November 06, 2017
Pressures on EU rise over Catalonia
Is Catalonia becoming the next political test case for the European Union? Can European institutions afford to stay out of it, and to continue to refer to the case an an internal legal matter of Spain?
It is one thing for the European Union and its member states to stand by Mariano Rajoy and condemn an illegal proclamation of independence. But the imprisonment of the members of the dismissed Catalan government, and the prospect of 30 years of jail for Carles Puigdemont and his ministers, clearly raises the question of proportionality. And, with separatist politicians still in prison, this will impact the regional elections on December 21. This goes way beyond the legal arguments, and that is before even asking the question of how independent the Spanish judicial system is, or whether one can trust Rajoy - whose party is embattled with fraud and corruption cases - as a defender of the rule of law. These are questions that cannot be easily brushed aside.
There are already the first voices calling for a more pro-active response from the EU. Guy Verhofstadt calls for de-escalation, for Spain's National Court to undo some of its measures - however legally justified they may be - and for a regional election that produces a legitimate outcome. Then political dialogue has to follow to solve this conflict, which has been brewing for so many years. Two other Belgian politicians, Jan Jambon and Elio di Rupo, both said Spain is over-reacting. And in Politico Richard Youngs writes the EU cannot sleepwalk through this conflict, and has to provef itself as a guarantor of reconciliation, coming up with productive solutions rather than giving a blank cheque to Rajoy.
In Belgium, meanwhile, the legal procedure continues. Carles Puigdemont and his four ministers turned themselves in and were released by the instruction judge last night, under some strict conditions. They cannot leave the country, have to remain at a fixed address, and can only appear in court in their personal - not official - capacity, according to Le Soir. There will be some back-and-forth with decisions and appeals on extradition. Playing by the rules, Puigdemont can extend his stay in Belgium until February without any problems. This time frame gives him some leverage to play a political game, given that the regional elections are in December.