Catalonia, Pedro Sánchez's pending issue
A successful negotiation on the Catalan independence crisis, leaving courts out of the matter, and jailed leaders are among hot topics for newly confirmed Spanish president
"The government will work to overcome the political conflict in Catalonia. We have to do it for Catalans and all Spaniards."
This was one of Pedro Sánchez's most important commitments made on Saturday in his opening speech during the debate to discuss his bid as Spanish president.
Now, after his bid has proven successful, he has to deliver – at least if he wants to keep to his deal with pro-independence Esquerra party, which is essential for him if he wants to maintain a majority in congress.
A 15-minute phone call was the only direct contact between then-acting president Sánchez and Catalan president Quim Torra in 2019, so a different approach could be needed for 2020.
The pending Catalan issue includes four key items:
'Dialogue, negotiation and agreement'
The Catalan government has been asking the Spanish one to sit and talk about the independence issue since before the 2017 referendum crisis.
The then People's Party cabinet in Madrid rejected all talks, especially those regarding any vote on independence.
In the spring of 2018, new governments in both Catalonia and Spain held two meetings over the year between both of their heads, Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez, but the talks were unsuccessful and the situation stagnated in 2019.
"The only possible way forward has to resume: politics. That of dialogue, negotiation and agreement," said Sánchez on Saturday.
The Socialists and Esquerra have, as such, agreed to launch a "bilateral negotiation table between the Spanish and the Catalan governments."
Their agreement stipulates that such mechanism is activated "within 15 days" from the government's formation and then it will have to follow a clear schedule, meaning that talks should be taking place by the end of January.
'Dejudicialization' of the conflict
"We need to leave the judicialization of the conflict [with Catalonia] behind," said Sánchez on Saturday right after committing to a "political way" forward.
This is another request by the political forces that make up the majority in Catalonia.
Spain's government has filed a number of appeals against Catalan laws and motions before the courts – President Torra asked for challenges to 16 social laws to be removed in 2018 alone.
Furthermore, Spain's public prosecutor and especially its solicitor general, which directly represent the central government, have backed a number of cases against Catalan leaders in the past few years.
The solicitor general requested that the 2017 referendum leaders be jailed for sedition with prison sentences of around a decade – very similar to the final outcome of the trial.
Esquerra put its support for Sánchez on hold until the solicitor general sided in favor of allowing jailed leader Oriol Junqueras to leave jail and take up his seat as MEP after the European Court of Justice ruled that he had immunity from the moment he was elected. Meanwhile, the day that legal rulings do not make political headlines is still far off.
"Accepting the verdict means its full compliance," Pedro Sánchez said on October 14, 2019, a few hours after the guilty verdict for the 2017 referendum leaders was announced, implicitly ruling out any move to overturn the Supreme Court's decision.
Pardoning them would be in his government's cards, and an amnesty law passed by the Spanish congress would be an alternative to invalidating the verdict.
While jailed leaders have stated they do not want to be pardoned, pro-independence parties have defended an amnesty.
The Socialists have made no mention to either of the options, nor were they mentioned in their deal with Esquerra.
Yet, the pro-independence party might bring it up at some point, and so far they have only guaranteed backing Sánchez's presidential bid, but not the budget or any other key vote.
Jaume Asens, the leader of En Comú Podem, part of the future government as an ally of anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, said in an interview on Sunday: "When a government is formed, the government will have to tackle the pardon."
Public funding for Catalonia
One of every Catalan government's longest-standing claims has been that they are treated unfairly in terms of funding, stating that Catalonia should receive more from Madrid taking into account the money contributed by Catalan taxpayers.
Catalonia accounts for 19% of the total Spanish GDP. However, between 2015 and 2018, 10 to 16% of the state budget was allocated to Catalonia, of which only 65.9% was received, falling below the Spanish average of 75.3%. These figures are put forth by a July 2019 Catalan government report.
The next Spanish budget will be looked at closely from Catalonia to determine whether the trend of the past few years remains the same or is changed.