BEATRIZ NAVARRO, JUAN CARLOS MERINO, IÑAKI PARDO
(BRUSSELS, MADRID, BARCELONA)
29 November 2023
THE NEW LEGISLATURE
The former president told Manfred Weber (EPP) in Brussels that Junts could even support a motion of censure against Pedro Sánchez.
PSOE and Junts to meet on Saturday 2 December in Geneva
The former Catalan president and leader of Junts, Carles Puigdemont, warned last night in a private conversation held in Brussels with the leader of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, that if “there is not enough progress” in his agreements with the PSOE, his deputies could add their votes to those of the Popular Party in the Congress of Deputies to vote against laws such as the state budget.
This threat from the pro-independence leader to Sánchez came just three days before the first meeting between PSOE and Junts in Geneva on Saturday 2 December with an international verifier in accordance with the agreement between the two parties on the investiture of the president of the government.
The talk between Puigdemont and Weber took place when the two politicians met by chance at the beginning of a gala organised by the website Politico Europe. One of its reporters, who was able to hear part of the conversation, then asked Puigdemont if he could confirm what he had heard. The answer was affirmative. “We could vote with the PP to bring down the budget or for a resolution on Israel, where our position is actually more aligned” with this party, Puigdemont told Politico on the sidelines of the ceremony, where his list of Europe’s ’28 most influential personalities’ in 2024 was unveiled. The Catalan politician appears in the ‘disruptors’ category in second place, behind Elvira Nabiullina, Vladimir Putin’s banker, and ahead of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
A hypothetical motion of censure would be an option if Junts and the PP could agree on an independent prime minister to replace Sánchez, the former president suggested to Weber. “But for that to happen, the PP must take a step towards us. They can’t keep treating me like a terrorist,” Puigdemont told Politico, stressing to the EPP leader that his only crime six years ago was placing ballot boxes in the 1-O referendum. Sources in the European People’s Party confirm the content of the conversation, in which Weber told Puigdemont of his concern that the tension between separatists and unionists is facilitating the growth of Vox (“you feed each other”, the German reproached him).
The meeting took place by chance. It was in fact the first conversation worthy of the name that Weber and Puigdemont have had since he obtained his parliamentary seat four years ago. Puigdemont’s presence at last night’s gala as well as the very fact that the EPP leader stopped to talk to him (their conversation lasted around five minutes, an eternity in politics) denote a certain normalisation of Puigdemont’s presence in Brussels after the elections of 23 July. The Junts leader arrived accompanied by another MEP and former minister Toni Comín, who also took part in the talk and responded to Weber’s criticism of the possible holding of a referendum, which the Spanish constitution provides for authorising this type of consultative consultation.
In statements to Politico, Puigdemont opted for a provocative cinematic comparison when referring to the inclusion of the term lawfare in the political pact between Junts and the PSOE, which has been so criticised by Spanish judges’ associations. The mention, said the former president, is a warning to judges and politicians who, in his opinion, have overstepped their functions. “The term lawfare is like the horse’s head in The Godfather: it is a warning that we mean business,” he said.
Puigdemont’s approach was immediately responded to from Madrid by the popular leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who rejected such a possibility and who “despite Sánchez’s laughter” reiterated that “it is not possible” for him to be president with Puigdemont’s votes, because “it is incompatible with the current conditions of Junts”. Feijóo was clear. “I cannot accept what Mr Sánchez has accepted. Junts does not appoint me president of the government, but Mr Sánchez does”.
On the eve of the PSOE-Junts meeting
Puigdemont’s statements are surprising given the discretion that the two parties (PSOE and Junts) have self-imposed on their own talks, which will enter a new phase next Saturday in Geneva with a verifier. Puigdemont will lead the JxCat delegation, which will also include the party’s secretary general, Jordi Turull. On the part of the PSOE, it will be the secretary of organisation of Ferraz, Santos Cerdán, who will head the negotiating delegation, as confirmed by Sánchez himself, and his right-hand man, Juan Francisco Serrano, who also participated in the negotiations for the investiture, is also expected to attend. Despite the confirmation of this first meeting next Saturday in Geneva, the socialists also advocate that these negotiations should be conducted with the utmost discretion, and that the public should only be informed when progress is made in the talks. The details of the verification mechanism have not been revealed either, but both Turull, secretary general of Junts, and the party’s spokesman in the Senate, Josep Lluís Cleries, have revealed in recent weeks that this institution has already helped to reach the agreement for the re-election of Pedro
Sánchez.Puigdemont, the kingmaker
Politico justified the inclusion of Puigdemont and Flemish far-right leader Tom Van Grieken, leader of the Vlaams Belang, in the list of personalities who will be most influential in 2024 as “a nod to the current polarising times”. Their selection, in fact, “includes not one, but two secessionists”, they explain. On Puigdemont, the publication notes that “the Catalan who managed to secure an amnesty for an illegal independence vote in 2017 – and perhaps even another chance at secession – in exchange for propping up Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez”. Politico defines him as a kingmaker, a “transcendental actor” in Spanish politics and a “man on the run” who has managed to give Spanish prosecutors the slip.
“Unsurprisingly, Puigdemont conditioned his support for Sánchez on a general amnesty for him and all others prosecuted for their involvement in the Catalan separatist movement over the past decade,” says Politico, which recalls that this was not the first time he has played the role of a hinge party, as in the motion of censure with which Sánchez reached the Moncloa in 2018 with the votes of the defunct PDeCat. In his opinion, Puigdemont will continue to be “crucial” in the future, as without the seven deputies of Junts, the PSOE will have great difficulty in passing any bill in a Congress as “hyper-fractured” as the one that emerged from the polls in the last elections.” It remains to be seen whether he will be able to use this power to push through a new referendum on self-determination for Catalonia, this time with Madrid’s approval.
Politico’s list of the ‘class of 2024’ points to Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council and potential prime minister of Poland, as Europe’s most powerful personality. Italian leader Giorgia Meloni tops the ranking of the most active and enterprising leaders, followed by Ursula von der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron, among others. In the category where Puigdemont stands out, the ‘disruptors’, in addition to Nabiullina and Orbán, include German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Weber himself, as President of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, who is presented as The Green Pact Killer, for his campaign against the law on the restoration of nature.