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An Overview of Pedro Sanchez’s proposed Amnesty Law

Pedro Sanchez has recently made it certain that he will have secured his second term after passing a controversial but legal amnesty Bill. According to PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers' party, senior official Felix Bolanos, the legislation has been hailed as a way to “heal wounds and resolve the existing political conflict” in the region. However, 170,000 protestors have been drawn out into the streets of Spain this month over this amnesty legislation, commanding international attention.

The draft amnesty law which was unveiled the 13th of November by the socialist party of Spain will end criminal cases against over 300 pro-independence supporters and leaders from the 2017 unlawful bid for Catalonia’s independence. This draft legislation has been protested by the opposition but will most likely pass parliament and then be approved by congress. The Opposition and conservatives who are urging the E.U. to weigh in on the matter as it controls the senate and could delay the law’s passage. This amnesty deal’s legal history and the politics around the proposed legislation are essential amidst this unraveling legal event in Spain.

Amnesty generally “refers to a grant of forgiveness for a past criminal offence by a sovereign power, usually for an offence committed against the state (such as treason, sedition, or rebellion).” The legal context of amnesty deals in Spain must first be delved into.

In 1977, Spain passed an amnesty for crimes committed during the Francisco Franco dictatorship which forgave crimes committed by former members of his regime. This amnesty was highly controversial as some believe it is a legal curtain being pulled over years of war crimes under Franco. It has since been referred to as the “Pact of Forgetting” which the amnesty law gave a legal basis too. As told, Spain has a political and legal history of amnesty, rarely unmet with controversy. One must be cautious however in comparing the Franco amnesty legislation to what has occurred this past month; the legal underpinnings are the same but the Franco amnesty law was much more widespread and extreme in forgiveness as the dictatorship spanned over forty years.

So, why did Pedro Sanchez recently propose Amnesty legislation and why to Catalan separatists? There are two angles to this question, both politically charged but empirically observable in validity. Before summarizing the two angles, the important context is that in 2017 Cataloinia had an unlawful and unsuccessful referendum. Carles Puigdemnont, the former Catalan regional president, who fled Spain to avoid arrest after planning the “botched effort to secede in 2017” is one person who the amnesty law would be applicable to. The law would be applicable to a few hundred more people involved in the unlawful attempt to succeed. The attempted referendum was a political crisis that instigated violence and unrest.

In light of general elections in July, the political environment in Spain for Sanchez’s re - election called upon him to strategize with catalan voters. Two Catalan pro-independence parties made it a condition that the amnesty law forgives crimes related to 2017 in order for their support in the formation of a new socialist-led government. Pedro Sanches, and broadly the PSOE were narrowly beaten by the People’s Party (the conservative party) in the inconclusive July election. This is the first motive for passing the amnesty law as it makes the new government formation almost certain as Catalan pro-independence parties pledge their support. Two angles to this law is that it diffuses political tensions between Catalonia and the rest of Spain and that it ensures Sanchez’s second term; both of which are accurate just provoking different responses amongst Spain’s population.

For example, the People’s Party leader, “Alberto Núñez Feijóo, said Spain was facing “an unprecedented situation” and called on the E.U. to step in.” He then went on to label the amnesty law as a directly payment for the votes needed for the PSEO’s government. He is advocating for E.U. intervention claiming the “E.U. had intervened in the past when democratic norms and the rule of law had come under scrutiny in other member states.” He added that the E.U. has “done so in Poland, in Romania and in Hungary, and we think our case isn’t radically different to those of those countries.”

Another People’s Party member, an MEP, who serves as the party’s institutional vice-secretary, took the extreme of drawing parallels between the Franco dictatorship legislation, as priorly introduced. He stated:

“The law “declares a decade of impunity in Catalonia because all the crimes committed in Catalonia over the course of a decade will be covered by the amnesty, from terrorism to political corruption. As such, anything that happens in other parts of Spain is a crime but anything can be forgiven in Catalonia. If you’ll allow me to say so, this is the kind of law we saw during Francoism”.”

In contrast, Pedro Sanchez has labeled the amnesty law as needed to “heal the wounds of the past and guarantee peaceful coexistence in Spain.” He also requested the People’s Party to cease trying to stir things up especially considering the mass protesting rippling through Spain.

The E.U. justice commissioner, Didier Reynards, has responded to the issue by writing to the Spanish government requesting details of the proposed law. The acting government in Spain has since replied stating that the Spanish conditions does not allow “caretaker administrations to put legislation before parliament,” and “any such legislation would be proposed by political parties”. The acting government nonetheless ensured more details would be provided to the E.U. justice commission once the “amnesty bill had been tabled”. This raises a vital point in Spain's constitutional law and reveals a limitation if the European Union in intervening in this matter.

As this is a developing story, more will be to come on whether the law gets officially passed. Meanwhile, protests continue throughout Spain and outside the socialist party’s headquarters in Madrid. Violent clashes with police and arrests have since been reported. A final essential point on the amnesty law is that it is not as simple as political parties opposing it, as a large percentage of people opposing it are actually members of the socialist party according to a survey by Metroscopia in mid-september.

Nonetheless, this amnesty will be vital in ensuring the formation of the socialist government and Sanchez requests that the opposition respects the result of the ballot box and the legitimacy of the government he will soon form. This matter speaks to a broader theme of controversy and legality, which amnesty is both.


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