Prison, exile and electoral campaign: the aftermath of the Declaration of Independence
Q&A: Where is Catalonia one month after parliament voted on declaring the Republic and Madrid suspended self-rule?
October 27, 2017, 3.25pm local time. The Catalan Parliament passes a resolution declaring independence. While the majority of the lawmakers in the chamber applaud with enthusiasm, the Spanish Senate is discussing whether to enforce Article 155 of the Constitution in Catalonia. That is, direct rule of the territory. Less than an hour after the declaration of independence, senators pass this unprecedented measure against Catalonia’s self-rule. In the evening, thousands of Catalans are celebrating independence in the streets when the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, takes the first decisions after seizing Catalan President Puigdemont’s power: calling elections in Catalonia on December 21 and deposing all cabinet members. One month after those events, where is Catalonia?
Why is Catalonia not independent despite the declaration?
Catalonia declared its independence but no action to develop the Parliament’s decision has been taken. Why? Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and several MPs claim that they did not implement it because they wanted to avoid violence from Spain. Esquerra Republicana’s secretary general, Marta Rovira, said that in the run-up of the declaration Spain threatened the Catalan executive of using “extreme violence” and causing “bloodshed” and “deaths in the streets” if the Catalan state was created. The Spanish government has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Where are the Catalan government members?
Eight of them are in prison, and four others, including President Puigdemont, are in Belgium.
Spain’s National Court incarcerated vice president Oriol Junqueras and seven ministers on November 2 on alleged crimes of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience. They are still waiting trial, and they all face up to 30 years in prison.
President Puigdemont and four other ministers, who face the same charges, went to Brussels seeking the internationalization of their case. Madrid issued a European arrest warrant against them, after refusing taking their testimony via videoconference. The Belgian system is considering whether to extradite them or not.
What have been the differences between the Catalan officials’ cases in Spain and Belgium?
Puigdemont and his four ministers are now waiting for the Belgian justice to decide on their extradition to Spain. Their next hearing is on December 4. So far, Belgian justice has already proved to be different compared to Spain’s. The judge in Belgium did not send them to prison while deciding on their case. In the meantime, Catalan officials that stayed in the country have already spent almost one month in prison.
The process in Belgium can last between 2 and 3 months. The Belgian prosecutor refused to charge Puigdemont and the ministers with corruption, something that would have made the extradition easier. Now it has to decide whether charges of rebellion and sedition fit or not with the Belgian law. Defense lawyers are to argue that Mr Puigdemont human rights will be violated if he is send back to Spain.
Is Puigdemont president of Catalonia?
Under Spanish law, he has been deposed. Yet he considers himself as the legitimate Catalan president, and so does a large part of the electorate. Puigdemont was elected by parliament after a legal vote in 2015 and he states that no Spanish government can dismiss a democratically elected government nor its president. Parties in favor of a referendum and part of the social fabric of the country do not accept the dismissals either, as well as some Catalan civil servants, who have launched a platform to reject Rajoy’s measures. In any case, all Catalan presidents have traditionally been regarded as presidents lifelong, even after a new one is elected.
In Belgium, Puigdemont and his ministers have set the "structure" of a government on exile and are trying to internationalize the situation of Catalonia.
Was Catalonia ready for independence?
Whether Puigdemont’s cabinet had everything ready to implement the new state is unknown. Yet the declaration of independence was passed along with a number of measures to enforce it, e.g. “establishing the regulations that define the procedure to acquire Catalan nationality” and “presenting the necessary decrees for issuing Catalan nationality,” read the motion. The motion also urged the government to subrogate contracts applying to Catalonia, to integrate public servants working for the Spanish administration in the Catalan Republic and to identify which international treaties are still applicable in Catalonia, among others.
How far reaching is Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution?
The Spanish Senate ratified a 19-page document with measures provided by Mariano Rajoy’s cabinet in order to seize Catalonia’s self-rule. The main actions after enforcing Article 155 were deposing all Catalan government members and the Catalan police chief and closing down all but one of the Catalan delegations abroad: the one before the EU. Government offices such as the ones in London, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Lisbon, Geneva and Copenhagen are now closed. The Catalan police and finances are also under Spanish control. Some projects launched by Puigdemont’s cabinet have been abruptly halted, such as the exhumation of Spanish Civil War mass graves in the country.
What role has the EU played?
No countries have recognized the Catalan republic, although some EU member states, such as Belgium and Slovenia, urged both Madrid and Barcelona to seek political dialogue and political solutions to the conflict.
EU institutions have rejected independence. Yet the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stated that he would not accept violence by Spain in response to what is happening in Catalonia and urged Madrid to use "the force of arguments" to solve the situation. Brussels has also showed its "respect" for the judicial decisions taken so far, including the imprisonment of Catalan ministers. However, in the European Parliament some MEPs from across the spectrum have stood against putting Catalan ministers in jail on the grounds that they are political prisoners and have urged political dialogue.
How is the country facing the elections?
All citizens are called to vote on December 21. For the first time it was not a Catalan president who called the elections, as the law provides, but his Spanish counterpart after taking over.
While the pro-independence parties have branded the elections as “illegitimate,” they are going to take part. There will be three separate candidacies for the Catalan state, but they are working on agreeing a joint roadmap on what to do next in order to move towards independence: they are Junts per Catalunya, led by exiled President Puigdemont, Esquerra Republicana, led by imprisoned vicepresident Oriol Junqueras, and far-left CUP. Three candidacies will back Spain’s unity: Ciutadans, led by Inés Arrimadas, the People's Party, led by Xavier García-Albiol and the Socialist, with Miquel Iceta s candidate. One party has explicitly asked not to be counted in either bloc: Catalunya en Comú, led by Xavier Domènech, same party as Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau. Some polls estimate that pro-independence parties will get a slim majority in the chamber or will just fall short.