Spaniard Sánchez faces crucial decision to pardon Catalan separatists – POLITICO
Press play to listen to this article
MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is about to take a decisive decision for his mandate: to grant pardon to imprisoned Catalan independence leaders.
In the coming weeks, Sánchez is expected to approve partial pardons for nine leaders who have been sentenced in 2019 sedition and, in four cases, embezzlement of public funds, for their role in a failed attempt at independence two years earlier. The sentences range from nine to 13 years in the case of Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan vice-president.
Such a move could mark a major turning point in the long-standing territorial dispute with separatists in the wealthy northeastern corner of the country, distinguishing Sánchez from harsh tactics from his conservative predecessor. It could also ensure that he retains the support of Catalan nationalists in the Spanish parliament, on which his government depends for legislation. But it is a bet that risks hurting him in the polls and giving the right-wing opposition ammunition to step up its attacks on its left-wing administration.
The pardons were requested by an independent lawyer, a union, three former presidents of the Catalan parliament and a minor political party. However, the short Supreme, who sentenced the nine Catalan leaders and three others who avoided prison terms, advised the government against granting pardon. The court said it saw no reason to show leniency, adding that those in prison had not shown “the slightest hint of remorse.”
Sánchez of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and his coalition government have made it clear that they intend to ignore the court’s recommendation, which is not binding. The pending pardons should reduce each of the prison sentences, allowing the nine to be released, but on condition that if they reoffend, they will return to prison.
Sánchez has repeatedly signaled his intentions in recent weeks. On June 9, he called on the Spaniards to show “magnanimity” on this affair.
“I understand that there may be compatriots in Catalonia and across the country who have scruples about the possibility of pardoning Catalan prisoners,” he said. “But I ask them to have faith because we must aim for coexistence. We must aim to repair these mistakes made in 2017 … and which I inherited from the previous administration.
The government believes that by releasing the nine leaders, it will purify the air and lay the foundations for a possible solution to the Catalan conflict.
“[The pardons] would be a prerequisite for seeking an easing of the tensions of the Catalan conflict, “said Lluís Orriols, political scientist at the Carlos III University, who describes the imprisonment of the nine as a” deeply moving problem “for supporters of independence.
The region’s new president, Pere Aragonès of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), has cautiously welcomed the idea, as has jailed Junqueras, who is the party’s leader, although both have said an amnesty would be preferable. .
In a recent comment article published in catalan and spanish, Junqueras advocated pardons as “gestures that can soothe conflict, relieve pain”.
Since 2017, ERC has abandoned its all-or-nothing approach to independence and has taken a more gradual line, identifying the Scottish National Party (SNP) as a model. The release of the prisoners would be a boost for Aragonès, with polls showing that a clear majority of Catalans support this decision. It would also strengthen its position vis-à-vis Ensemble pour la Catalunya (JxCat), the regional government’s most uncompromising junior partner, which continues to refer to the unilateral approach of four years ago.
There are already signs of a thaw between Madrid and Barcelona. Aragonès and Sánchez have agreed to resume negotiations aimed at solving the territorial enigma, after being interrupted by the pandemic. The two spoke at an event in Barcelona on June 7, confirming their commitment to the dialogue.
Sánchez’s government is also preparing a reform of the penal code that would revise the crime of sedition – an alternative, albeit slower, path to the release of prisoners.
However, JxCat leader, self-exiled Carles Puigdemont, who now lives in Belgium and is an MEP, downplayed the importance of the talks and pardons. Other radical factions in the secessionist camp have even warned against the latest move, arguing that it would weaken their hand.
Elisenda Paluzie, president of the most influential popular nationalist organization, the Catalan National Assembly, tweeted that the pardons would be “an intelligent political decision of the Spanish government against the independence movement”. By giving Madrid a benevolent air, it “disarms us politically,” she said.
The central government agrees, as it expects pardons to marginalize the more one-sided pro-independence factions, including the Waterloo-based Puigdemont, undermining their claims about the quality of Spain’s democracy.
“Spain has struggled to explain this situation to the international community,” said a person close to the government. “The independence movement led a major campaign to make it an international cause. “
This person added: “But with the graces, they know that they can no longer go around Europe saying that in Spain there are political prisoners.”
Backlash to the right
For Sánchez, the drawbacks associated with the expected pardons lie outside Catalonia, where a major backlash is developing against the initiative.
The right-wing opposition argues that not only should Catalan prisoners serve their sentences, but that Sánchez’s leniency is a cynical political ploy rather than a well-intentioned move to resolve the territorial crisis. They point out that in 2019, he said prison sentences should be served in full. His turnaround, they accuse, is due to the fact that his coalition needs the parliamentary support of Aragonès and ERC.
Pablo Casado, leader of the Conservative Popular Party (PP), called the pardons a “dark transaction” and Sánchez “hostage to those who wish to destroy Spain”.
The PP has started collecting signatures for a petition against pardons. Far-right group Vox, meanwhile, said it would appeal for pardons and also take legal action against the Cabinet for alleged abuse of power.
On Sunday, the extent of the outrage over the pardons will become clear when a protest against them takes place in Madrid’s Plaza de Colón. The leaders of the PP, Vox and the center-right Ciudadanos plan to attend.
“Sánchez does not forgive the coup plotters, he forgives himself,” said Rosa Díez, a former socialist politician who co-founded the social-liberal Union, Progress and Democracy party, and who is organizing Sunday’s protest.
However, as Sánchez is used to facing a united right, he will be concerned about the potential impact of his upcoming decision among his own voters and allies.
A Sigma Dos survey said 61% of Spaniards oppose the measure, a figure that only drops to 53% among PSOE voters.
“It could end up hurting the government in the polls,” said Orriols, of Carlos III University. “In the short term, we could see a marked decline for an administration which until now had held up well despite the health crisis.”
Some senior PSOE officials, already unhappy with Sánchez’s dependence on Catalan and Basque nationalists, have openly expressed their dissent. The socialist president of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page, described the planned pardons as “one of the biggest mistakes of the democratic era”.
The timing seems to favor Sánchez, however. In theory, the fallout from the pardons will be behind him by the next general election, scheduled for 2023. By then, the benefits of EU funds for coronaviruses may have started.
Waiting, an international verdict on the issue is expected from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On June 21, PACE, which is dedicated to human rights and democracy issues, will debate a proposal from its own Legal Affairs Committee to “consider pardoning or releasing the Catalan leaders” and ‘Consider dropping charges against other pro-independence politicians who have fled the country.
The political-legal entanglement of the Catalan question is such that a vote in favor of these motions would be a blow to Spanish justice, but a boost of sorts for the government as it prepares for the storm to come up.