Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont today called on separatists to unite in a December election called by Spain to quell the region’s push for independence. Puigdemont’s rallying cry came a day after a Spanish judge issued an arrest warrant against him, with prosecutors seeking to charge him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his secessionist drive.
“The time has come for all democrats to unite. For Catalonia, for the release of political prisoners and for the republic,” he said on Twitter. The 54-year-old has been holed up in Belgium since Monday and ignored a summons to appear before the judge in Madrid, saying he wants guarantees he will receive a fair trial.
The judge issued the European arrest warrants late yesterday for Puigdemont and four of his allies who are also in Belgium, to force them to return to Spain. The Belgian public prosecutor’s office confirmed today it had received the warrants, saying a decision would happen within 24 hours of them appearing before a judge.
But the authorities said any appeals process could last for up to three months. “The EU Framework Decision provides that the final decision must be taken within 60 days, with an extension to 90 days under exceptional circumstances,” the Belgian justice ministry said in a statement.
The warrants have further fuelled separatists’ anger and frustration after deposed members of Puigdemont’s government who did not flee to Belgium, including his deputy, appeared before a Spanish judge on Thursday and were detained pending a possible trial. Protesters in the wealthy northeastern Catalonia region have held frequent demonstrations, chanting and waving Catalan flags, calling for their release and a big pro-independence march is planned for November 11.
Spain’s worst political crisis in decades flared up after the regional parliament in Catalonia voted to proclaim an independent republic following a referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court. Puigdemont said yesterday he was ready to run as a candidate in the poll — which he can do even if detained –and today called for separatist parties to form a united front.
In a tweet, he referred to an online petition calling for the creation of a combined independent candidate list, which by today lunchtime had received nearly 35,000 signatures. During the last regional election in September 2015 Puigdemont’s conservative PdeCat and the far-left ERC party stood together in a “Together for Yes” coalition.
But there have been growing tensions between the two allies over strategy and it is not clear if they will stand together again. Separatist parties have a slim majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat parliament, and opinion polls suggest they might again win a majority in the December poll.
“It’s absolutely indispensable that we have a joint strategy to battle the repression,” Sergi Sabria, a spokesman for the separatist ERC party, told Catalunya Radio, in a sign the two main parties might work together. Parties that wish to stand together in a coalition in the polls must announce this by November 7.
The 7.5 million people of Catalonia, which until this past week had considerable autonomy, are fiercely proud of their language and culture but are also deeply divided about the wisdom of independence. Even though Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, Spain’s central bank has warned of a possible recession and unemployment in the region rose strongly in October.
Despite the negative economic headwinds, Peter Ceretti at the Economist Intelligence Unit said pro-independence parties might win the December election, as the jailed ministers could deliver an “important propaganda” boost.