Meritxell Batet, in the eye of the hurricane

Meritxell Batet, in the eye of the hurricane

The great objective of the president of the Congress of Deputies, Meritxell Batet, since she was proclaimed in office, in December 2019, has been to use her position as the third authority of the State to try to moderate the growing climate of tension established in Parliament. Batet had launched several messages in recent months calling for “respect” and “rationality” in the face of the anger that the right-wing – mainly MPs from the PP and Vox – sow, which They have been resorting to disqualifications throughout the legislature and the insults against the PSOE and United Podemos coalition government and the rest of its partners.

At the beginning of the political course he insisted on lowering the decibels and, far from achieving it, a month later he is at the epicenter of the contest as a result of a controversial decision: the withdrawal of the seat of the deputy of United We Can, Alberto Rodríguez, convicted in a disputed Supreme Court ruling for having kicked a police officer during a protest in Tenerife, in 2014. Jurists of all sensibilities have questioned not only the sentence, which had several individual opinions and was based mainly on the agent’s testimony, but also the consequences of this: they do not agree on the scope of his disqualification and several legal experts argue that it would have been enough to remove the parliamentarian for a month and a half. Since then, it is the bench to the left of the PSOE that has come to ask for his resignation and even threatened to denounce her for prevarication

The controversy was already fueled by an opinion of the lawyers of Congress where initially assured that Rodríguez could keep the seat– and by the High Court – which issued an ambiguous report urging suspension.

The Supreme Court ruling that sentenced Rodríguez to 45 days in prison, replaced by a fine of 540 euros, and the suspension of the right to passive suffrage, was made public on the 7th. Since then, PP and Vox pressed both the former leader of United We Can to resign and Meritxell Batet to dismiss him. They did so in plenary and in commissions, calling Alberto Rodríguez a “criminal” or “delinquent” and accusing the president of Congress of trying to “boycott” the sentence.

Parliamentary sources now explain that as a result of these pressures from the right, who sent three letters to the Table – which is added to another that was sent by United We Can – the Congress lawyers decided to draw up a report, made public on the 18th, in which they considered that despite his conviction and the deprivation of passive suffrage, Rodríguez could keep his seat. The lawyers pointed out that this deprivation did not affect the status of deputy, which was acquired previously. And they stressed that the Supreme Court did not contemplate the suspension “expressly.” “It is not possible to derive a criminal consequence that affects the condition of deputy,” the legal services of the Lower House settled.

Faced with this text, Batet met the Board of Congress on Tuesday 19, which by majority decided to abide by the vision of the lawyers, although the minority of the governing body of the chamber and, specifically, the representatives of PP and Vox, expressed their disagreement . It was the first meeting of the Table in which there was a harsh dialectical confrontation between the members of the PSOE and United We Can – in favor of keeping Rodríguez’s seat – and those of the right.

“That sentence should not be interpreted by the Board of Congress, but rather be executed,” said that day at a press conference the spokesperson for the PP in Congress, Cuca Gamarra, who explained that her party had asked the Board of Congress to demand a report to the Central Electoral Board (JEC) and request the Supreme Court himself a clarification on the penalty imposed on the deputy of United We Can. The PP also submitted a letter to the High Court to inform it of what happened at the meeting of the Table and another to the State Attorney General’s Office to request a clarification of the execution of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Vox went further and considered that compliance with the lawyers’ report was a “cacicada” of the president of Congress, Meritxell Batet, “against the division of powers” when understanding that “an aggressor and criminal cannot continue for another minute in the Congress of Deputies “.

Two days later, however, the Supreme Court wrote to Batet to demand a report from him on the fulfillment of Alberto Rodríguez’s disqualification sentence. In a letter sent to the lower house, the president of the second chamber Manuel Marchena He asked to be informed about “the date of beginning of fulfillment ‘of the penalty of special disqualification for the right to passive suffrage” imposed on the then deputy, although in his text he did not explicitly ask that he be suspended as a member of parliament.

This writing rekindled the criticism of the right against Batet. Shortly after the communication of Judge Marchena was known, the PP presented a “reconsideration brief” before the Presidency of the Lower House for the Board of Congress to meet, rectify and enforce the “penalty” of disqualification of the United We Can deputy ” It is extremely serious, it is a conflict between the Presidency of the Congress of Deputies and the Supreme Court, “said PP spokeswoman Cuca Gamarra, who urged Batet to” execute “the sentence.

On October 21, and under pressure from both the Supreme Court and the right, the president of Congress brought the Board together in an extraordinary way. It was another bitter encounter, in which for two and a half hours the members of the PP and Vox Board – in a minority – faced the progressive majority demanding that Batet suspend Rodríguez. In that meeting the president of Congress has already expressed herself more favorable to withdrawing the minutes to the then parliamentarian of United Podemos based on what Marchena said, although in the face of the doubts expressed then also by the lawyers, he promoted a vote in which the majority of PSOE and United Podemos agreed to request more explanations from the Supreme Court.

