MADRID | Separatists to put Spain’s minority government on the ropes

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s prime minister could be forced to call an early general election if Catalan separatists reject, as expected, the minority socialist government‘s 2019 budget in a crucial parliamentary vote.

Barring a last minute deal that touches on the sensitive issue of Catalan self-determination, the separatist lawmakers will join Spain’s right-wing opposition in voting against the ruling socialists’ spending plan on Wednesday.

Pedro Sanchez became prime minister last year when the Catalans joined the anti-austerity Podemos and other smaller parties in backing a no-confidence vote against his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.

But Sanchez’s socialist party holds only 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house.

Without the Catalans’ support, his government can’t pass significant legislation and he would have to prolong Rajoy’s 2018 spending plan. That leaves the center-left politician without funds for social policies he has promised his constituents and that are key to retaining Podemos’ support.

The only other time that a Spanish government lost a budget vote, in 1995, the Socialists were forced to dissolve the parliament and call a general election.

Negotiations with the new separatist coalition that took power in the northeastern Catalonia region after the dramatic independence push at the end of 2017 broke down last week when Sanchez’s government refused to accept self-determination talks.

Any possibility for an agreement has been hampered by the frustration that many pro-independence supporters in Catalonia feel over the ongoing trial against a dozen politicians and activists who drove the breakaway attempt two years ago.

Proceedings in the politically charged trial entered their second day on Wednesday with the Supreme Court prosecutor criticizing what he said were defense lawyers’ attempts to turn the trial into an examination of the Spanish state and judiciary.

Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza called “ridiculous” and “unjustified” the arguments made on Tuesday, the trial’s opening day, by defense lawyers who said the case is politically motivated and aims to eliminate dissent in the troubled northeastern region.

Twelve Catalan politicians and activists face years behind bars if they are convicted of rebellion or other charges for having pushed ahead with a unilateral independence declaration that opened an unprecedented political crisis in Spain at the end of 2017.

By Associated Press