May 15, 2019 / 4:41 PM / 5 days ago

Spanish PM: Catalonia veto of new Senate chief would undermine dialogue

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned on Wednesday that the expected rejection by Catalan pro-independence parties of his Catalan nominee for chairman of Spain’s Senate would undermine dialogue with the northeastern region.

FILE PHOTO: Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez heads to a meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

The potential new rift comes at a difficult time when Sanchez, whose Socialists won last month’s national election without securing a parliamentary majority, needs all the support he can get from regional parties to stay in power.

“They (Catalan parties) are not vetoing Miquel Iceta, what they are vetoing is co-existence, dialogue, understanding,” Sanchez said during a political event in northern Spain.

Sanchez announced last week that he would nominate Iceta, the Catalan Socialist leader, as chief of the upper chamber of parliament, a move widely seen as a conciliatory signal to Catalonia and its secessionist groups.

Sanchez has made overtures over the past year to establish a dialogue and give Catalonia a greater degree of autonomy, while ruling out an independence referendum for the region.

Catalonia briefly declared independence in 2017 after a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish courts.

The Socialists have a majority in Spain’s upper house and had expected the nomination of Iceta to be easily approved.

Still, Iceta, whose Socialists are not part of Catalonia’s pro-independence camp, would first need to be designated as a senator by the Catalan assembly, which was to vote on the matter on Thursday.

REJECTION

But it looked all but certain to fail after the ERC - a pro-independence party that garnered the most votes in Catalonia in the April election - said on Wednesday it would reject the nomination on the grounds that it was imposed on them.

The far-left separatist CUP also announced it would reject Iceta’s bid and on Wednesday evening pro-independence Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), which controls the Catalan government, confirmed it would do the same.

The three secessionist parties have 65 seats in the regional parliament, the same as its unionist parties, which could lead to a tie in Thursday’s vote on Iceta’s nomination - and that would mean it could not proceed, according to the chamber’s rules.

Iceta has vowed to take his case to the Constitutional Court. “(A failed nomination) would be a democratic outrage,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Catalonia was a central issue in the run-up to the national election, with the opposition accusing Sanchez of undermining Spain’s territorial integrity by granting concessions to the Catalan separatists.

To be sworn in again as prime minister, Sanchez will need the support of other leftist parties plus at least one vote or abstention from Basque or Catalan nationalist parties.

Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones

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