Amnesty law one step closer after Congress approval

Legislation now passes to Senate where conservative PP have majority 

The Spanish Congress debates the amnesty bill on January 30
The Spanish Congress debates the amnesty bill on January 30 / Congress
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona/Madrid

March 14, 2024 09:33 AM

March 14, 2024 07:41 PM

The amnesty bill for Catalan pro-independence figures took one step closer to becoming law on Thursday when the Spanish Congress voted to approve it by 178 votes to 172. 

The vote was expected to pass after weeks of negotiations between the governing Socialists and pro-independence parties Junts and Esquerra Republicana (ERC) on the content and scope of the law. 

Junts voted against a previous version of the text put before the chamber in January. 

The amnesty debate in Madrid took place amid the backdrop of a snap Catalan election, called yesterday by President Pere Aragonès after his ERC government failed to garner enough support in the Catalan Parliament for the 2024 budget. 

'Conflict still exists' 

During the debate, Junts MP Josep Maria Cervera, said approving an amnesty for the Catalan independence movement "only turns the page on repression and injustice," but "nothing more." 

"The historical political conflict between the Catalan and Spanish nations continues to exist," Cervera said, adding that amnesty brings the independence debate back to the political, rather than judicial, realm, "opening an opportunity to negotiate the future of Catalonia." 

He said Junts' "difficult" rejection of the previous text of the bill allowed Congress to approve "the best possible law that does not leave any pro-independence individual out and that is immediately applicable." 

Josep M. Cervera, Junts per Catalunya

ERC MP Pilar Vallugera welcomed the fact that, after several attempts, the amnesty law will finally end up "in black and white." 

"We will continue on the path of national liberation, and we will do it through democratic, peaceful, civic and dialogical means." 

"It is our political DNA, and we will do it despite all the opposition of the state, the judiciary, the police or Court of Auditors. This is a firm commitment. We will not stop until we exercise the right to self-determination," Vallugera told a Congress audience which included ERC leader Oriol Junqueras in the public gallery. 

Spain and Catalonia divided 

The leader of the conservative People's Party (PP), Alberto Núñez Feijóo, accused the Spanish government and its partners of being "the greatest agents of political instability in Spain." 

This law divides Spain and Catalonia into two halves," Feijóo said. 

He also criticized Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for being absent for the debate: "Why didn't Mr. Sánchez want to defend this wonder? Even he is unable to face this delirium." 

The leader of far-right Vox, Santiago Abascal, warned that the amnesty law turns Spain into a "false democracy." 

According to Abascal, Congress has "humiliated" the Spanish people by "validating an act of corruption" involving "buying votes and a personal favor" 

The amnesty law is, he said, an "obvious attack on the separation of powers."  

Verdict at election

The Socialists' spokesperson, Patxi López, said the Catalan people would give their verdict on the amnesty law on May 12. 

"We Socialists are convinced that we will win the election because the public will understand what we have done in this country." 

He also refuted the argument from the right that Spain is being "broken": "In Spain, far from breaking it, we are uniting and building it with our policies," López said. 

Patxi López, Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE)

He spent a large part of his speech criticizing the PP for "barricading themselves behind the courts and the Criminal Code" to deal with the Catalan political conflict. 

Left-wing Sumar's spokesperson, Aina Vidal, said that with the approval of the law, the "path of revenge" ends and the journey of those who love Catalonia and leave hatred behind begins. 

She called on the right to respect the rules of democracy and acknowledge Congress' majority in favor of the amnesty and added there were no longer any "excuses" to stop Catalonia from moving forward with other important issues. 

Slim majority

The bill was passed by a slim majority, 178 votes to 172, with the support of the Socialists, their coalition partners Sumar, the two Catalan pro-independence parties, Basque parties Bildu and PNV, and the Galician party BNG.

The conservative People's Party (PP), far-right Vox, and two smaller parties, the UPN and the CC, voted against the bill.  

The legislation will now pass to Spain's upper house, the Senate, where the PP have a majority and will attempt to delay its passage for as long as possible. Ultimately, the bill will be returned to Congress for final approval. 

More guarantees for Puigdemont 

After Junts voted against the previous draft text, Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, agreed to make changes to provide additional guarantees for Catalan independence supporters, not least former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. 

Puigdemont is set to be one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty, having lived in exile in Belgium since the independence push of 2017 and currently under investigation for terrorism. 

On March 7, Congress' Justice Committee approved the new amnesty draft bill with 20 votes in favor and 14 against, paving the way for its return to Congress. 

The most significant change in the text is that terrorism crimes will be adapted to the European standard and not to Spanish law, thus giving more protection to Puigdemont and others accused of terrorism.

The current version of the bill states that only "intentional serious violations of human rights, in particular those regulated by Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and International Humanitarian Law" will be excluded from the amnesty. 

Who will benefit from the bill?

Once approved, the amnesty law will benefit all those involved in the independence movement, pardoning individuals who have been investigated, accused or charged with a wide range of crimes, including embezzlement, disobedience, and even terrorism.  

It will also cover those sentenced in 2019 for their roles in organizing the referendum, such as exiled former president Carles Puigdemont and his former vice president Oriol Junqueras. 

The original amnesty proposal covered those prosecuted from January 2012 to November 2023, but the revised version extends this period back to November 2011.  

Estimates of the number of beneficiaries under the law vary widely. Based on the first draft, the pro-independence civil society organization Òmnium estimated that around 1,500 people would benefit, while the Socialists estimated the number to be around 300. 

Currently, the exact number of beneficiaries under the current text remains uncertain, but Junts claims that the revised version will extend its benefits to an additional 150 to 200 people compared to the original proposal.