Catalan amnesty law passes first vote in Spanish Congress

Bill still has several hurdles to overcome before it is enacted into law

Socialists' spokesperson Patxi López
Socialists' spokesperson Patxi López / Spanish Congress
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

December 12, 2023 11:08 AM

December 12, 2023 11:02 PM

An amnesty for Catalan pro-independence figures moved one step closer on Tuesday as the bill passed its first vote in Congress. 

A total of 178 MPs voted in favor, including those from the Spanish governing coalition and the Catalan pro-independence parties, with 172 voting against, including the largest party in Congress, the conservative People's Party (PP). There were zero abstentions. 

Part of the negotiations to reelect Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez as Spanish prime minister, an amnesty would mean the return of exiled politicians including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. 

The law has proved controversial, prompting outrage from the right and far right and protests before Sánchez's investiture. 

Having cleared the first hurdle in Congress, the amnesty bill will now pass to Spain's upper house, the Senate, where the conservative majority will attempt to delay its progress. 

'New chapter'

The debate began at 3pm, almost 8 hours before the eventual vote, with a speech from the Socialist spokesperson in Congress, Patxi López, who defended the amnesty law and criticized the People's Party (PP) for calling it unconstitutional. 


"Today, Catalonia is immensely better than the one you left us," he told the conservatives. 

"You want to feed the conflict, we want to open a new chapter of reunion. You work off fear, we want to sow hope," López said.

PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who spoke next, said the law was a "national disgrace and an international embarrassment."

"It is not fair to impose collective amnesia on Spaniards who are not willing to forget the crimes of 2017," he said, referring to Catalonia's independence referendum. 

He said the debate on the amnesty was Congress' "saddest session since that afternoon on February 23, 1981," the date of an attempted coup d'état by Francoist sympathizers.  

It is not customary for national party leaders to participate in the debate on legislation, but Feijóo chose to do so to "express his opposition to the law."

'Amnesty does not break Spain'

Pedro Sánchez defended his commitment to the amnesty bill hours before it was debated in Congress. He said the bill would foster "complete reconciliation" in Catalonia and "reduce the space of mistrust and hatred." 

"Spain is not breaking, Spain is not sinking, no matter how much the PP and Vox insist otherwise," he said in an interview on Telecinco. 

Asked if he would consider resigning if the Constitutional Court rejected the bill, Sánchez said he did not want to "put pressure" on the court.

A 'debt settled' 

Gabriel Rufián, spokesperson for pro-independence Esquerra Republicana in Congress, said the amnesty was "a political solution that settles a debt with Catalonia." 

Responding to Feijóo's claims of "political corruption," Rufián said: "You may or may not this law, but it is a law passed by the majority of this chamber, and that is a first tenet of democracy." 

Junts, the other Catalan pro-independence party in Congress, said the amnesty was not "about forgiveness or coexistence" but "justice." 

"If the amnesty is approved in the sense that we have worked towards, it will not mean that our people forget and forgive, it will not be a renunciation of the independence of Catalonia," said Junts MP Josep Maria Cervera. 

Sumar, the junior party in the Spanish government, defended the amnesty law. 

"It is a necessary step in order to have a political opportunity to move forward. We have been trapped in this wheel for too long, in time," spokesperson Aina Vidal said. 

The leader of far-right Vox vowed "to do everything that is necessary" to stop the law, calling it "the largest act of corruption that this parliament has seen since democracy." 

What happens next?

The 23-page text, called "Organic Amnesty Law for the Institutional, Political and Social Normalization in Catalonia," will be debated in Congress, with the parties being allowed to present their positions and arguments. Amendments could be made in the following weeks.    

The bill would then go through a committee, receive a second vote and return to the plenary session. Once approved, the bill will go to the Senate, which is dominated by an absolute majority of the conservative People's Party (PP), and could be stuck in the chamber until mid-March.  

If the Senate vetoes or amends the bill, which is likely given the conservative majority, the bill will return to Congress. There, Pedro Sánchez will again have to use his majority to override the Senate's veto and amendments and pass the law. Only then would the amnesty law be approved and implemented.  

However, if a court raises the question of unconstitutionality, the amnesty law would not go into effect until the Spanish Constitutional Court issues its ruling, which could take another six months.   

At this point, it is impossible to know with certainty when the law will be approved and enacted, as it may face many obstacles along the way.