MADRID — Pedro Sánchez has secured the crucial support he needed to stay in power as Spain’s prime minister, vindicating his dramatic gamble on a snap election earlier this year.
On Thursday the Catalan separatist Junts party gave its backing to Sánchez’ Socialists to form a government, four months after that election resulted in no single party winning an overall majority in Spain’s parliament.
The deal puts Sánchez, the 51-year-old who’s been premier since 2018, on course to extend his career at the top. That seemed a far-fetched outcome when he called for a national vote last May, just hours after regional and local elections which saw his party suffer devastating losses across the country.
But after 15 weeks of tortuous horse-trading with other leftist parties — and, critically, an offer of an amnesty to Catalan separatist plotters — Sánchez has sidestepped the threat of fresh elections and managed to ensure his continuity as prime minister.
In exchange for the backing of Junts’ seven lawmakers, the prime minister’s Socialists agreed to propose a new law granting a blanket amnesty to everyone involved in the failed 2017 Catalan independence referendum.
The amnesty bill, which is expected to be passed with the support of Sánchez’s left-wing allies, as well as Basque and Catalan separatist parties, could benefit up to 1,500 people convicted — or currently on trial — for their participation in different separatist actions, some of which took place years before or after the independence vote.
Although no one has yet seen the final text of that draft bill — which is set to be submitted to the Spanish parliament next week — its content is already causing tension at home and abroad.
Throughout this week thousands of protesters repeatedly surrounded the Socialist Party headquarters in Madrid, angrily demanding Sánchez not move forward with the amnesty deal. The center-right Popular Party has called for further protests in every major city in Spain this Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the bill attracted the attention of European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, who on Wednesday sent a letter to Spain’s justice and presidency ministers stating that news of the amnesty had raised “serious concerns.” The commissioner went on to request details “as regards the personal, material and temporal scope of this envisaged law.”
Responding in a terse missive to Reynders, Spain’s Presidency Minister Félix Bolaños pointed out that Spain’s government is currently fulfilling caretaker functions, and can therefore not propose any laws.
“Any bill that may be registered in the Congress of Deputies [Spain’s parliament] will come from the parliamentary groups and not from the council of ministers,” Bolaños wrote.
Thursday’s deal was forged after weeks of tense negotiations between representatives of Sánchez’s Socialist Party, his allies in the left-wing Sumar coalition, and Junts’ de facto leader, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Belgium since fleeing Spain in 2017.
During the final days of negotiations, Sánchez’s representative, Socialist Party’s Organizational Secretary Santos Cerdán, shuttled back and forth between the Spanish and Belgian capitals, smoothing out the final details that made it into the formal agreement he signed today with Junts’ Secretary General Jordi Turull.
The agreement concludes months of political paralysis in Spain, which has been without an effective government since the national elections resulted in a hung parliament in which neither the left-wing nor right-wing political blocs gained enough seats to control the 350-seat chamber. Sánchez is expected to submit himself to a vote in parliament next week, after which he will be able to form his new government.
From the very start it was evident that Junts’ separatist lawmakers would determine Sánchez’s political future, and in exchange for his backing Puigdemont has managed to secure an amnesty the Socialists had long said was impossible to grant. The deal clears the way for the separatist politician to return to Spain and potentially reinvigorate his campaign for Catalan independence.
While the agreement will keep Sánchez in power, the complex negotiations — and considerable concessions — required to make it happen bode poorly for Spain’s political stability. Junts has made the Socialist leader pay a high cost to remain in office and the party’s representatives have already made clear that they won’t be any less demanding when its crucial votes are needed to pass legislation.
“We are not part of any Spanish [voting] bloc,” Míriam Nogueras, Junts’ spokesperson in the Spanish parliament, said last month. “We never have been and we never will be.”