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Spain’s crucial week: Socialists file amnesty bill, triggering vote to confirm Sánchez as PM

The government hopes that widespread opposition to the deal with Catalan separatists led by Carles Puigdemont will subside once details of the law are known

Pedro Sánchez
Spain's acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez (c), at the meeting of the PSOE's Federal Executive Committee on Monday.PSOE
Carlos E. Cué

The Spanish government’s negotiating team and its partners have finalized the draft of the amnesty law that will pave the way for acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to secure a new term in office following inconclusive elections in July.

Under the terms of the deal with the Catalan separatist party Junts, its leader Carles Puigdemont — who fled to Belgium following the failed breakaway bid of 2017 — will benefit from the amnesty, as well as many others who participated in the illegal secession attempt. In exchange, Junts’ seven lawmakers in Spain’s parliament will vote in favor at Sánchez’s investiture vote, expected to be held this week.

The Socialists filed the amnesty bill in Congress at 6 p.m. on Monday, and plan to fast-track it through parliament rather than do it through the ordinary procedure for legislative initiatives. The original idea had been to file it on November 3, but the plan was delayed for 10 additional days due to the difficulties closing the negotiation with Junts.

The government insists that the wording of the bill is impeccable, even though the Spanish Constitution does not contemplate the possibility of amnesty as such. The Spanish executive says there have been up to 52 amnesties in Europe since World War II, and that several of them have been granted in countries that, like Spain, do not contemplate the option in their own constitutions, namely Germany and Belgium.

The future law involves cancelling the “criminal, administrative and accounting responsibility” of all those who committed crimes in connection with the separatist process in Catalonia for a decade, ranging between January 1, 2012 and November 13, 2023. It does not include references to the investigation of hypothetical cases of lawfare (judicial persecution for political reasons), a term that was included in the political agreement (which is not legally binding) that the PSOE reached last week with Junts, triggering significant criticism.

The law will benefit people who participated in the independence process at all levels, from the highest to the lowest. Thus, Carles Puigdemont will be able to return to Spain without risking prosecution. The amnesty will also extend to the more than 300 school principals charged with crimes for opening their schools for the illegal referendum of October 1, 2017, in addition to the 73 police officers facing legal action for the violent repression of the vote.

Under the terms of the bill, judges will have to apply the amnesty within a maximum of two months after the law is passed by parliament. The document, which is being filed in Congress on Monday, will be backed by Sánchez’s own Socialist Party (PSOE), the left-wing alliance Sumar, and a collection of smaller regional groups: Catalonia’s separatist parties Junts and Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the left-wing Basque party Bildu, and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG).

Getting Sánchez confirmed

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other leaders at the meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Málaga on November 11, 2023.
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other leaders at the meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Málaga on November 11, 2023. JON NAZCA (REUTERS)

Now that the bill has been filed, as per the agreement, the investiture mechanism will be set in motion and Sánchez will in principle submit to a two-day parliamentary session culminating in a vote where he expects to secure the 176 seats he needs to form a government. This session is expected to take place on Wednesday and Thursday, meaning that Sánchez would formally become the new prime minister of Spain on Thursday, November 16, just 11 days before the constitutional deadline expires to dissolve the Congress of Deputies and call a new election.

The governing board of Congress has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, when it could order the investiture debate to begin on Wednesday after going through a procedural step that requires the board to “qualify” the bill as legal before it moves to the floor. Theoretically it would be possible, though it is considered unlikely, for the bill to get struck down by a negative report by the lower house’s legal department. This in fact happened in 2021 with an earlier amnesty bill filed by separatist parties.

The Socialists insist that bill was completely different from this one, because it was very clearly unconstitutional as it questioned the actions of the justice system, something that, PSOE sources assure, is not the case with the current bill, which has been pored over by legal specialists to ensure it abides by Spain’s constitutional laws. It is foreseeable that the main opposition Popular Party (PP) will try to hinder the bill’s qualification by the board, but the PSOE has control of this body and it is confident that the procedure will go ahead as planned.

Despite widespread social rejection of the deal, which has triggered numerous protests across Spain — the latest and largest took place this past Sunday — the government feels that once the wording of the bill becomes public knowledge, and especially after Sánchez gets confirmed back into office, the tide of public opinion will turn in its favor. For now, the negotiation has not just generated rejection among conservative sectors, but also among some progressives, who accuse the PSOE of accepting separatists’ narrative about the independence bid and making it their own.

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