Carles Puigdemont and five members of the dismissed Catalan government appeared before reporters today in Brussels in a highly anticipated (and messy) press conference.
Following their surreal escape to Belgium – after they were accused of rebellion and sedition by Spain’s general prosecutor – their goal was to rewrite this back-door flight without tarnishing the shine of Catalonia’s quest for independence.
In a packed room of journalists, Puigdemont stated that he was still the “legitimate” president of Catalonia and asked the international community and Europe to react to the “serious democratic deficiencies” of Spain.
But Puigdemont forgot that his plea had already received a response on the same day that the Catalan parliament declared independence. The international community did not recognise the unilateral break-up and called for an agreed solution in line with Spain’s constitution.
Spain’s response was invoking article 155 of its fundamental law to sack the regional government, dissolve the Parliament and call for snap elections on 21 December. The largest parties in the national parliament agreed on a Constitutional reform to follow in the next six months.
While Catalan parties are preparing for the campaign, Puigdemont and five of his ‘consellers’ took a car to Marseilles, and from there a flight to Brussels, where they discussed their strategy with a Belgian lawyer who had previously provided advice to ETA members.
For him, the unilateral declaration of independence voted in a secret ballot in a half-empty Parliament, and against the will of 52% of Catalans, was the culmination of his programme.
He described himself as a victim of Spain’s “aggression” and for that reason he cannot return to Spain because “the objective conditions” are not there. He would return only when the “guarantees” of a fair legal procedure exist.
But history is not written by those who flee the scene.
The legal guarantees exist for other senior members of the Generalitat, including the vice-president, who remain in Barcelona and also face criminal charges.
While most of the pro-independence parties decided to run for the elections and thus end the walk through the parallel world, Puigdemont decided to camp out in this Dalian reality.
Puigdemont explained he is not looking for asylum, as EU officials admit that his claim would hardly fly. The statement he read said he and his ‘band of five’ in Brussels would “not avoid the judiciary citations”. But during the questions, he showed no intention of returning to Spain when the judge summons him.
As a result, a Spanish judge would have to issue a European Arrest Warrant. Member states usually react almost immediately to these warrants and there have been only a few exceptions.
For that reason, Paul Bekaert was one the first persons Puigdemont met in Brussels when he arrived on Monday. This Belgian lawyer succeeded in 2013 in blocking an EAW for Natividad Jauregui, an ETA terrorist, arguing her fundamental rights were not guaranteed in Spain
The Catalan leader is now following a playbook scripted by the lawyers.
Puigdemont did not come to Brussels to “explain the Catalan problem” (he didn’t meet with any EU or national official) but to escape the legal consequences of the biggest institutional crisis since Spain restored its democracy.
After creating a political chaos that could lead his region into recession and widen the social divisions within the community he should have unified, Puigdemont may be writing the last chapter of his career in exile.
His fall will not clarify the political landscape that may emerge after the 21 December elections. But it would help start restoring the normality that the majority wish for – in Barcelona and elsewhere.
The deposed Catalan leader resurfaces on Monday in Brussels, after driving through the night to Marseille and flying to Belgium. This is what he came to say.
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All Saints’ day tomorrow – have a rest, and see you Thursday with The Brief
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