TOGETHER for Catalonia (JxTCat) leader, Carles Puigdemont, has called on Spain’s government to allow him to return home in time for the opening session of the Catalan parliament so that he can become the region’s next president.
‘I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. It would be good news, not only for my family, obviously, and not only for Catalonia, but also for Spain. It would be very good news for Spain and Spanish democracy, to recognise and restore the democratic legality which the Spanish government put on hold.
‘I am still, and have not stopped being, the president of the regional government,’ Puigdemont said in an interview on Saturday. Asked if he would be back in time for the opening session which has to take place at the latest on 23 January, he said ‘It would be natural. If I am not allowed to be sworn in as president, it would be a major abnormality for the Spanish democratic system. I am the president of the regional government and I will remain the president if the Spanish state respects the results of the vote.’
Meanwhile, Spain’s supreme court judge Pablo Llarena plans to issue writs against a further 11 people linked with the deposed Catalan government for their part in organising October’s referendum and fomenting secessionism. They include Marta Rovira, acting leader of Esquerra Repúblicana (Republican Left) – its leader, Oriol Junqueras, is in prison – Anna Gabriel and Mireia Boyá of the anti-capitalist CUP party, and Josep Lluís Trapero, former head of the Mossos d’Esquadra police force, who was hailed as a hero for his handling of August’s terrorist attacks.
Even the name of Pep Guardiola, former Barcelona football club coach and now at Manchester City, has appeared in a police report that forms part of the investigation into events leading up to the unilateral declaration of independence on 27 October.
The report describes the huge but peaceful demonstrations organised by Catalan grassroots organisations as ‘sowing the seeds of hate towards the Spanish state’. At one such gathering, on 11 June, Guardiola read out a manifesto for independence. The report has been passed on to Llarena, who is in charge of the investigation.
Commenting on the legal moves last week, the deposed Puigdemont said in Brussels: ‘I think it’s clear that in Spain there are a number of state prosecutors, judges and state attorneys who are under orders from politicians. The judges are political appointments. This is one of the weaknesses of the Spanish judicial system.’
A few days before last Thursday’s election, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, told a meeting of the Popular Party faithful in Girona: ‘Who has ordered the liquidation of Catalan secessionism? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party. Who has seen to it that the secessionists don’t have leaders because they’ve been beheaded? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party.’
Carme Forcadell, the former speaker in the Catalan parliament, who is on 150,000 euros bail on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, responded: ‘Thank you for confirming something we all knew, which is that there is no separation of powers in Spain and that it’s the government that tells the courts what to do.’
However, calling for a dialogue of equals, he said he was ready to listen to any proposal from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy even if this offer fell short of an offer of independence.
Puigemont said: ‘If the Spanish state has a proposal for Catalonia, we should listen.’
The Spanish prime minister and Catalan separatist leaders had engaged in a new showdown on Friday after regional elections in Catalonia gave a majority of seats to separatists. ‘More than a million people are in favour of Catalonia’s independence. It is not a fiction, it is real,’ the region’s deposed president leader Carles Puigdemont said in Brussels.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October to avoid being arrested after the Catalan parliament declared independence, insisted that his strategy had been validated by voters. He said: ‘The republic has already been proclaimed, we have a mandate from the 1 October (independence referendum), and the 21 December is the ratification.’
In Madrid, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy replied that the results showed that Catalonia was ‘not monolithic’ and that ‘no one can speak in the name of Catalonia, if he does not consider all Catalonia.’ He said that the region would now enter a new stage, ‘based on dialogue and not on confrontation, on plurality and not on unilateral action.’
In a repeat of the months that led to the independence referendum and the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy, Rajoy and Puigdemont both said they were open to dialogue, but on different grounds. Puigdemont called on the Spanish government to ‘reject the unilateral way’ and open dialogue. He proposed a meeting to Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, ‘in any European Union country, except Spain, for obvious reasons’. But Rajoy ruled out such a meeting.
‘The one with whom I would sit down is the one who won the election, Ines Arrimadas,’ he told journalists in Madrid. Arrimadas’s party, the liberal anti-independence Ciutadans, won the most votes and seats, but has no majority to form a government.
In Barcelona, the second main separatist party, ERC, said that it would be ‘loyal to what voters have decided’ and that it was ‘available for all convenient negotiations’ with Together for Catalonia (JxTCat) to form a government with Puigdemont as leader.
ERC’s secretary general Marta Rovira said that the priorities should be to ‘work for the republic’ and free the ‘political prisoners’ – including the party leader and former deputy head of the government Oriol Junqueras.
Rovira herself was charged on Friday for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, as Puigdemont and Junqueras, over the declaration of independence. Puigdemont’s predecessor as Catalan leader, Artur Mas, was also charged. Puigdemont, whose list, Together for Catalonia, won the most seats within the pro-independence camp, insisted that he was the region’s ‘legitimate’ leader.
Calling for ‘guarantees’ to be able to come back to Spain and take office without being arrested, he said: ‘I demand and I require to be respected. We are the legitimate government of Catalonia.’
But Rajoy said that ‘justice should not be submitted to any political strategy’. The Spanish prime minister admitted the result of the election, which he called when he suspended Catalonia’s autonomy in the wake of the declaration of independence, were not what he expected.
‘Those of us who wanted a change did not get the support we would have liked to carry it through,’ he admitted. While implicitly admitting that separatists will continue to rule in Catalonia, he warned that he would ‘not accept that anyone breaks the constitution, or the law, or the statute of Catalonia.’
‘I hope that the new government abandons unilateral action and that it does not place itself outside the law,’ he said. Rajoy did not specify when he would end article 155 of the constitution, under which he suspended Catalonia’s autonomy, dismissed the government and parliament, and called Thursday’s election. He said that ‘article 155 will be withdrawn at the date established by the Senate: when there is a government.’
While negotiations will take place in the coming weeks over the next regional government, and who can lead it, Rajoy admitted than the Catalan crisis is far from over. ‘The break-up in Catalonia will take time to mend and that reconciliation must be the first task of who will govern,’ he said.
‘The Spanish State has been defeated,’ Puigdemont told a crowd of cheering supporters in Brussels on Friday. Rajoy and his partners lost and have been slammed by the Catalans. They have lost the plebiscite they hoped would legalise the putsch they did with article 155,’ he said, referring to the direct rule Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed on Catalonia after its contested referendum.
Clara Ponsatí, a sacked Catalan education minister and member of Together for Catalonia, said: ‘We fought in unequal conditions but we still have won, so I think that the democratic mandate is clear. And of course we need to talk and to negotiate, but the Spanish government needs to listen to the people of Catalonia.’
Puigdemont and his former ministers now hope they will soon be able to return safely to Spain.
‘We would like to return tomorrow, but of course we will have to wait to see if there’s any reaction from the Spanish government and also if the Spanish justice system decides to change its opinion on our case,’ said Meritxell Serret, a former minister in Puigdemont”s government, but who belongs to a different pro-independence party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya.
Puigdemont and his allies also want a meeting with EU representatives, in the hope that Europe will now listen to their independence movement. Prime Minister Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking Puigdemont’s Catalan government, had hoped Catalonia’s ‘silent majority’ would deal separatism a decisive blow, but his hard line backfired. ‘Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,’ Puigdemont said.