Negotiations over Spanish PM’s investiture enter final phase

Despite a public clash, the Socialist Party and the separatist Catalan Republican Left continue to talk about a possible abstention that would allow Pedro Sánchez to be sworn into office

PSOE Organization Secretary José Luis Ábalos.
PSOE Organization Secretary José Luis Ábalos.Juan Carlos Hidalgo (EFE)

Political negotiations to form a government in Spain following the repeat general election of November 10 have entered the final phase. From now on, every day will be decisive.

Every time they try to blackmail us, they make an agreement less likely

ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta

The caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), has already secured a preliminary deal for a governing coalition with the left-wing anti-austerity bloc Unidas Podemos, and has been seeking support from the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) to get confirmed in office. Spain’s King Felipe VI nominated Sánchez last week as the candidate with the best chance of being endorsed by Congress.

Sources from the PSOE and the ERC say that both parties want to reach an agreement that would set out the format and limits of the dialogue between the national and Catalan regional government, which is run by pro-Catalan independence groups. The deal is intended to convince the ERC to abstain from an investiture vote to swear in Sánchez as prime minister. This abstention would allow the caretaker PM to be confirmed in the second round of voting where only a simple majority – more yes votes than no votes – is needed.

But comments from PSOE Organization Secretary José Luis Ábalos sparked tension with the separatist group on Wednesday. Speaking to Spain’s public television network TVE, Ábalos said that Sánchez’s investiture vote could possibly happen on December 30. “It would be possible, and even desirable, but it doesn’t depend on us,” he said.

In response, ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta accused the Socialist Party of trying to pressure the separatist group. “They don’t speak for us,” she said. “We told them not to follow the path of blackmail and public pressure. Every time they try to blackmail us, they make an agreement less likely.”

PSOE and ERC say negotiations are much closer to reaching an agreement, than collapsing

The group also attacked Ábalos’s claim that the ERC had “given up the unilateral path” to Catalan independence.” “We will never give up any democratic path,” said Vilalta.

Despite the public clash, the two parties are continuing to negotiate a deal that would allow the ERC to abstain from an investiture vote. Two or three issues remain to be decided on before the agreement can be closed. A few days ago, the ERC sent amendments to the PSOE document and is now awaiting their response.

The Socialists meanwhile, have asked the ERC to guarantee it will abstain before they make their final offer. Sánchez’s negotiators do not want to take more risks without some guarantee that the caretaker PM will be confirmed at an investiture vote. Both sides say that the negotiations are much closer to reaching an agreement than collapsing.

Regional parties raise their demands

Smaller regional parties met with PSOE leaders Adriana Lastra and Rafael Simancas on Wednesday to discuss their conditions for supporting Sánchez’s investiture bid.

PSOE spokesperson Adriana Lastra.
PSOE spokesperson Adriana Lastra.EDUARDO PARRA (EUROPA PRESS)

Néstor Rego, from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG), refused to back the caretaker PM’s bid, and demanded more action to protect the future of the 5,000 workers in the electro-intensive industries in Galicia.

José María Mazón, from the Regionalist Party of Cantabria (PRC), called for more investment in highways and railways in Cantabria, but said that the party had a “more or less favorable” position on voting for Sánchez. He did however warn that this position could change if the PSOE’s agreement with the ERC did not respect the Spanish Constitution.

Tomás Guitarte, the deputy from Teruel Existe, also failed to confirm whether he would support Sánchez’s investiture bid. Guitarte wants a plan for the thermal power plant in Andorra, which is about to close, and represents 8% of the province’s GDP.

Although the three parties only have one deputy each, their votes are still crucial to a successful investiture bid.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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