The Catalan pro-independence parties have said ‘no’ to the 2019 Spanish budget, despite their votes being essential for it to pass in Spain’s Congress. ‘No’ unless the government in Madrid takes some step towards ensuring the release of the nine leaders in pre-trial jail.

But can the executive really have a say on a decision taken by the judiciary? “If their demand means interfering in another power of the state, the answer is clearly no” was the response by the Spanish justice minister, when asked about the pro-independence parties’ claims last week. “We have asked for respect for the state powers and the judges’ independence time and again” she added.

Several spokespeople for Spain’s ruling Socialist party have repeated in the past few days that freeing the leaders in custody is “a decision that has to be taken by the judiciary” adding that the “independence and autonomy” of the justice system must be respected.

Solicitor general and public prosecutor could ask for their release

Yet, the pro-independence parties claim that the Spanish cabinet can take some steps that will see their release. How? Through Spain’s solicitor general and the public prosecutor’s office.

The Catalan vice president, Pere Aragonès, said on Friday that the Spanish government is joining the accusation against the leaders charged over last year’s push for independence through the solicitor general. And her office could at least ask the judge to send the officials home to prepare for their upcoming trial.

The pro-independence Esquerra party also claimed on Friday that Pedro Sánchez’s cabinet could “urge the public prosecutor” to officially withdraw the accusations against the prosecuted officials.

The solicitor general is part of the Spanish justice ministry, while the general prosecutor is appointed by the government, and they usually step down when the ruling party changes.

In the independence court case, the general prosecutor asked the Spanish Supreme Court to keep the nine politicians and activists in pre-trial detention before the judges made a decision. The prosecutor could of course withdraw this petition.

Podemos asks for a gesture

Despite being in opposition, the left-wing Podemos party agreed to vote for the 2019 Spanish budget with the Socialists –but their votes are not enough, and its leader, Pablo Iglesias, is trying to persuade the pro-independence parties to come on board.

On Sunday, Iglesias spoke over the phone with the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and two days earlier he met with Esquerra’s president, Oriol Junqueras, in prison.

After the meeting, he asked the Sánchez executive to make a move. “Now it is time for the Spanish government to make a gesture” he said, without giving more details on what can be done but agreeing that the Catalan leaders should be freed.