Spain’s caretaker prime minister holds unprecedented meetings with Basque and Catalan separatists

SPAIN’S caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took the unprecedented step on Friday of allowing himself to be photographed with representatives from two of the country’s most controversial political parties: Basque nationalist group EH Bildu and pro-Catalan independence party Together for Catalunya. 

The move also makes the Socialist Party leader the first prime minister of Spain to ever hold talks with Bildu, according to news agency Reuters. The party has historic links to the now-defunct terrorist group ETA, and once served as its political wing. 

After its decades-long and murderous campaign for an independent Basque Country, Eta finally disbanded completely in 2018. EH Bildu is a legal political party, but its association with the terrorist group’s past and the failure of its high-profile leaders to condemn its violent acts has provoked widespread rejection among the country’s right-wing parties and a whole swathe of voters. 

The party currently counts on six seats in Spain’s 350-seat lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies. 

After the inconclusive general election held in Spain on July 23, Pedro Sanchez needs the support of a range of parties – including Bildu and Together for Catalunya – if he is to prosper at an upcoming investiture vote in Congress.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
Credit: Chris Kleponis / Pool/Sipa

While the date for the vote has yet to be set, if Sanchez is not voted back in as prime minister before November 27, the country will be going back to the polls in early 2024. 

“For the Socialist Party, the commitment to co-existence, dialogue and plurality is the road map for securing the investiture of Pedro Sánchez,” the party said in a statement released after the meetings on Friday and reported by Reuters. 

The caretaker prime minister, who came to power in 2020 thanks to a similar cross-party deal as the one he is currently seeking, met with Bildu’s spokesperson in Congress, Mertxe Aizpurua, as well as Gorka Elejabarrieta, who performs the same role in the upper house, the Senate, posing for photographs with the two politicians. 

Bildu was among the parties that paved the way for the Sanchez administration to be formed back in 2020 and has supported bills passed by the government over the last nearly four years including the all-important budget. 

Meanwhile, Sanchez is also negotiating with Catalan separatist groups such as Together for Catalunya as they make demands in return for their support. The most high profile of these is an amnesty for as many as 1,400 people who were involved in the 2017 independence drive, which culminated in an illegal referendum on secession from Spain as well as a unilateral declaration of independence. 

Sanchez’s meeting with Bildu on Friday caused widespread outrage among the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox.

“Has Sanchez called on Bildu to condemn terrorism? No,” said PP spokesperson Cuca Gamarra on Friday. “Has he asked them to collaborate to clarify terrorist attacks? No. He has only asked them for their votes and for them to name their price.”

Vox leader Santiago Abascal, meanwhile, focused his ire on Bildu spokesperson Mertxe Aizpurua. 

“Sentenced for justifying terrorism, a friend of Eta terrorists and the publisher of Eta propaganda,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) about Aizpurua. “Today she is a partner of the autocrat Sanchez. He is guilty, but there are others who have responsibility: those who voted no to the outlawing of Bildu when Vox proposed it in Congress.”

Bildu, meanwhile, said that the meeting had taken place in a ‘historical moment’, and that the dialogue was taking place in a ‘political context where ‘tension, noise and ill-temper are trying to dominate political debate’. 

Sanchez has met with all of the political parties in Congress apart from far-right Vox, which he has blacklisted due to its extreme policies on immigration, domestic violence and LGBTQ+ rights, among other issues. 

He was called upon to form a government by King Felipe VI after the Popular Party candidate, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, failed to muster enough support to do so at an investiture vote in September. 

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