Home Brussels Relief for Pedro Sánchez as Spanish government’s Catalan amnesty bill clears major hurdle in parliament

Relief for Pedro Sánchez as Spanish government’s Catalan amnesty bill clears major hurdle in parliament

by editor

MADRID — The lower chamber of the Spanish parliament approved the government’s Catalan amnesty bill, meaning the contentious legislation has overcome a major hurdle on the way to implementation.

The bill received 178 votes in favor and 172 votes against, and it will now go to the Senate.

The amnesty initiative seeks to lift pending legal action against Catalan nationalists for separatist activity, particularly for their role in a failed 2017 bid for independence. More than 300 nationalists are estimated to benefit if the law is implemented, including former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

Several dozen police officers who have been investigated for allegations of using violence on voters during a 2017 referendum could also benefit from the clemency measure.

Oriol Junqueras, leader of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), said approval of the amnesty marked “an important day for democracy.”

The parliament’s lower house rejected the bill in January, when Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya party voted against it, on the grounds that it left him and others vulnerable to prosecution for terrorism, a charge he is being investigated for due to his alleged involvement in protests in Barcelona in 2019. Junts and the government negotiated a revised version of the law in an effort to address those concerns.

This time, Junts voted in favor of the bill, along with the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, his coalition partners Sumar, the ERC, and Basque nationalists.

Although the opposition Popular Party (PP) has a majority in the Senate, it cannot block the legislation, which the PP says is unconstitutional and gives Catalan nationalists preferential treatment. It can only delay its passage. The bill is expected to return to the lower house for a final vote in mid-May.  

Sánchez has presented the legislation, known as the Amnesty Law for Institutional, Political and Social Normalization in Catalonia, as an attempt to reduce tensions in the northeastern region of the country. It follows his government’s pardoning of nine jailed separatist leaders in 2021.

However, the opposition has accused the prime minister of using the law purely to secure the parliamentary support of Junts and the ERC in order to keep his fragile government alive.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the PP, warned that the amnesty “divides Catalonia and Spain in two.”

The amnesty bill’s approval comes a day after Catalan President Pere Aragonès, of ERC, called a snap election in the region for May 12, following an impasse over the regional government’s budget.

Junts has said that Puigdemont, who has been living in Belgium since 2017 to avoid prosecution, could be its candidate for president of Catalonia, although the amnesty would not be in place before the election.

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