls again, most likely in mid-January 2024 — an option Sánchez hopes to avoid.

"The amnesty is a means of moving forward on the path of harmony and reunification between Catalans and the rest of the Spanish people," the PM said on Saturday at the party's headquarters in Madrid.

He added: "It is the only possible way for there to be a government in Spain".

The scope of the amnesty being discussed behind the scenes is currently unknown, but the negotiations with Puigdemont are "moving in the right direction" and will follow in the upcoming days, according to a statement issued on Monday (30 October) by the socialist party.

That statement was motivated by a photo of Sánchez's number three-in-command, Santos Cerdán, at the offices of the pro-independence party in parliament, accompanied by Puigdemont himself, and the leader of the S&D group in the European Parliament, Iratxe García-Pérez.

The most striking thing about the personal meeting, however, was two details. The first was the reference to Puigdemont as "president" in the party's statement.

The second is the photo of the illegal 2017 referendum hanging in the office where the meeting took place.

"The photograph (...) was withdrawn by the European Parliament from an exhibition for reflecting an illegal act. But the PSOE has no qualms about sitting next to it, despite what it symbolises. It is very sad," complained the centre-right European People's Party MEP Juan Ignacio Zoido on social media.

Feijóo's reaction was also not long in coming: "Stop playing behind the backs of the citizens, say what you are negotiating and accept that Spaniards are consulted in elections because they do not deserve a government born of a lie".

On Sunday, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Madrid to demonstrate their rejection of the government's support for such an amnesty. Another demonstration has been called for 18 November, which Feijóo has announced he will attend "against the amnesty and in defence of equality for all".

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