Amnesty for Catalan pro-independence supporters, finally approved

The law received 177 votes in favour and 172 against in the lower house, thanks to the support of socialist MPs, Catalan and Basque pro-independence and nationalist MPs and the extreme left 
El presidente del partido separatista catalán Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), Oriol Junqueras (Centro), gesticula mientras celebra tras la aprobación final de la ley de amnistía para los separatistas catalanes durante una sesión plenaria en el Congreso en Madrid, el 30 de mayo de 2024 – PHOTO/JAVIER SORIANO/AFP
Catalan separatist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party president Oriol Junqueras (Center) gestures as he celebrates after the final approval of the amnesty law for Catalan separatists during a plenary session at the Congress in Madrid, May 30, 2024 - PHOTO/JAVIER SORIANO/AFP
  1. ‘Independence’ victory
  2. ‘Making a virtue out of necessity’

The highly controversial amnesty law for Catalan independence supporters convicted or indicted for their role in the failed 2017 secession attempt was finally approved by the Spanish parliament on Thursday, opening the door to the return of former regional president Carles Puigdemont. 

The law received 177 votes in favour and 172 against in the lower house, thanks to the support of President of the Government Pedro Sánchez's Socialist MPs, Catalan and Basque pro-independence and nationalist MPs, and the far left. 

This measure, which has dominated Spanish political life since last July's legislative elections, could benefit around 400 people, according to an estimate by the Ministry of Justice. 

It will now be up to each judge to decide whether the amnesty is applicable to their cases. 

The magistrates have two months to raise questions with the Constitutional Court or the European judiciary from the publication of the law in the official gazette, which could delay the effects of the law for some time.

The vote was preceded by an acrimonious session in which the president of the Chamber, Francina Armengol, was forced to call the attention of the deputies on several occasions due to the insults that were exchanged. 

‘This bad manners lead nowhere,’ she said, mediating between the MPs. 

Congress had already approved the measure on 14 March, but the Senate, controlled by the right-wing opposition, vetoed it two months later, returning the text to the lower house, which on Thursday had its last word. 

This measure is the price Pedro Sánchez had to pay to stay in power in the November investiture session, in which he needed the support of the Catalan pro-independence parties. 

This awkward situation was the result of the early elections on 23 July, which the Popular Party won, but without securing the support of other parties to win 176 of the 350 deputies in the chamber. 

El presidente del Gobierno en funciones de España, Pedro Sánchez, asiste a la segunda sesión de un debate parlamentario para votar a un presidente del Gobierno en Las Cortes de Madrid el 27 de septiembre de 2023 - PHOTO/AFP/JAVIER SORIANO -

‘Independence’ victory

‘Today we have witnessed the death certificate of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party’ of Pedro Sánchez, opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the conservative People's Party (PP) said before the vote, denouncing the law as an “exchange of power in exchange for impunity”. 

Sánchez went to vote, but did not intervene. 

Catalan pro-independence representatives described the law as a victory and said their next goal is to hold a referendum on secession. 

‘Today is a historic day, in all its breadth. Today is not forgiven, today is won, a battle of the conflict is won,’ said Miriam Nogueras, the spokeswoman in Congress for Puigdemont's party, Juntos por Cataluña (Together for Catalonia). 

‘Next stop, referendum,’ said Gabriel Rufián, a member of parliament for the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), the other Catalan pro-independence party in the Spanish Congress. 

The PP has long been on the warpath against this amnesty, which it considers ‘unconstitutional’ and which it promises to repeal when it returns to power. 

It has organised numerous demonstrations against it, the latest of which brought together tens of thousands of people in Madrid on Sunday. There, Núñez Feijóo again called on Sánchez to ‘withdraw this amnesty’. 

‘Making a virtue out of necessity’

Opposition representatives never miss an opportunity to recall that Sánchez himself had expressed his opposition to an amnesty for Catalan pro-independence supporters during the 23 July election campaign, before parliamentary arithmetic forced him to change his mind to avoid calling elections again. 

‘We must make a virtue out of necessity’, Sánchez repeated on several occasions to explain his turnaround. 

Polls show that Spaniards are divided on the measure, including Socialist voters and supporters. 

However, the regional elections in Catalonia on 12 May, in which the pro-independence movement lost its absolute majority in the Catalan parliament and recorded its worst results in 40 years, seem to have proved Sánchez right. 

The Catalan branch of the Socialist Party did well, and its leader, Salvador Illa, is in line to become the next president of the regional government. 

Puigdemont, whose party also made progress in the regional elections, and who claims to lead a minority pro-independence government, said during the campaign that he hoped to return to Spain to be present at the investiture debate in the Catalan parliament, the date of which has not been set but which should take place on 25 June at the latest.