Alliance with Catalan separatists | The Spanish government weakened by the amnesty project

The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, who last year obtained the support of a Catalan independence group to remain in power, sees his government weakened by the amnesty project on which the agreement was based.

The seven deputies of Junts Per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) voted at the end of January against the text submitted to formalize this commitment, depriving the leader of the Socialist Party of the votes required to have it ratified.

Elected officials indicated that the bill did not guarantee that independence leaders would escape any prosecution related to their role in holding a self-determination referendum held in 2017 despite opposition from Madrid.

Joan Ramon Resina, a professor at Stanford University who closely follows political developments in Spain, notes that the dispute among the government’s allies centers on Mr. Sanchez’s refusal to remove a passage excluding any protection for terrorism crimes.

Conservative judges, notes the analyst, have already indicated their intention to use the exception in question to continue targeting the independence leaders implicated after the referendum, including Carles Puigdemont, who was then president of Catalonia.

The magistrates are trying in particular to use a broader notion of terrorism to attack the politician, who lives in exile in Belgium. He was notably criticized for his role in the paralysis of Barcelona airport by a group of demonstrators.

The right opposed to amnesty

Catalan separatist elected officials had repeatedly warned Mr. Sanchez, before the vote on the amnesty project, that the exception for terrorism would not provide 100% protection for Carles Puigdemont against prosecution, “but he refused to modify the law,” notes Joan Ramon Resina.


Former president of Catalonia in exile, Carles Puigdemont, in 2021

The question now is whether the Prime Minister’s party and Junts Per Catalunya will manage to agree on a compromise before the text is resubmitted to Parliament at the end of the month.

The People’s Party (PP), a traditional right-wing formation, and Vox, from the radical right, have been opposing the amnesty law for weeks and accuse the Prime Minister of having “humiliated the country” by agreeing to comply with the demands of the Catalan separatists.

Mr. Sanchez, for his part, assures that the alliance was necessary to prevent the formation of a right-wing government including Vox and will, in the long term, promote peaceful relations with Catalonia.

Although PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo has repeatedly criticized the amnesty plan, Spanish media reported over the weekend that he was open to such an initiative in informal discussions with the party of Carles Puigdemont.


The leader of the Spanish Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, last January

The right-wing party clarified on Monday that no unconditional amnesty had been considered and that the former Catalan leader should at a minimum agreeing to be judged, expressing regret for past actions, and giving up independence to receive forgiveness.

This position contravenes that defended by the party in Galicia, where a regional election is scheduled for Sunday.


Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College, in Ohio, notes that the Socialist Party “is demonized” there because of its association with the Catalan separatists.

The analyst notes that it is likely that the PP had overtures towards Junts Per Catalunya regarding amnesty during the talks following the summer 2023 elections.

Mr. Feijoo had twice tried to form a government without obtaining the required number of votes before Pedro Sanchez was invited to try and managed to secure a majority of just a few votes.

The PP knows very well that it cannot continue to alienate the independence parties in Catalonia or even in the Basque Country if it wants to have a chance of possibly forming a government.

Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College

A compromise between the Socialist Party and the Catalan separatists on the amnesty project will not solve everything, since the inclusion of protection against terrorism accusations would make it “very difficult” to approve it by the Spanish Supreme Court, notes Cesareo Rodriguez Aguilera de Prat, professor of politics at the University of Barcelona.

“It is an error that has raised criticism even in the pro-independence camp,” notes the analyst, who expects Junts Per Catalunya to approve the amnesty law at the end of the month after trying to obtain the maximum from the government.

“I am very curious to see how this will all end,” notes Mr. Resina, who is alarmed by the influence that judges targeting Catalan independence leaders have on the current political situation.

“It doesn’t bode well for Spanish democracy,” he said.

The story so far


The leaders of Catalonia organized, despite protests from Madrid, a self-determination referendum followed by a declaration of independence. The process was declared invalid by the central government.


Several independence leaders were sentenced to heavy prison terms for “sedition”. Carles Puigdemont, who was president of Catalonia, went into exile in Belgium and escaped the Spanish authorities.

Summer 2023

After the elections, the Socialist Party undertook negotiations with the elected pro-independence members of Junts Per Catalunya, Mr. Puigdemont’s party, to obtain the votes that were missing to form a government. The agreement provided for the adoption of an amnesty law which was slow to materialize due to a dispute over its scope.


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