A Council of Ministers of more than three hours has approved “for public utility” the nine pardons for the prisoners of the you process who are still serving current prison sentences. The pardon will be partial and conditioned, as explained by the president, to the inmates not commenting on a crime for several years. In the case of the person sentenced to a greater penalty, Oriol Junqueras, the grace measure will be conditional for six years, above the five initially planned. In the case of Jordi Sànchez, it will be five years. “We intend to open a new time for dialogue. We will encounter difficulties along the way, but it is well worth a try. For our children and our granddaughters, the entire society deserves it. We want to close the division and the confrontation once and for all. Spanish society today demonstrates its greatness. It is time to return to politics ”, explained the president in a speech without questions and without editors present on the steps of La Moncloa. The decree, signed by the King, will be published tomorrow in the BOE and will take effect immediately, so that the prisoners will be able to leave the jail automatically or not return if they are on leave.
The Council of Ministers has been very intense, according to several of those present. Everyone was aware of the importance of the decision, and practically all the ministers intervened. No one was against it, although there were some legal nuances as usual, especially because of that six-year conditionality for Junqueras, which was raised at the last minute. Some showed more concern about the division of the socialist electorate on this matter, but support was unanimous, including Margarita Robles, the minister in theory furthest from a decision like this. The ministers of United We Can, who always bet on this idea, were more resounding.
The council was “very political”, according to several of those present, and there was agreement among several ministers that this is a moment that marks the legislature. The clearest in this line were the president himself, aware that it is a political measure and that the dialogue table will mark the second part of the legislature. Sánchez is aware of the difficulties of that table but is convinced that it is necessary to try. Junqueras’ latest statements show that it will not be easy. In fact, the Executive has increased the expected years of conditionality based on the statements and political positions of the prisoners, and not on the years that they have left in prison. That is why those who have been tougher and more protagonists, such as Junqueras and Jordi Sánchez, are older, while Dolors Bassa, who has decided to leave politics, has three.
Even so, the Executive is convinced that the independentistas, whatever they say, “will not do it again.” Not only because politically they believe that they are not in it, but also because the pardons put the precaution of several years of conditionality and also because the absolute disqualification is maintained, for which these leaders will not be able to occupy a public position from which to return to do what they did in 2017. The Government believes that they have taken the first step towards recovering the dialogue with the pardons and now it is up to the independence movement to show its willingness to draw closer.
In addition to the president, the other political speech in the background was that of Yolanda Díaz, the third vice president and highest representative of United We Can, who supported the measure without nuances, which was always the bet of this group and Pablo Iglesias when he led it. Díaz said, as he later noted in a tweet, that it is “one of the most momentous decisions of this legislature, a starting point to advance in the resolution of the political conflict, in reconciliation.” United We can take advantage of this milestone of the legislature to consolidate the majority of the inauguration and give a social turn to the political line of the Government. The PSOE agrees and there are several progressive measures on the agenda for the coming weeks, although the discussion between the two groups continues to be intense and agreement is lacking on many decisive points such as the increase in the minimum wage.
It all started on September 20, 2012. That day the president Artur Mas, overwhelmed by the massive demonstration on September 11 in Barcelona, raised the stakes so as not to be swallowed up by the street and by ERC and demanded that Mariano Rajoy in La Moncloa negotiate the fiscal pact, a kind of Basque concert for Catalonia. Rajoy rejected it outright. Mas called elections thinking of a great success, but failed and had to govern with ERC. From that moment, Spanish and Catalan politics never met again and everything became more and more complicated. Nine years later, for the first time a central government takes a controversial measure, that of pardons to the inmates of the you process, which has the declared intention of turning this unstoppable drift process around. Nobody knows if it will work, not even the government that takes it, but the argument with which it is carried out makes its historical dimension clear: “someone had to take the first step.”
The Government has been mulling over pardons for almost a year. And talking to ERC about them almost permanently. Despite the initial doubts, and the clear change of position of the president, who in 2019 rejected outright the idea of approving the grace measure, everything has been adding little by little towards its approval.
The social environment in Catalonia, with more and more agents not only from politics but also from the business world, as it was verified this week, pressing to leave behind the tear of the you process, has added a lot. The position of European justice and the most relevant sectors of EU politics and media, which have made it clear that they would welcome the search for a way out, have also added. The rise of the PSC in Catalonia, which completes Sánchez’s commitment to a shift in his message to Catalan society, has also contributed. The passage of time, which practically led to most of the prisoners being close to receiving the third grade, has also pushed. ERC’s victory over Junts in the Catalan elections has finished clearing a scenario that was already very worked at the highest level between La Moncloa and the Republican leadership for months. And the collapse of Ciudadanos, which was confirmed in the Madrid elections and marks the regrouping of the right wing, was the last straw for a long-standing decision.
Now it remains to be seen what real effect it will have. In each of the meetings of social leaders with ERC or Junts, there was a moment of discussion in which the pro-independence interlocutors, even if it was a technical debate on a law with no relationship, raised the issue: “All this is very good, but it is very difficult for us to talk about anything with our leaders in jail ”. The independentistas remain without arguments not to move tab. Now they are the ones called to take the “second step”, this is to open the possibility of a real negotiation that they know cannot revolve around self-determination or amnesty, concepts that the PSOE rejects outright as unconstitutional.
The pardons put a complete spin on the legislature. The Government is already clearly placed in the majority of the investiture, without much possibility of looking at Ciudadanos – last week the aggressiveness between Carmen Calvo and Inés Arrimadas clearly marked a breakdown of bridges – and with Catalonia as one of the great focuses. And the PP is installed in an opposition without quarter, probably until the end of the legislature, in which the possibility of a pact to renew the Judiciary, which was very close shortly after the Catalan elections, is practically ruled out. The blocks are consolidated and Sánchez already knows that everything he does in the dialogue with the independentistas will have to be carried out with his investiture majority but without any type of agreement, not even tacit, with Pablo Casado.
Spanish politics is so complex that what is going well electorally in Catalonia, such as this policy of the reunion that has led the PSC to once again be the first party in this community, can be very damaging in the rest of Spain. The lines are separating. The PSOE suffers in Madrid and Andalusia, where the PP grows without restraint, while the popular ones almost disappear in Catalonia and the Basque Country and do not raise their heads in the Valencian Community, with a different sensitivity towards the Catalan problem. The territorial question continues to have a clear electoral effect, but in opposite directions and difficult to control. Sánchez will explore in the coming months a way to undo the ball of the you process where you have no guarantee of success, but you seem to have come to the conclusion that the only real option was to give it a try. The cataract of decisions to regain the political pulse after the Madrid fiasco is accompanied by the acceleration of the progressive agenda in Congress, with positive measures such as the elimination of masks or the control of the price of electricity through a sharp drop of taxes, and a change of Government that is already on the horizon of all the ministers for shortly before or shortly after the summer holidays. In addition, it is trying to strengthen the coalition with the agreement of several laws that were stalled for weeks, including those of housing.
“The legislature begins now,” said the third vice president, Yolanda Díaz, recently. The PSOE and Unidas Podemos have already clearly chosen to focus on recovering the pulse of the progressive electorate and risk with their commitment to pardons to seek a way out of the Catalan conflict. The opposition is convinced that Sánchez is marking the beginning of the end of his term with these decisions and it is only a matter of time before the right wing returns to power. The repositioning of the pieces these days is of such caliber that in a short time we will see how the legislature is refocused. The only certainty is that nothing will be the same again after the most complex and transcendent decision of Sánchez’s mandate.