After a fortnight without a meeting, on Friday they met again in the Spanish Parliament. The negotiating teams for the Spanish Socialists (PSOE) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) trying to form a new Spanish government under Pedro Sánchez came together again to see if there was a way to move forward, with the Socialists in a hurry as before. But ERC left the meeting in the same way as they went in: "No significant news." Their eyes were, and still are, looking elsewhere: at the position to be adopted by the State Solicitors, autonomous but responsible to the justice ministry, on the allegations of Oriol Junqueras' immunity before the Supreme Court. The rest, both in terms of the Spain-Catalonia dialogue table and the executive's social policy plans, is already well on track.
And what are the State Solicitors doing? For the moment, refusing to be hurried. The initial intention was to deliver their report well before their January 2nd deadline. It had to be a simple procedure; in fact, the State Solicitors are the only party involved in the independence leaders' trial which has not yet made its submissions, unlike Junqueras' defence, the Public Prosecutors' Office and the private prosecution pursued by Vox. The state's legal team had already given a report favourable to the ERC leader last June, affirming to the Electoral Commission that he had the right to leave jail and carry out his MEP formalities. This time, however, there are more doubts and uncertainties, both legal and political, with ERC calling for a "gesture" to break the political deadlock. For some of the state attorneys, solving both tasks before them at once is an impossible task. It remains to be seen who will end up signing the document. It could be the Attorney General herself, Consuelo Castro.
What ERC is asking for is clear: that its leader could at least be released from prison, formally take up office, begin to serve as an MEP, and for the Supreme Court to then be required to appeal to the European Parliament on waiving Junqueras' immunity. The uncertainty of the State Solicitors' begins after he formally takes office. Last June, they felt that he couldn't go to Brussels to take up the post, but instead would have to return to prison. On this occasion, they might ask the electoral commission to refer the trial verdict to the European Parliament. It remains to be seen how far the state legal services are prepared to go.
The moment that ERC asserted that the State Solicitors' opinion was key, they put the State Solicitors in the driver's seat. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, also plans to take its time on deciding how to apply the Luxembourg court's sentence. No decision is expected before January 7th.
Meanwhile, the acting Spanish government has limited itself to merely pointing the general direction for the the state lawyers: to obey the EU court's sentence. They said it from the press room, via the media, after the last cabinet meeting of the year. They admitted they didn't know what the report would say, despite it being drafted by a body that depends directly on the Spanish justice ministry, and they didn't even know when it would be submitted. Sánchez's awaits the document far more anxiously than ERC.
If things get difficult, it would not be the first case of a "rebellion" by a state lawyer in this case. Edmundo Bal was removed from the role of representating the state in the Supreme Court after he refused to sign the prisoners' indictment alleging a crime of sedition and not rebellion. Then Bal joined up with the Ciudadanos party. After losing his seat in the Cs November rout, he found himself back in Congress by a stroke of luck, filling the gap left by the resignation of party leader Albert Rivera.
If there was any element missing from the diabolical calendar, spread across the Christmas holidays, then the gap is filled next Friday, January 3rd, by the scheduled meeting of the Central Electoral Commission. On the table will be the issue of Catalan president Quim Torra's disqualification from holding public office. The provincial commission in Barcelona rejected the request of right-wing parties PP, Cs and Vox to immediately enforce the Torra ban, by declaring him to be no longer a parliamentary deputy; now the parties have escalated the appeal to the central commission. If the ruling were to go on their favour, Torra would be stripped of the Catalan presidency this January, without the need for a final ruling from the Supreme Court. The magnitude of the political earthquake that would be caused by disqualifying a sitting Catalan president is difficult to predict from Madrid.
In this turbulent context, practically the only scenario at present for having a new government assured would be for Congress' investiture debate to be held on January 2nd, 3rd and 5th, before the Reis holiday on the 6th. To make this possible, the State Solicitors would have to make its submissions this very Monday, and they would have to be flexible enough to win ERC approval. In this way, the speaker of Congress, Meritxell Batet, would have time to call the investiture session. The more time passes, the more complicated the creation of a left-oriented government in Spain.
The budget "fiasco"
ERC tried a very similar manoeuvre almost 11 months ago. At that time, the Catalan party called for a "gesture" from the Socialists in return for their support for the government's budget: for Sanchez to urge the Public Prosecutors to drop the charges against the pro-independence leaders who were about to be tried. The Spanish government said no, most likely fearing a revolt from the Supreme Court prosecutors, who did not want to change their minds. They have never managed to take control of their own deep state, a whole series of senior officials and state machinery operating with their own, often-conflicting agenda, including the judiciary. Thus, Sanchez's first budget failed to pass and Spain went to the first of the year's two general elections, on April 28th.