Puigdemont back in Brussels – will his arrest damage Catalonia-Spain talks?

Former leader has resumed his agenda as MEP pending a hearing in Sardinia on October 4

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont gives a press conference in Alghero, Sardinia, September 25, 2021 (by Miquel Codolar)
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont gives a press conference in Alghero, Sardinia, September 25, 2021 (by Miquel Codolar) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

September 27, 2021 06:44 PM

The Spanish government plan for handling the Catalan independence issue this year was to pardon the nine leaders serving decade-long sentences for the 2017 referendum so that bilateral talks with the cabinet in Catalonia could begin.

Both goals were accomplished this summer – and now their aim is to keep the dialogue open. Indeed, this weekend, the Socialists' annual convention in Gavà, the so-called Festa de la Rosa, revolved around the need for the ongoing negotiations to continue.

Yet, after this weekend, this may no longer be as easy for them: the leader of one of the two parties in the Catalan executive, Carles Puigdemont, was arrested in Alghero, on the Italian island of Sardinia – only to be provisionally released a day later.

Will his detention damage the talks between Catalonia and Spain?

Stances have not varied significantly so far, and none of the parties involved in the talks to date have said that the procedure has to stop or be altered. Yet, the gap between Puigdemont's party, Junts, and the Spanish government and the negotiation table is widening – Junts were already reluctant and in fact none of their ministers attended the first meeting on September 15.

The party spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, said on Monday that the talks are now "in question," on the grounds that, according to her, the Socialist-led executive was involved in Puigdemont's detention.

"The detention means more evidence of their lack of political will to resolve the political conflict," she said, referring to Spain.

Her group will pose some questions to Pedro Sánchez's cabinet in congress this week on whether Spanish police were aware or involved in the arrest, and whether Puigdemont has been spied by Spanish officers.

Catalan government members' stances on dialogue remains same

Junts rejected joining the negotiation table because their senior partner in government, Esquerra, rejected accepting Junts' proposed members for the talks, as they were not ministers.

Puigdemont's party suggested that it was Madrid who, behind the scenes, vetoed their members, and on Monday, Junts' most senior minister in government, Jordi Puigneró, said that the incident in Sardinia shows the talks should not only be between cabinet members.

As for Esquerra – who prioritize dialogue with Madrid – they are continuing with their strategy, saying that talks are more important than ever because the Catalan side of the table stands for an amnesty for Puigdemont and the rest of the pro-independence officials entangled in judicial procedures.

Yet, spokesperson Marta Vilalta urged Spain on Monday to withdraw the EU arrest warrants and demanded for Pedro Sánchez to come up with a proposed solution for the conflict – otherwise, she said, "he is an accomplice of the repression."

The Catalan president, Esquerra's Pere Aragonès, said there was "no information" suggesting that the Spanish government was aware of Puigdemont's detention – meanwhile, the party leader, Oriol Junqueras, called on "everybody" to avoid setting hurdles for dialogue.

Socialists and Podemos: more need for dialogue 

As for the Socialists, in the Festa de la Rosa they emphasized the need for dialogue, but at the same time their leader in parliament, Salvador Illa, added that "no one is above law in Catalonia, Spain, and also in Europe."

"Rule of law is unquestionable, everyone needs to face the consequences of their decisions," the Socialist MP said in an interview on Monday.

Meanwhile, Catalunya en Comú – allies of Unidas Podemos, the junior partner of the Spanish cabinet – say that the detention and release of Puigdemont "strengthens" the path of dialogue and the need to keep justice outside politics.

Its spokesperson, Joan Mena, criticized Junts for opting out of the negotiations so far, but said they will continue even if some "work to blow them up."

Puigdemont back in Belgium pending October 4 hearing

Carles Puigdemont returned to Brussels, his place of residence, on Monday morning, and resumed his activity as MEP.

Yet, his extradition case in Sassari is not over yet, and he will return to the island of Sardinia next Monday, October 4, for his hearing on his extradition case, where a final decision may be made.