Spanish Socialists’ candidate elected speaker with support of Catalan groups

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain’s Socialists had their candidate appointed speaker of the lower house of congress on Thursday with support from Catalan separatist parties, in acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s first step towards forming a new government.

Spain has been stuck with a hung parliament following an inconclusive election in July, but Thursday’s vote on a speaker may be seen as a barometer for the relative strength of the left and right blocs amid negotiations to form a government.

Francina Armengol was appointed speaker after winning 178 votes in the 350-seat parliament. The candidate of the conservative People’s Party (PP) won just 137 votes, while far-right Vox, which is in coalition with the PP in several Spanish regions, voted for its own candidate, Ignacio Gil instead of the PP’s.

The vote concluded hours of fevered negotiations between the parties and agreements on concessions in return for backing.

The PP, led by Alberto Nunez Feijoo, won more seats than the Socialists (PSOE) in July’s election but did not secure an outright majority and faces an uphill battle to gather enough support to form a government, potentially having to rely on Vox.

The PSOE won the second-largest number of seats and will seek to form a government with the support of its far-left partner Sumar and a tapestry of smaller parties including Catalonian separatists Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (Junts).

Armengol was leader of the Catalan-speaking Balearic Islands region from 2015 to June 2023, ruling in coalition with the hard-left Podemos and a sister party of the ERC.

Her candidacy for the speakership was seen as a nod to Catalan, Basque and Galician parties.


ERC leader Gabriel Rufian told a news conference that while the party had supported the Socialists’ candidate for congressional speaker, that did not imply support for the formation of a Sanchez government.

“It has nothing to do with the investiture,” he said.

The ERC said in a statement it had obtained several concessions from the Socialists in return for its backing, including an agreement to use Catalan as an official language in Spanish institutions like the justice system and parliament.

The PSOE also agreed to create a commission to investigate a scandal in which Catalan separatist leaders allegedly had their phones hacked with Israeli-developed spyware, and promised to put “an end to repression” from Spanish courts against separatists involved in the failed 2017 attempt to separate Catalonia from Spain, ERC said.

More hardline separatist party Junts also struck a deal in principle to back Armengol, according to state broadcaster TVE.

Junts has not said what concessions it won but its conditions for supporting Sanchez in an investiture vote are permission to hold a fresh independence referendum in Catalonia and an amnesty for all separatists facing legal charges related to the independence bid, including leader Carles Puigdemont, who Spanish authorities are seeking to extradite from Belgium.

Sanchez, who first took power in 2018, has ruled since early 2020 in a minority coalition with the far-left Podemos party, which merged with other groups into Sumar.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Writing by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Aislinn Laing and Hugh Lawson)