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Tension until the last minute in Spain's Congress of Deputies: in the nick of time, Pedro Sánchez obtained the endorsement of Together for Catalonia (Junts) for the package of three decree laws which the Socialist (PSOE)-led minority government was desperate to pass. The approach used was as follows: Junts simply did not vote, knowing that the arithmetic would thus allow the texts to go ahead by the narrowest of margins. The method, however, did not result in the validation of all three measures: one, an 'omnibus' or miscellaneous decree with several different measures, was passed; a second, on unemployment benefits was overturned by the alternative left Podemos; and the third, a package of economic crisis measures, will have to be voted on again because, due to a mistake by a member of the progressive majority, who failed to vote, a tie occurred. The speaker of Congress, Francina Armengol, is expected to inform this Wednesday evening on how the problem of the tied vote will be resolved. And an important note: Congress has decided that the omnibus decree, in addition to being passed, will be registered in Congress as a bill. This opens the door to introducing amendments to remove (or change) the point that caused so much concern: the possibility of making the Catalan amnesty law ineffective.

During the day there were several hints that Junts could end up reaching an agreement with the PSOE. Sources from the pro-independence party told that general secretary Jordi Turull had met with the leadership of the PSOE on Tuesday evening in a quick trip to Madrid. And the Junts leader in the Spanish capital, Míriam Nogueras, did not participate in the first session of the day in which MPs debated the Spanish government's decree laws. All this made it clear that last-minute talks were going on in the corridors of the Senate. Yes, the Senate: this Wednesday, the congressional debate was held in Spain's upper chamber, due to building work underway in the lower house.


Míriam Nogueras (Junts): "I think we reached this extreme situation, because when we said we wouldn't give away our votes in exchange for nothing, we meant, we wouldn't give away our votes in exchange for nothing." 

A meeting between Basque Nationalist MP Aitor Esteban and minister Félix Bolaños also stirred up rumours. "Are you acting as a mediator with Junts?", journalists asked the PNV leader in the Congress of Deputies; he gave no response. Junts had insisted in the last few hours that the party was "99%" in favour of 'No'. The remaining 1% was what this Wednesday fuelled expectations of a deal being reached in extremis.

This same minister, as well as deputy prime minister María Jesús Montero, made it as clear as they could throughout the day that they were still "working" until "the last minute" with Together for Catalonia. "We need to be up to the task" because "no one would understand politicking which harms the public when they think they are harming the government", asserted superminister Bolaños.

In fact it was the presidency and justice minister himself who fired the starter's gun for this Wednesday's debate as he put up a defence of the three decree-laws, affirming that overturning them would be a kick in the pants for the people of Spain. "Today may be the day when Congress approves social cuts again, as it did more than a year ago; this is not what society or our country wants", he argued from the rostrum of the Senate.

The controversial point that could paralyse the amnesty

But, at the end of the day, it wasn't the social issues that concerned Junts the most. Yes, the Catalan independentists were complaining that some of these issues encroached on the competencies of the Catalan government, but the really critical point was another: the clause in one of the three decrees modifying the law on civil trial procedure in a way that could allow the Spanish judiciary to leave the amnesty in limbo until the European Court of Justice pronounces on whatever preliminary questions the Spanish judges might see fit to raise. This could almost kill the law, since a pronouncement from Europe could easily take up to two years.

Of the three decree laws voted on this Wednesday, one was concerned with the reform of unemployment benefits, another on the extension of anti-crisis measures; and the third 'omnibus' collection of legislative points includes aspects related to the civil service, sponsorship and justice. It is the last of these that contains the controversial point about the amnesty.

Door slammed on "coercing" companies with penalties

At the same time, the Spanish government also ensured this Wednesday that it gave a good slam of the door to the latest proposal made by Junts. For all that the pro-independence party sought to disassociate itself from the passing of the three decree laws, they demanded penalties for those companies that had left Catalonia because of the independence process and did not return to Catalonia subsequently. "We are trying to find a positive model, never using coercion", said the industry and tourism minister, Jordi Hereu, this Wednesday. He claimed, however, that the return of companies to Catalonia is part of the Sánchez government's "agenda for the re-encounter".