BRUSSELS — The Spanish government plans to use a contested law granting amnesty to Catalan separatists to quell the independence conflict, Justice and Presidency Minister Félix Bolaños told POLITICO.
“If in Brussels the feeling is that the Catalan issue had almost been forgotten, it is precisely thanks to the policies of the government of [Prime Minister] Pedro Sánchez … to tackle with politics, with dialogue, with courage the issue,” Bolaños said in an interview with Brussels Playbook during a trip to Brussels last week.
Now, Bolaños added, “we want to take the definitive step for this new stage in Catalonia.”
In November, Sánchez’s Socialist Party filed a bill granting blanket amnesty to all those who have been prosecuted for their involvement with the pro-Catalan independence movement since 2012. This was part of a deal to form a minority coalition government with the far-left alliance Sumar and the backing of the Junts Catalan separatist party.
The agreement with Junts put an end to months of political paralysis in the country after an election in July left no party with a clear path to a majority.
But the proposed amnesty bill also sparked enormous protests, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets across Spain.
The bill also sparked concerns in Brussels, with European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders sending a letter to the Spanish authorities asking for details about the planned law even before it was filed.
Bolaños, who held meetings with Reynders and Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová last week to discuss the controversial amnesty, said he believed the bill will be approved “during the first quarter of next year.”
Asked about Brussels’ questions on the amnesty law, Bolaños said “there is no concern … which I know there is not, because they have told me on the phone and [in person] that there is no concern for the rule of law.”
The amnesty “is in line with the values of the European Union, the value of dialogue, of coexistence, of overcoming conflict,” Bolaños insisted.
But a spokesperson for the European Commission said that although the EU’s executive had not yet said whether it had concerns about the amnesty law, it still had “questions” about the bill.
Last week, Junts separatist leader Carles Puigdemont warned he would be willing to withdraw his support to Prime Minister Sánchez’s government if “there is not sufficient progress” in negotiations for Catalan independence.
He has also said he would be open to working with the conservative Popular Party (PP) to depose Sánchez mid-term.
But Bolaños said these were merely empty threats, because the PP would need the support from the far-right Vox party — which has taken a hard line against Catalan independence — to topple Sánchez.
“What’s true is that the Popular Party would love to make a pact with Junts … in fact, they tried over the summer,” the minister said.
“But they failed because the Spanish Popular Party is chained to the Spanish ultra-right … [without which] it cannot achieve a majority,” he added.
Asked whether he agreed with Puigdemont’s assessment that there were politicized judges in Spain, Bolaños said it was possible. But, he added, if any cases were confirmed, they would be prosecuted. He cited previous instances where officials had illegally “fabricated evidence” as an example of action that could be prosecuted.
New parliamentary investigative committees, created at the behest of Junts, will inquire about such alleged “lawfare” cases.
“If in these investigative committees any criminal case is discovered, it will be transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office so that the Prosecutor’s Office can initiate legal action” against such judges or officials, Bolaños said.