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Pedro Sánchez and Alberto Nuñez Feijóo held a conversation this Wednesday to break the ice on the investiture issue but they might as well have been speaking different languages. The leaders of the two major Spanish political parties spoke for less than an hour in the Congress of Deputies and confirmed that there is no margin to move towards a possible agreement between them on forming the next Spanish government. In fact, that had been the direct intention with which People's Party (PP) leader sat down before his adversary in the Congress of Deputies: proposing that the Socialists (PSOE) provide him with the votes to govern alone within the framework of an agreed two-year legislature. Sanchez's party have already announced that they reject Feijóo's proposal, stating that the request to be allowed to rule for only two years shows that he was not taking the investiture "seriously".

After an electoral campaign in which the PP persistently waved the flag of wanting to "repeal Sanchism", the contrast with the image of today's encounter could not have been more stark: a Feijóo trying to tie up the investiture by beseeching Pedro Sánchez for his help. And it did so through a document that put forward the idea of a two-year legislature for the PP and adding six "state pacts" that, in the opinion of the PP, "are waiting to be undertaken". "I do not abandon the prospect that one day the main parties will be able to walk side by side and shake hands", affirmed Feijóo after the meeting, in which he confirmed that he had not proposed a "grand coalition" between the PSOE and the PP: "While Sánchez is leader of the PSOE this is not possible". In this regard, the spokesperson for the Republican Left (ERC), Gabriel Rufián, made an acerbic comment on X, formerly Twitter.

"From repealing Sanchism, to begging Sanchism"— Gabriel Rufián  

The failed attempt to seduce the PSOE shows that Feijóo does not have enough support to go ahead with the investiture on 26th and 27th September. He neither has the votes he needs nor does he have any prospect of adding more to his cause. He has gathered together a maximum of 172 deputies (those of the PP, Vox, the Canary Islands' CC and Navarra's UPN), with the risk that today's attempt to deal with Sánchez could deteriorate his relationship with the extreme right. The party led by Santiago Abascal has left its position up in the air until the moment that they meet with the PP leader, but fresh in everyone's memory is the way Vox withdrew its support for the conservatives' candidate Cuca Gamarra to preside over the Congress of Deputies. Of course, on the visit to the Zarzuela royal palace, the ultra-right did guarantee to Felipe VI that its votes were for Feijóo.

Despite the Socialists' refusal to play ball, Feijóo will maintain his road map, under which he will continue offering deals to the other parties with whom he wants to meet until the end of the month - namely, the Basque Nationalists (PNV) and Together for Catalonia (Junts). At this point, the former are already tired of closing the door on the PP while the latter maintain a sepulchral silence that gives few clues, although the PP's rejection of an amnesty can be seen as a red line that is difficult to overcome. For now, Feijóo's party does not have any further contacts on its agenda and party sources do not clarify whether Feijóo himself will meet with the rest of the parliamentary parties or will delegate the round to his spokespeople in Congress.

All in all, the 27 days remaining until the first investiture session in Congress could feel like an endless journey for the PP through the desert of Spanish politics. Without allies, Feijóo could find himself choking given that he has almost no room for manoeuvre to reach an understanding with anyone else. Nor among the autonomous community presidents who are not from the PP: the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, has already said that he has nothing to say to a candidate who puts Vox in the equation, and similarly, the Basque lehendakari, Íñigo Urkullu, with whom Feijóo is to speak this Wednesday afternoon, considers that the regional presidents have little role to play in this negotiation.

Sánchez lets Feijóo go ahead - and fail 

Pedro Sánchez has, since this Wednesday's meeting, a fairly quiet month ahead of him. During the next few weeks - at least until the end of September - the media spotlight will be on the PP, and this gives the PSOE more space to negotiate an investiture of Sánchez with the rest of the parliamentary groups. In addition, the Socialist leader already stands to gain from a failed first investiture attempt by Feijóo because that will enable him to be positioned as the only candidate able to articulate a majority in the Congress of Deputies.

Feijóo Sánchez Congreso
Image of the moments before the meeting between Alberto Núñez Feijóo and Pedro Sánchez / Photo: Europa Press

Consider how that might unfold: if Congress overturns the investiture of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, Pedro Sánchez automatically acquires, in the eyes of the Spanish electorate, greater legitimacy in seeking to reach agreements with the pro-independence Basques (EH Bildu) and Catalans (ERC and Junts). The PSOE will be able to claim, the day after a failed investiture of the PP leader, that the only alternative to a repeat election is to reach a deal with the pro-independence forces. And the Socialists, in addition, promise actively and passively that such agreements will always occur within the framework of the Constitution.

Thus, despite the approach of three weeks in which the PP will have a certain protagonism, there is optimism in Socialist HQ about a future investiture of Pedro Sánchez as prime minister. His party considers that a repeat election is unlikely. However, this translates into offering a deal that the pro-independence parties will find sufficiently attractive. In recent days, there has been much talk of the possibility of negotiating an amnesty law for those prosecuted in connection with the independence process. It is a step that acting deputy PM Yolanda Díaz defends with all her might. The Sumar leader affirms that the amnesty is "absolutely constitutional", while the PSOE neither denies nor confirms it. But the Socialists' rhetoric on the once-taboo subject has moderated: they speak of "political solutions" and of being "coherent" with the strategy of defusing the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain. They are going "step by step", and always with "prudence" and "discretion".

Would a Socialist agreement with the pro-independence parties be announced when Feijóo's expected failed investiture was still recent - if the PSOE had been able to take advantage of a month with the focus on Feijóo and reach one? That is a moot point, but in any case, after the PP's investiture debate on September 26th and 27th, Sánchez has up to two further months to reach an agreement and call Congress together again. If he fails, Spanish voters will be called back to the polls on January 14th.