Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Puigdemont claims to be Catalan 'president' from Brussels

  • "One part of the government, led by me as the legitimate president, has come to Brussels," Carles Puigdemont said. (Photo: Thierry Monasse)

[Updated at 8.15 on 1 November] Ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont reappeared in public in Brussels on Tuesday (31 October), where he said he would continue to lead a government despite being dismissed by the Spanish government.

"One part of the government, led by me as the legitimate president, has come to Brussels in order to explain the Catalan problem in the institutional heart of Europe," he told a crowd of reporters packed into the Press Club, in the heart of the EU quarter.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Puigdemont was with five members of the regional government that was dismissed last Friday.

He said that the other "legitimate ministers" would continue to "carry out political activities" in Barcelona.

Asked by EUobserver after the press conference, Joaquim Forn, who was in charge of home affairs, did not specify what these "activities" would be or how the two parts of the team would work together from afar.

Forn, together with Bassa, however flew back to Barcelona on Tuesday evening. They were met at the airport with people shouting "in prison" or "traitors".

Puigdemont, who had left his hotel in Brussels, was also said to be on the plane, but he was not seen landing in Barcelona. His exact whereabouts were unknown on Tuesday morning.

Asylum?

Puigdemont, who secretly travelled to Belgium on Monday, denied rumours that he came to request political protection.

"I'm not here to demand political asylum," he said, adding that he was in Brussels "as the capital of Europe" and that his presence there was "not a Belgian issue".

But he did not explain why he took as a lawyer Paul Bekaert, who in the past worked for alleged members of the Basque terror group ETA.

Bekaert later told the Flemish media VRT that "the possibility of political asylum is not yet completely off the table".

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said that the Catalan politician would be treated "as any European citizen, no more, no less".

Puigdemont and 13 members of the dismissed government were summoned on Tuesday by a judge in Madrid. They are required to appear in the National Court on Thursday at 9AM, and were given three days to pay a combined deposit against potential penalties of €6.2 million.

Puigdemont said that he would stay in Brussels as long as he could not get "guarantees" that he will receive a "fair treatment" in Spain.

"If we have guarantees, we would go back immediately," he said.

He said he was in Brussels to "act with freedom and safety in order to take decisions."

He argued that charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement open against him and 19 other separatist leaders were a "politicisation of the Spanish justice [system]."

He said that Spanish authorities were "persecuting an idea, some people, not a crime".

Puigdemont, who tried before and after the 1 October independence referendum to get the EU involved as mediator between his government and the Spanish government, called on the "international community and especially Europe to react".

He said that the absence of dialogue, as well as the risk of violence from far-right groups and what he described as "the imposition by military means and our imprisonment for 30 years" would "end with the idea of Europe".

"It is a mistake that we can all pay at a very high cost as European citizens," he said.

Packed press conference

Puigdemont's press conference was announced mid-morning and took place in the Press Club after the Belgian government vetoed the use of the Residence Palace, a larger venue just next to the European Council that is under the foreign ministry's management.

While dozens of international journalists were packed inside, supporters of Spanish unity and Catalan independence were facing each others outside the Press Club.

Belgian police were there to ensure that Puigdemont and his colleagues' taxis could safely enter and leave the building's car park.

Puigdemont took several questions in English, French and Catalan but not in Spanish.

In the morning, he held a meeting at the headquarters of the European Free Alliance (EFA), a network of nationalist parties that counts the Flemish N-VA, and the Scottish Nationalist Party among its members.

An EFA source declined to tell EUobserver the purpose of the meeting or what kind of support Puigdemont would get from EFA.

The source said that the logistics of Puigdemont and his five colleagues' stay in Brussels - whom he referred to as "the resistants" - were not yet decided for the long run.

Puigdemont said that the strategy to go to Brussels was decided on Friday evening, after the Catalan parliament declared the region's independence and the Spanish government reacted by launching measures under article 155 of the constitution.

Puigdemont said he had to "adapt" to a "highly aggressive and unprecedented offensive against the people of Catalonia".

In Barcelona, Spanish officials said that Puigdemont was now "a normal person" and insisted that the priority for Madrid was "a return to normality as soon as possible."

'No horror movie'

"All continues normally. There is no tension nor preoccupation," a government source told journalists after 155 Catalan officials were sacked in Barcelona, and in Catalan delegations abroad, since Friday.

"There is no horror movie here," the source said.

A Catalan government civil servant however told EUobserver that there was a feeling of confusion among his colleagues over the coming weeks and months.

"No one knows what will happen," he said.

The civil servant said he had not heard anyone at the office talking about disobedience.

But "there are many ways of being disobedient if that is what people want to be."

Another Catalan government source also told this website that officials abroad did not really know what would happen to them.

The source, referring to Puigdemont, said that many wanted to "continue to work for the president".

The Spanish government source insisted that "the independence process has ended" and that "the most democratic way to return to normality was to call elections."

"It is to guarantee the neutrality of the administration – an administration for all the citizens and not just for a sector in the Catalan society," she said.

Puigdemont in Brussels said that the elections, which will take place on 21 December posed "a democratic challenge" to the separatists.

He said however that "if the Spanish state wants to make a plebiscite to legitimise article 155 and its policies, we will face it."

He assured that he would "respect the result of the election as we have always done, whatever it may be."

"Will the Spanish government and the '155 block' do the same?" he asked.

Pro-independence lead in first poll

In Barcelona, a first poll published just after Puigdemont's press conference, said that the outgoing pro-independence coalition, Junts pel Si, would win an absolute majority.

It is not certain however that Junt pel Si will remain united.

The Spanish government source in Barcelona did not want to speculate on the outcome of the December vote, and insisted that with "the result of the elections, the priority is that the law will continue to be respected, which we are sure it will."

"The fact that [the separatist parties] have already confirmed their participation in the elections with the Spanish legality is very significant," she said.

"The 'normal' thing is that people vote," she added, using again the vocabulary of a a return to normality

Ex-Catalan leader in mystery Brussels trip

[Updated] Carles Puigdemont, who was dismissed on Friday and charged with sedition on Monday, is in Brussels, reportedly seeking asylum. There are no official details about the trip but a press conference is planned for Tuesday lunchtime.

Spain 'takes back control' of Catalan government

Three days after Madrid adopted measures to counter Catalonia's unrecognised declaration of independence, the question is whether the Catalan ministers will show up to work and who the civil servants will take orders from.

Spain and Catalonia reach point of no return

The Spanish government will suspend Catalonia's autonomy, after the region's parliament declared its independence. The EU does not recognise the would-be state and warns against the use of force.

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health