Catalan separatists reject amnesty bill, highlighting the fragility of Spain’s minority government

The separatists who want to ensure that their leader Carles Puigdemont, a fugitive in Belgium, can return home, said the proposed law did not protect him

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, First Deputy Prime Minister Maria Jesus Montero and Minister for the Presidency, Justice and Parliamentary Relations Felix Bolanos attend a debate on the legislative proposal to grant amnesty to those involved in Catalonia's failed independence bid in 2017, in Madrid, Spain January 30, 2024.ANA BELTRAN (REUTERS)

Catalan separatist lawmakers dealt Spain’s government a blow Tuesday by voting against a hugely divisive amnesty law that was aimed at helping hundreds of their supporters who were involved in Catalonia’s unsuccessful 2017 independence bid.

The most radical separatists, who want to ensure that their leader Carles Puigdemont, a fugitive in Belgium, can return home, said the proposed law did not go far enough to protect him.

The bill must go back to a parliament commission to be drawn up again within two weeks, but it remains to be seen what the government and separatists can do to save it.

The rejection highlighted the government´s fragility even among its so-called allies. Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez agreed to the law in exchange for the parliamentary support of two small Catalan separatist parties, which enabled him to form a new minority leftist government late last year.

But the bill, which has aroused the ire of millions in Spain, was rejected after one of the two Catalan parties, Junts (Together), voted against it. The party had pushed to include clauses that would cover Puigdemont against all possible legal challenges if he returns to Spain.

“We will keep negotiating with a margin of 15 days more … There is no reason to approve an amnesty law with holes in it,” said Junts member Míriam Nogueras. She said the Socialists warned them that the proposed amendments “could mean that the amnesty law runs into trouble in Europe,” but she said they were prepared for that.

Socialist Justice Minister Félix Bolaños told reporters that it was “absolutely incomprehensible that Junts should vote against a law it had agreed on” and do so with right-wing parties that want to see them jailed.

Puigdemont’s party advised Sánchez from the start that they would be difficult to please when they backed his government, but few analysts imagined that they would risk derailing the very amnesty that is designed to help their supporters.

The defeat shows the government will be at the separatists’ mercy throughout the legislature. Sánchez’s minority coalition commands 147 seats but needs the support of several small parties to make a 176 majority in the 350-seat parliament. Junts has seven seats.

Puigdemont and the Catalan independence issue are anathema for many Spaniards. Puigdemont is wanted by Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of disobedience and embezzlement, and two lower courts are investigating him and other secessionists for possible charges of terrorism and treason.

The amnesty bill has been heavily criticized by conservative and far-right opposition parties that represent roughly half the country’s population. Many in the judiciary and police are opposed, as well as several top figures in Sánchez’s party.

Even if the bill had been approved, it would have had to go to the Senate, where the fiercely conservative leading opposition Popular Party has an absolute majority. The party has pledged to do all in its power to stall the bill in the Senate and challenge it in court.

Sánchez acknowledges that if he had not needed the Catalan separatists’ parliamentary support, he would not have agreed to the amnesty. He also says that without their support, he could not have formed a government, and the right wing could have gained office, having won the most seats in the 2023 elections.

He now says that the amnesty will be positive for Spain because it will further calm Catalonia, and he boasts that his policies for Catalonia since taking office in 2018 have greatly eased tensions that existed between Madrid and Barcelona when the Popular Party was in office.

Sánchez’s previous government granted pardons to several jailed leaders of the Catalan independence movement that helped heal wounds.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS