Spain’s Senate passes controversial criminal code reform

Spain's Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a controversial criminal code reform that downgrades two charges used against Catalan separatist leaders over their involvement in the failed 2017 independence bid.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez claps during Prime Minister's Questions session at the Senate in Madrid, on December 21st. Since taking over in June 2018, Sánchez has adopted a strategy of "defusing" the Catalonia conflict. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The text, which was passed with the support of 140 of the 261 senators present, abolishes the offence of sedition and replaces it with a charge carrying softer penalties, and it also reduces the penalty for misuse of public funds.

Sedition was the charge used to convict and jail nine Catalan separatists over their failed secession bid, with several of them also convicted of misuse of public funds.

They were handed jail terms of between nine and 13 years, but later pardoned.

Analysts have said the move is aimed at courting Catalan separatist support ahead of next year’s general election.

Since taking over in June 2018, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has adopted a strategy of “defusing” the Catalonia conflict which threw Spain into its worst political crisis in decades, maintaining dialogue with the moderate separatists and pardoning those involved in the independence bid.

The reform could also soften any future sentence for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others who fled abroad during the crisis to escape prosecution.

The reforms have been fiercely criticised by the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP), which denounced the move as “tailor-made for convicts”, as well as some of Sanchez’s own Socialists who have denounced him for giving into separatist demands.

Another clause of the reform, which would have paved the way for renewing the mandates of four of the Constitutional Court’s 12 judges, was dropped from the text submitted to the Senate on Thursday following an unprecedented legal challenge by the PP earlier this week.

The move has sparked an institutional crisis in Spain which has been denounced by Sánchez’s government as “unprecedented”.

READ MORE: Why Spain is giving a ‘get out of jail free card’ to politicians

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Spain lawmakers reject far-right no-confidence motion

Spanish lawmakers on Wednesday roundly rejected a no-confidence motion against socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez brought by the far-right Vox party and fronted by an 89-year-old former communist.

Spain lawmakers reject far-right no-confidence motion

After nearly 14 hours of parliamentary debate which began early Tuesday, the motion was rejected with 201 votes against, to 53 in favour and 91 abstentions in the 350-seat chamber.

It never had a chance of success given it was only supported by Vox’s 52 MPs, although it secured one extra vote from an independent lawmaker. As pledged, the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) abstained.

The no-confidence move – which was defended by elderly economist, Ramón Tamames, who does not belong to Vox – comes two months before local and regional polls in Spain on May 28th and ahead of a December general election.

“We will not vote in favour of this motion out of respect for the Spanish people, and we will not vote against this motion out of respect for you, Mr. Tamames,” the PP’s number two, Cuca Gamarra, told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

An earlier Vox-led no-confidence motion in October 2020 also failed but the PP had voted against, with Wednesday’s decision to abstain drawing fierce criticism from Sánchez.

Vying to govern

“It is remarkable and revealing to see the traditional right… getting closer and closer to the far-right,” he said, accusing opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who is not a lawmaker and did not attend the vote, of seeking to appease Vox ahead of the elections.

“What does the absent leader of the traditional right say today in the face of history repeating itself? He is silent. But his silence says it all: they know they need Vox to be able to govern,” Sánchez said.

Vox became Spain’s third-largest party when it entered parliament in 2019, and last year won its first share of power in one of Spain’s regional governments alongside the PP.

It is a model the party is hoping to repeat with polls suggesting the PP would win December’s election but would need Vox’s support to govern.

However, Vox’s ultra-conservative stance, notably over abortion in recent months, has embarrassed the PP which has sought to distance itself from the faction.

Despite the motion’s rejection, Vox leader Santiago Abascal said he was “satisfied”. “Once again, we have exposed one of the worst governments in our history,” he told reporters.

“We knew what the outcome (of the vote) would be but above all we were satisfied with the debate, we wanted this government to be exposed and it was.”