Yesterday the members of the Catalan government who are based in Brussels turned themselves in to Belgium’s justice, following the arrest warrant issued by the Spanish government against them, and they were subsequently released. In an interview with a Belgian TV network, President Puigdemont had already anticipated this move because, far from evading justice, their aim is to confront Spain’s peculiar justice with justice. Last night’s decision is a huge victory and it won’t be the last. That is why Spain’s political and media apparatus is so keen to try to destroy the public image of the 130th president of Catalonia. By any means necessary.
All necessary means includes the obvious falsehoods that some journalists working for the Spanish regime have published these days, twisting the events of October 27. It also includes the ongoing campaign to ridicule Puigdemont with accusations of cowardice and having abandoned the other members of his government, which is obviously false, as has just been proven. Likewise, the vehement pressure applied by the Spanish authorities on the EU —there are telltale signs that this attitude is beginning to backfire— is also part of this effort. Puigdemont and his ministers are in Brussels because, like all of us, he is a European citizen and, therefore, he is free to move there if he wants to. But, above all, he is in Brussels because, had he stayed in Spain, he would be in jail now, with the other half of his cabinet, in a blatant violation of their civil rights. Denouncing all that is the Catalan president’s main task at present, and it is the most relevant aspect of what happened last night: Belgium’s justice has fully exposed Spanish justice for what it is and everyone in Europe can see it.
There is yet one more basic reason which explains Spain’s apprehension: Carles Puigdemont is the president of Catalonia and the legitimate government of this country will have a voice and will be heard by the population for as long as he is able to communicate and speak freely. That’s why they would like to see them locked away and kept behind the tallest walls: because their presence in the street puts wind into the sails of the institution which they think they have beheaded and keeps it going.
In the last few days, the personal situation of its members has been the Catalan government’s top priority —not the administration’s: the government’s—. Of all of them. But as soon as their personal situation is taken care of, the government will likely start to govern to the extent that this is possible. It will take decisions which the citizens of Catalonia and other free institutions in our country, such as local governments, may follow. By doing so, they will publicly challenge Article 155 and the Spanish manoeuvre against Catalonia’s self-rule directly. As Andreu Barnils wrote yesterday, if Puigdemont decides to run in the December elections, then obviously he himself will become the election manifesto: it would be the Republic’s undisputed victory if its president won at the polls. We will see what happens with this snap election, though …
However, it is the judicial proceedings that must remain the priority, for now. It should be pointed out that Spanish justice works in a peculiar way because it is entirely subservient to the will and the decisions of the government in Madrid. That does not happen in Belgium, as we have already seen in the first hours of the lengthy extradition process that has begun. On this point, there is something we should be totally clear about: nobody in Belgium will try President Puigdemont for who he is or what he has done. That is not up to Belgium’s justice in any case. Rather, it will merely review the juridical aspects of the case. It will examine whether the Catalan government may be indicted with the sort of charges that Spain is pressing and whether Spain’s judicial guarantees meet European standards or not. Then and only then will it decide whether to hand the Catalan president over to Spain or not. Additionally, the Belgian government will play no part whatsoever in the process, unlike the Spanish government in Spain.
Above all, the Belgian judge will have to decide if Spain is violating the civil rights that all European citizens have in Europe. The proceedings initiated by Spain are so crass that the judge will have plenty to sink his teeth into: the blatant disregard for due process; the fact that Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional is not the competent court of law to hear the alleged crime that the government has been charged with, as the court itself ruled in 2008; General Attorney Maza making no attempt to uphold the rights of the defendants, even though he is supposed to; the court summons not being delivered personally; and the fact that Puigdemont’s legal counsel was denied access to the statements of the other defendants, which rendered him defenceless. Furthermore, Judge Lamela ordered the defendants to be imprisoned with no regard for the fact that they were unlikely to flee. Finally, the secrecy of communications was violated, a blunder so gross that the entire process might be declared null, as happened years ago with the Naseiro affair.
Therefore, the Belgian court has a long list of improprieties to weigh and review before it decides whether to arrest the members of the Catalan government and hand them over to Spain, as Madrid has requested. For now, the judge has already ruled that there is no need to keep them in custody, in stark contrast with what Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional chose to do with the rest of our government. We won’t know the outcome of the process for another two to three weeks, more than likely, but just imagine what it would mean if the Belgian justice took note of any of those irregularities in Spain’s judicial proceedings and refused to send our government to Madrid. The Spanish State would be faced with a gigantic problem.
At any rate, it is perfectly clear that Carles Puigdemont has not abandoned ship. While in Brussels, he has internationalised the Catalan conflict, exposed Spain’s justice and kept himself and his government free to continue acting as what they are. All with a single blow. They haven’t bent the knee to Mariano Rajoy; they have persevered and are looking for the best way to forge ahead with the historic decision made by the Catalan Parliament on October 27. So, from now on, any time someone cracks a little joke or you hear the odd nasty comment, remember that they are scared to death of President Puigdemont. And rightly so.