Sánchez Takes Risk by Snubbing Catalans

Without their support, the prime minister would not have a majority in Congress.

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15, 2020 (PES)

At what point will Catalonia’s Republican Left decide enough is enough?

The separatists have kept Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in power for two-and-a-half years, but I argue in EUobserver they have little to show for it.

Sánchez most recently did a deal behind Catalans’ backs with conservatives to reduce subsidies for independent film and television productions, including those made in Catalan. The subsidies were the only concession Republicans had wrangled out of Sánchez’ Socialist Party in budget talks last year.

The about-face could be the final straw. “You have destroyed the agreement you had with us, which cost us a lot, which we defended to the end,” Republican Joan Margall told Socialist deputies in Congress.

Few results

Catalonia’s other separatist parties accuse the Republicans of selling out. If their deal with Sánchez doesn’t yield results, hardliners are more likely to win the next regional election, which could lead to a repeat of 2017. The Catalan government defied Spain’s highest court that year by holding a referendum on independence. Spain suspended Catalonia’s self-government and imprisoned its leaders.

Sánchez promised to turn the page, and to his credit he pardoned the separatists who were convicted for organizing the 2017 referendum.

But he has refused to reform the antiquated sedition law under which they were tried. (Sedition isn’t a crime in most European countries anymore.)

He hasn’t kept his promise to devolve more powers to Catalonia.

And he blocked a congressional inquiry into the revelation that 65 prominent Catalans, including the region’s president, Pere Aragonès, his three immediate predecessors and their lawyers, were hacked and spied on by Spain’s national intelligence agency.

What is Sánchez thinking?

Maybe Sánchez calculates that Republicans have nowhere else to go. Certainly a right-wing government would be worse. Far from giving Catalonia more autonomy, the conservatives want to take powers back.

Maybe he’s afraid concessions will cost him the next election. Catalan autonomy is unpopular in the rest of Spain.

But if he loses the support of Republicans, that could bring elections forward, and polls put the conservatives ahead.