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Spain’s Socialists walk tightrope in government talks with pro-independence parties

Esquerra threatens with leaving negotiation table after controversial remarks from acting president Pedro Sánchez

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05 December 2019 02:17 PM

by

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

After their pyrrhic victory in last months’ general election, left-wing parties seem more willing than a few months ago to set their differences aside and form a new government that would end the prolonged political deadlock in Spain.

Recent remarks by the Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez show he is confident to secure enough parliamentary support from Catalan pro-independence parties to stay as head of government — but the response to his words is also a reminder that doing so will be difficult, as the Socialists are walking on a narrow political tightrope.

"Any agreement will be made public and will always be ascribed to the democratic legality, the Spanish constitution, and Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy," Sánchez said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The mention to the constitution was enough to upset Esquerra Republicana (ERC), Catalonia’s largest pro-independence party in Congress, and most likely Sánchez’s kingmaker.

  • "Any agreement will be ascribed to the democratic legality, the Spanish constitution, and Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy"

    Pedro Sánchez · Spain's acting president

The party even considered leaving the negotiation table, which could lead to a third general election in less than a year, but another meeting between the Socialists and ERC is still on the agenda. 

The relationship between the Socialists and Catalan pro-independence parties is anything but easy: while they came together to oust the conservative Mariano Rajoy from power in 2018, discrepancies on the Catalan issue led to a snap general election last April with inconclusive results. One month ago, a new election saw a stunning rise of the far right and put renewed pressure on left-wing parties to form a government.

Negotiation burdens

If Catalan parties’ perennial demand for an agreed referendum proved enough of a negotiation burden in the past, the conviction of 9 pro-independence leaders to prison sentences of up to 13 years last October has made finding agreements with the Socialist party even more complicated.

On the other side, Sánchez doesn’t want to provide further ammunition to right-wing groups accusing him of being too lenient on pro-independence parties and making concessions that, as they see it, endanger the unity of Spain.

The divergent interests and the mutual mistrust make for an extremely volatile negotiation table. And with another snap election still a possibility, parties are wary of any misstep that could upset their electorate.

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  • Catalan protesters urge Spain's acting president Pedro Sánchez to engage in talks over self-determination (by Norma Vidal)

  • Catalan protesters urge Spain's acting president Pedro Sánchez to engage in talks over self-determination (by Norma Vidal)