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15th Nov 2019

How 'Spanish protocol' could complicate Puigdemont asylum

  • Puigdemont is facing decades in prison (Photo: parlament.cat)

EU laws also known as the 'Spanish protocol' are likely to complicate reported efforts by ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to seek asylum in Belgium.

Despite some exceptions, the Spanish protocol bars EU nationals from obtaining international protection in another member state.

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Madrid had introduced the text into the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 to stop Basque separatists from seeking asylum in Belgium.

The move appears prescient given Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert has in the past defended suspected members of the Basque ETA movement.

The protocol notes member states are "safe countries of origin".

It says claims have to be processed on the presumption that they are "manifestly unfounded."

A Puigdemont asylum application thus appears to be a dead end. But EU laws are also open for interpretation.

The Belgian exception

Belgium, according to Quaker Council of European Affairs, an NGO, as of 2005 remains "the only country within the European Union that accepts asylum applications from other EU member states".

In 2015, the European council for refugees and exiles (ECRE), a Brussels-based NGO, said Belgium had requested that a declaration be included in the Amsterdam Treaty that "it carry out an individual examination of any asylum request by a national of another member state".

It means Belgium may examine Puigdemont's application, although Belgian law gives authorities only five days to assess such a claim.

Belgium would apparently also have to "immediately inform" the Council, representing member states, of its decision.

Bekaert on Monday (30 October) had confirmed Puigdemont is in the country but refused to speculate on any asylum request.

"That is not decided yet," he told the VRT network.

The political fallout of any such decision would likely be large.

Belgium's liberal prime minister Charles Michel said a Puigdemont asylum request "is absolutely not on the agenda".

He also instructed his interior minister Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist, "not to pour oil on the fire".

Francken had over the weekend said a Catalan asylum request in Belgium was "not unrealistic" given the "repression from Madrid".

Francken says he has had zero contact with Puigdemont.

The Catalan leader, who was charged on Monday, could face up to 30 years in jail for charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.

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