Catalan Influence Grows: Spain Elects Socialist Speaker in Tense Parliamentary Battle

Catalan Influence Grows: Spain Elects Socialist Speaker in Tense Parliamentary Battle

Lawmakers in Spain have elected Francina Armengol, a candidate from the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, as the parliamentary speaker in a closely watched vote. This victory has significant implications for Pedro Sanchez’s quest to return as prime minister. The session on Thursday was seen as a prelude to the crucial investiture vote that determines the composition of the government, following the inconclusive July election.

With an absolute majority of 178 votes in the 350-seat chamber, Francina Armengol, 52, now holds the position of parliamentary speaker, the third-highest office in Spain after the king and the prime minister. Her election became a reality after a last-minute agreement with the hardline Catalan separatist party, JxCat, positioning them as kingmakers in the political landscape.

During the July polls, neither the left nor the right secured enough seats to form a working majority. With each side only able to gather the cross-party support of 171 lawmakers, JxCat became instrumental in influencing the outcome. The votes cast by their seven lawmakers on Thursday played a decisive role in securing Armengol’s election. Pedro Sanchez hopes to replicate this success in the investiture vote, but experts predict that the negotiations will be far more complicated.

While winning the speaker vote is a positive sign for Sanchez, it does not guarantee his appointment for another term. Substantial obstacles exist in meeting JxCat’s demands, says Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London. The vote also shines a light on the challenges facing Alberto Nunez-Feijoo of the right-wing Popular Party (PP). Despite winning the election, the PP received less support than anticipated, meaning they will need the far-right Vox party to form a government.

Rather unexpectedly, Vox’s 33 MPs voted for their own candidate instead of supporting the PP’s candidate in Thursday’s vote, leaving the latter in a vulnerable position. Once a speaker is chosen, the parliament’s first task will be to select a prime minister. An investiture vote is slated to take place later this month or in early September.

JxCat has stated that, in exchange for their support, the Socialists and their radical leftist ally Sumar have agreed to four demands. These include the recognition of Catalan as an official European Union language and its use in Spain’s parliament. Additionally, JxCat seeks the establishment of two inquiry panels—one for the 2017 Barcelona terror attacks and another for the use of Pegasus software to spy on Catalan separatists. However, the bar is set much higher for the investiture vote.

The separatists are seeking an amnesty for individuals pursued by the Spanish justice system in relation to the failed 2017 independence bid, as well as a referendum on self-determination. JxCat leader Carles Puigdemont insists on receiving solid guarantees before offering support to Spain’s next government. He expressed his lack of confidence in Spanish political parties and the need for substantial assurances beyond mere promises. Puigdemont himself is wanted by the Spanish justice system and currently resides in Belgium, leading JxCat from there.

Sanchez’s choice of Francina Armengol as parliamentary speaker is widely seen as a gesture to the separatists. Between 2015 and 2023, Armengol served as a regional leader of the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is widely spoken. In line with nationalist party demands, Sanchez has also pledged to promote the use of Catalan, Basque, and Galician within EU institutions during Spain’s presidency of the EU.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Who is Francina Armengol?

Francina Armengol is a member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and has been elected as parliamentary speaker in Spain. She previously served as a regional leader in the Balearic Islands.

2. What is the role of JxCat in the parliamentary vote?

JxCat, a hardline Catalan separatist party, played a pivotal role in securing the election of Francina Armengol as speaker. Their votes were decisive in achieving an absolute majority.

3. What are the demands of JxCat in exchange for their support?

JxCat has requested the recognition of Catalan as an official language in the European Union and the use of Catalan in Spain’s parliament. They also seek the establishment of inquiry panels for the 2017 Barcelona terror attacks and the use of Pegasus software to spy on Catalan separatists.

4. What are the obstacles facing Pedro Sanchez in the investiture vote?

Despite winning the speaker vote, Pedro Sanchez faces substantial obstacles in meeting JxCat’s demands. An amnesty for those pursued by the Spanish justice system and a referendum on self-determination are among the requirements sought by the separatists.

5. Who is Carles Puigdemont?

Carles Puigdemont is the leader of JxCat and a wanted individual in the Spanish justice system. He was the head of the regional government of Catalonia during the attempted independence bid in 2017 and currently resides in Belgium.