Spain: Socialists pin future government on Catalan's release
MADRID – Two left-wing parties striving to form Spain's first coalition government in decades joined forces Monday announcing plans to hike taxes on the rich and boost social spending if they take office with the key acquiescence of a Catalan pro-independence party.
But the final go-ahead to a potential governing alliance between interim Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez' Socialists and the anti-austerity United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party could depend largely on the fate of an imprisoned separatist politician — Oriol Junqueras, who served as Catalonia's vice president until 2017.
In a move that could ease the way for the coalition, Spain's state attorney called Monday for Junqueras, who remains the head of the Catalan ERC party, to be released temporarily so he can be sworn in as a member of the European Union's legislative body.
Junqueras' ERC party controls 13 of the 350 seats in the Spanish Congress of Deputies, and their votes are crucial for success in breaking months of political deadlock unresolved by two consecutive general elections this year.
Spanish laws allow minority governments to be formed as long as they receive more votes in favor than against in the parliament's lower house. But even with the support of a small Basque nationalist party, Sánchez and Iglesias still need ERC's abstention from the vote.
ERC has said it will decide on the matter next week, but is expected to be favorably swayed by the state attorney's move on Junqueras.
The attorney's recommendation came after the European Union’s top court rebuked Spain earlier this month, ruling that Junqueras enjoyed immunity from prosecution when he was elected to the bloc's parliament in May. Spain's top court, which at the time was already hearing the case against Junqueras and other Catalans who pushed ahead with an illegal declaration of independence, denied Junqueras permission to get out of jail to take his seat.
Junqueras, 50, was eventually convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for his role two years ago in promoting the illegal secession bid of the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia, which includes the city of Barcelona.
In its response to the European ruling, the Spanish state attorney's office also said Monday that, while allowing the Catalan politician to become a lawmaker, a request should be made immediately for the European Parliament to drop the separatist politician's immunity so he can serve the 13-year prison term he was given.
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in coming days.
Other Spanish parties on Monday criticized the two potential coalition partners for relying on the help of an imprisoned separatist.
Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party that for decades took turns in power with the Socialists, said that, as an interim prime minister over the past few months, the Socialist leader had governed “against the interests of Spain.”
“You can't negotiate the government of Spain with those who want to break it apart," Casado told reporters.
The Popular Party, the fast-rising far-right Vox party and the center-right Citizens (Ciudadanos), which suffered a big defeat in the Nov. 10 repeated general election, together hold 150 seats in the lower chamber.
But in a further sign of an impending resolution, Sánchez and United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias announced Monday their governing agreement, a 50-page document outlining more taxes for high-earning individuals and companies, plans to water down a labor reform passed in 2012 at the height of the financial crisis, as well as increases to spending on social policies.
The former foes, now turned governing partners, also plan to roll back a national security law passed by a previous conservative government and increase the minimum wage, which stands at 1,050 euros (1,176 dollars).
Speaking after both leaders signed the agreement in front of cameras, Sánchez called on other parliamentary forces to “join us in advancing and not to block us.”
Iglesias said a “progressive government” focused on social and feminist policies that fights climate change would make Spain a "point of reference” in Europe.
"I believe that we need to start talking about Spain in this world as a point of reference that offers security to vulnerable social sectors, the best vaccine against the rise of the extreme right in Europe,” he said.
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