13 Dec, 2023 @ 10:21
2 mins read

Spain’s controversial amnesty law for Catalan separatists passes first hurdle in Congress after bitter debate


THE CONTROVERSIAL plan to grant amnesty to anyone involved in the Catalan independence drive passed its first hurdle on Tuesday, after it was approved by lawmakers in Spain’s Congress of Deputies

The legislation was agreed by the governing Socialist Party with two parties from Catalunya, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya. In exchange, they lent their support for the reelection of Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez as prime minister at a recent investiture vote in the wake of the inconclusive general election of July 23.

The leader of the main opposition Partido Popular (PP), Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, used the debate ahead of the vote on the amnesty law to attack both the legislation and the government. 

Feijoo called the law a ‘national disgrace’ and an ‘international embarrassment’, and he compared the gravity of Tuesday’s session in Congress to the attempted coup that was staged in the chamber back in 1981 by a group of civil guards. 

“This amnesty law is a fraud, it’s a political corruption, it’s unjustifiable, it goes against coexistence, it’s a democratic regression, it goes against the separation of powers and it is a humiliation for the Spanish people,” Feijoo said during his intervention in the debate, at which the prime minister was not present. 

Far-right Vox offers Partido Popular's Feijoo 'no-strings' deal to form new minority government in Spain
PP leader Alberto Nuñez Feijoo. Cordon Press image

He also argued that the law would ‘set several dangerous precedents’, on the basis that Spaniards would no longer be ‘equal before the law’. 

The legislation, he claimed, would open the door to the ‘government arbitrarily erasing any crime of any kind, provided that they cite political reasons for committing them and social reconciliation when granting amnesty’.

The Socialist Party spokesperson Patxi Lopez, meanwhile, defended the plan, claiming that it was constitutional – just six months ago his party was ruling the measure out on the basis that it was not. 

He argued that other measures introduced by the Socialists in the past, including pardons for the Catalan independence leaders who were jailed for their roles in the 2017 secessionist drive in the region, ‘caused a huge stir’ in their time but that have since served to calm the waters between the northeastern region and the rest of Spain. 

The proposed legislation covers a more than 10-year period, from January 2012 to November 2023, and will benefit hundreds of people facing criminal cases for their roles in the independence drive. It will also apply to more than 70 police officers facing charges for their actions on the day of the October 1, 2017 illegal referendum in Catalunya. 

The most high-profile beneficiary of the law will be Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Junts per Catalunya and the then-premier of the region during the events of 2017. He fled Spain to avoid arrest in the wake of a unilateral declaration of independence passed by the regional parliament and has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since. 

Junts per Catalunya leader Carles Puigdemont.

The amnesty law will see him able to return to Spain, one of the elements of the legislation that has most riled parties such as the PP and Vox. 

The draft law was voted through with 178 votes in favour, from the Socialist Party, Sumar, ERC, Junts per Catalunya and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), among other groups. 

Voting against were the PP, far-right Vox, Coalicion Canaria (CC) and the Union del Pueblo Navarro. The split in the voting was nearly identical to the vote that saw Pedro Sanchez voted back into power. 

The proposal is likely to be debated again, assuming that the PP and Vox table amendments to the entire bill, and will then be sent to the Senate. The upper house of parliament is controlled by the PP, meaning that the passage of the law could be held up yet further. Assuming it is eventually approved, it will then be applied by judges on a case-by-case basis. 

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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