Spain: Backlash to controversial amnesty law

The party of Catalonia's former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, voted against a draft law specifically designed to benefit Catalonia's independence activists. As for the Junts party, the text does not go far enough, in their view, as it does not warrant the punishment of Puigdemont.

The law now goes back to Parliament's Justice Committee and could be changed again there. However, rejecting the draft shows the serious weakness of Sánchez's government, which relies on Puigdemont's Junts party for its majority – a lost vote seen as a severe defeat for Sánchez.

Reuters/Ana Beltran

The lost vote for Sanchez (L.) was a heavy defeat

Justice Minister Felix Bolaños described it as “incomprehensible” that the Junds party voted against a law that helped negotiate. He called on the party to “rethink its position” instead of voting with right-wing conservatives who “want to jail and ban”.

New vote in a few weeks

Sánchez formed a government in November with the help of Puigdemont's Catalan independence supporters. Sánchez had promised amnesty and other concessions to “Catalanists” in order to secure the votes of the separatist parties Junts and ERC for re-election to the Madrid parliament in mid-November.

The Justice Committee is now expected to take up the proposal again for several weeks. The House of Commons must vote on the new version. If the “Law for Institutional, Political and Social Normalization in Catalonia” removes this obstacle, the Senate will have to deal with it. The conservative People's Party PP, led by opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, has a majority there.

The law will benefit persecuted separatists

The controversial amnesty law is the backdrop to failed attempts to secede Catalonia from Spain in 2017. The amnesty will benefit hundreds of separatists persecuted by Spain's justice system after the failed secession. Puigdemont may return to Spain after years in exile.

The planned amnesty was highly controversial in Spain and sparked violent protests. The PP and the far-right Vox party accuse the Social Democrats of breaking the law and holding on to power at all costs. Tens of thousands protested again against the planned amnesty in Madrid on Sunday. Feijoo said the protest would save Spain's eroding democracy. The project is a “disgrace” to the country.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo

Reuters/Ana Beltran

Leader of Opposition in Parliament – Faizoo – sees the amnesty law as a disgrace to the country

Sanchez wants to defuse the conflict with concessions

Both the liberal Junds of separatist leader Puigdemont and the left-wing ERC of regional leader Pere Aragones, who have been living in Belgium since a failed secession bid in autumn 2017, aim for Catalonia to secede from Spain. But Sanchez wants to prevent this and defuse the conflict through dialogue and concessions.

Two judges are currently trying Puigdemont and other separatists in Spain on terrorism charges. If the current version of the draft is not changed, victims risk being left out of the amnesty. That would inevitably endanger the stability of the Left government.

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