You don't hear or see much these days of José María Aznar, Spain's Conservative prime minister between 1996 and 2004. But Aznar, now 70, was very much back in the spotlight this week when he launched a vitriolic attack on Pedro Sánchez for pandering to Catalan separatists in exchange for their parliamentary support.
Aznar's assault was delivered on Tuesday in a speech to a meeting of FAES, the think tank of which he is president. He accused the PSOE leader of "constitutional self-destruction" for considering pardons for the Catalan activists and politicians still under investigation for their role in the illegal independence referendum of 2017 - the price named by separatists for their backing of Sánchez in the upcoming investiture votes. Sánchez's obsessive pursuit of power, implied Aznar, poses a grave threat to Spanish unity. Strangely, his speech contained hardly any criticism of Catalan separatists themselves.
Was it not Catalan secessionists, led by the now-exiled Carles Puigdemont, who held that 2017 vote in defiance of the Constitutional Court, and who then, a few weeks later, declared themselves an independent republic, again in explicit violation of the Spanish Constitution? Puigdemont has also recently said that Catalan separatists don't care about what the rest of Spain wants, as long as they get their independence.
Yet Sánchez, who claims he always has the Constitution "on hand" when dealing with separatists, and who has repeatedly said that there will never be a state-backed referendum while he's in power, is now charged with unconstitutional behaviour.
Secessionists would surely be better off arguing that he adheres too rigidly to the Constitution. The danger is not "induced by the PSOE", as Aznar claimed: if there is a threat to Spanish unity, it comes from an increasingly belligerent Catalan separatist movement, on which the central administration has become uncomfortably reliant over recent years.
Strange, also, that Aznar, of all people, should be critical of a would-be Spanish prime minister seeking the support of his supposed sworn enemies in order to gain power. The Madrid-born lawyer, who now acts as an international advisor for the law firm Latham & Watkins, either has a very short-term or a very selective memory.
In late April 1996, Aznar signed the so-called 'Majestic Pact' with then-Catalan separatist leader Jordi Pujol. Named after the Barcelona hotel where key negotiations between the two politicians were held, it awarded Catalonia more regional autonomy in exchange for... separatists' support at Aznar's investiture vote!
As a result, on 4 May 1996, Aznar was sworn in as prime minister with an absolute majority. He must have left his copy of the Spanish Constitution at home that day.