This position once again intensified the attacks of the right against Batet who, on Friday 22, and after having received another letter from the Supreme Court reminding him that Rodríguez had been convicted to jail time and disqualification of passive suffrage – Marchena, in that second text, did not explicitly ask for the suspension either – and after consulting the Secretary General of Congress and senior counsel, decided to withdraw the seat. Then the attacks against the president of Congress began to come from the left.

That same night, Unidos Podemos sent a brief statement to the press announcing that they would file a complaint for trespass against Batet. It is about the announcement of a complaint that caused an internal schism in the confederal formation since both the second vice president and Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, as well as the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, and even Alberto Rodríguez himself, who the next day decided to unsubscribe from Podemos and start your own court battle to regain the seat.

On Monday the senior counsel of Congress endorsed Batet’s decision in writing to suspend the former deputy from the confederal formation, but criticism of all – except the PSOE – against the president of the Lower House they multiplied. The next day, Tuesday, Podemos formally requested the resignation of the president of Batet. The spokesperson for United We Can in the Lower House, Pablo Echenique, considered that “the whole process” surrounding Rodríguez’s suspension was “full of irregularities” and accused the president of Congress of “giving in to Marchena’s blackmail.”

The PP spoke of “grotesque” in the process of the execution of Alberto Rodríguez’s sentence by the Presidency of Congress. “There should not have been a conflict between Congress and the Supreme Court,” said Cuca Gamarra. And, from Vox, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros went further requesting the resignation of the entire Congressional Board and highlighting Batet’s “personal responsibility” in managing the case of the former member of United We Can.

Parliamentary sources have explained to that the Presidency of Congress acted in the case of Alberto Rodríguez, as in all cases, following the maxim of compliance with Article 118 of the Constitution and, therefore, enforcing the judicial sentences and, time, trying to offer “the maximum guarantees” to the deputy. They also insist that Batet has maintained an “institutional position” by following “the procedure quickly” and always listening to the chamber’s legal services. Finally, these sources emphasize that the Rodríguez case is a “strictly technical-legal” matter and “is not a problem of a political nature.”

Long before the partners who helped to invest it, the opposition parties had already charged very hard against it. First it was due to the observance of the Constitution of pro-independence deputies and United We Can, which used alternative formulas to the traditional ones ‘yes, I promise’ or ‘yes, I swear’ to express their independence or republican wishes. The rights, in addition to resorting to the courts, demanded Batet’s resignation, despite the fact that when the PP held the Presidency of Congress, similar formulas were accepted.

Later the parties placed Batet in the middle of the conflict due to the decision of the Constitutional Court to declare the illegality of both the states of alarm approved during the pandemic and the partial and temporary cessation of the activity of the Congress for the health emergency. Vox, who was the one who presented the appeals against those decisions of the Government, despite initially demanding the total closure of the Lower House, then demanded the immediate resignation of Batet.

In September Vox also tried to confront the Presidency of Congress, launching a pulse that culminated in a reproach from President Batet to Iván Espinosa de los Monteros. In the plenary session of the 20th of that month, while the admission for processing of a bill from the PSOE to penalize the “harassment” of women who go to clinics that practice voluntary interruptions of pregnancy, the socialist deputy who defended The initiative, Laura Berja, had to listen to insults from Vox deputies throughout the intervention. According to different parliamentarians who were near the bench of the extreme right, they could hear expletives such as “drunk, infanticide or mataniños“.

But the presidency of Congress, held at that time by the vice president of the Lower House, Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, he only heard clearly the “witch” that Vox deputy Javier Sánchez García snapped at him to the socialist parliamentarian. The insult led to a huge row in the hemicycle. And Gómez de Celis asked the far-right parliamentarian up to three times to withdraw his “serious” insult.

Sánchez García, a deputy for Alicante and a judge on leave of absence, refused, so the vice president of Congress, following what is established in the Parliament’s regulations, proceeded to expel him after calling him to order three times. Both the deputy involved and the rest of the Vox parliamentarians insubordinate themselves before the highest authority of the Lower House in an unprecedented gesture. And Sánchez García did not leave the hemicycle. Gómez de Celis, then, decided to suspend the plenary session for ten minutes in which he was seen speaking with Sánchez García and the rest of the Vox deputies in a kind of negotiation.

Once the session was resumed, the vice president of Congress again demanded that the Vox parliamentarian withdraw his insult and he finally agreed. “Withdrawal that I have called her a witch,” admitted the parliamentarian. In return, the highest authority in Congress allowed him to remain in the House. That same day, Batet met Espinosa de los Monteros to remind him of the “authority” of the Presidency of Congress, “whoever exercises it.”


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