Spain’s new government faces immediate test in Catalan national rights

Hopes for fresh negotiations after President Sánchez and President Torra exchange phone call

- New PSOE and Podemos government set for fresh negotiations with Catalan counterparts

- President Torra prepares to challenge removal from office

- European and Spanish courts clash over status of jailed former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras

Spain’s new left-wing coalition government faces an immediate test over Catalan national rights, as it prepares for a new round of bilateral talks with the Catalan cabinet.

Hopes were raised today (9 January) after it was revealed that the returning Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, held a phone call with Catalan President Quim Torra where it was agreed new talks would be held after the government was established.

Sánchez was elected the head of the new coalition government – formed by his PSOE party and the left-wing Unidas Podemos - and President of Spain by a two-vote margin the Spanish congress – a success which depended on the abstentions of 18 Basque and Catalan MPs. Though the party with which Torra is aligned - Junts Per Catalunya – voted against Sánchez’s bid, the larger centre-left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) agreed to abstain in return for new bilateral talks between Spanish and Catalan cabinets.

Read more – ‘Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart must be released immediately’: Amnesty International condemns conviction of Catalan leaders

The promise of new talks comes as the Spanish state continues its crackdown on Catalan politicians.

On Monday (6 January) Spain’s Central Electoral Board (JEC) voted to strip Torra of his status as a deputy (MP) in the Catalan Parliament, after a December ruling in the Catalan Regional Court found him guilty of using public buildings to hang banners demanding the release of jailed independence leaders during the election.

Torra has submitted and urgent appeal in the Supreme Court, saying the ruling usurps the powers of the Catalan Parliament.

Read more – 'Complying with an illegal order was impossible': Catalan president faces removal from office in 'disobedience' trial

Speaking on Saturday (5 January) after the Catalan Parliament reaffirmed its belief that only it could remove its president, Torra said:“We need to move on from this notion of supreme courts or electoral boards. Where does sovereignty reside? It was very important to underscore the sovereignty and inviolability of the Parliament.”

Meanwhile, a public spat between European and Spanish authorities continues over the status of Catalan politicians Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, who were elected as MEPs in the European Parliament in 2019.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) found in December that the pro-independence politicians became MEPs immediately upon their election in May that year, and were henceforth subject to immunity. The JEC submitted note stating that Junqueras, the jailed leader of the ERC and former vice president of Catalonia, could not be sworn in due to his prisoner status. However, this advice has apparently been ignored by European authorities. The European Parliament will treat Junqueras as a normal MEP, at least until a further ruling in the Spanish Supreme court, which has rejected a bid by Junqueras to suspend the JEC veto.

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The new coalition government brings several factions of the left into government with Unidas Podemos, which was formed from the Spanish anti-austerity movement in the wake of the financial crisis and chaos in the Eurozone at the beginning of the last decade. It carries with it many hopes of the reform of the Spanish economy and society.

However, the key democratic and national questions posed by the Catalan movement have become a major hurdle for Spanish governments attempting to secure stability and produce a domestic agenda. Two rounds of talks under the previous PSOE government, also headed by Sánchez, collapsed.

Picture courtesy of Gure Esku

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