Sánchez’s Frankenstein Coalition Faces Major Roadblock for Catalan Amnesty

Politics - February 19, 2024

Sánchez’s Frankenstein coalition is already proving how unwieldy and unstable it is, with another major legislative hurdle in sight. Only weeks after the constitution of the new Government and the infamous quid pro quo pact reached with the Catalan separatist party Junts for Sánchez to stay in power, Junts is already threatening to vote down the Government’s first legislative measure.

On December, the Council of Ministers approved a Royal Decree-Law on the adoption of urgent measures for the execution of the of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan in the areas of justice, the civil service, local government and sponsorship. This omnibus Decree is an archetype of Sánchez’s approach to legislating: firstly, the fact that it is an omnibus package encompassing a very broad array of policy matters with little interrelation between them. Secondly, and importantly, the fact that it is a Decree rather than a Parliamentary Bill.

Constitutionally, Decrees enable the Government to legislate in an expedient matter and independently of Parliament. Although the Constitution mandates that Decrees may only be used “in case of extraordinary and urgent need” as “temporary legislative provisions”, in practice Governments abuse this provision and issue Decrees to sideline Parliament.

Decrees must be submitted to Parliament after 30 days for their ratification or repeal, but in practice this leaves Parliament without much room for scrutiny and without the possibility to table amendments, hence their attractiveness for Governments. As further proof of Sánchez’s authoritarianism, he is the Prime Minister who has issued the most Royal Decree-Laws, at a grand total of around 140 since 2018.

This particular Decree incorporates a broad range of measures in a diverse array of spheres, and is accompanied by 10 billion euros in funding from the EU Next Generation funds. For example, it includes measures for the digital transformation of the justice system, reforms of the civil service, a reform of some aspects of the system of local government, and a reform of the law on the fiscal regime of non-profit organisations and fiscal incentives for sponsorship.

To the point, Junts has announced that when this Decree is brought before Parliament for its ratification, this separatist party will vote against the Government. Junts has branded this Decree (rather fittingly, admittedly), as a “fruit salad Decree”, due to its omnibus nature. Furthermore, Junts opposes the Decree because, according to this separatist parties, one of the provisions of the Decree which modifies Article 43 of the Law on Civil Prosecution, would “put at risk” the application of the future amnesty law, which was part of the quid pro quo agreed between Sánchez and the Catalan separatists for his investiture. Junts also opposes some of the provisions on the civil service and local government, which, according to them, violates Catalonia’s regional competences.

Independently of the merits of amnesty, which we have criticised extensively, Junts’ approach provides useful information about what the dynamics of Sánchez’s government are going to be, and the significant hurdles it will face. Currently, Sánchez’s governing bloc, consisting of left-wing and nationalist parties (excluding Junts), comprises 171 seats, 1 less than the right-wing’s 172. Therefore, under the scenario of parliamentary fragmentation heralded by the 2023 elections, the passage of Sánchez’s legislative agenda hinges upon the favourable vote of every single one of his parliamentary majority allies, plus the 7 crucial votes of Junts, without which legislation will fail.

If this Decree fails to receive Parliament’s approval, as it foreseeably will, the Government will be dealt a humiliating first blow, which will not be the last of this legislative term, given that for every legislative initiative, Sánchez needs to get at least 8 diverse left-wing and nationalist parties on the same page, an onerous task given the diverging interests and ideologies. To conclude, this will be a tough legislative term for Sánchez, and we may even predict that it won’t last long if Junts erects itself as a barrier against every new legislative proposal.