Members of sacked Catalan government travel to Belgium as judicial procedure against former administration begins

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Publication Date 31/10/2017
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Further information:

Members of the sacked government reportedly crossed the French border by car and subsequently took a flight from Marseille to Brussels. The Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert later confirmed he had been consulted by Carles Puigdemont on what legal steps to undertake. Spain's general prosecutor José Manuel Maza announced charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds against the former Catalan administration.

The decision to travel to Belgium followed the suggestion by the Flemish nationalist N-VA party that it would support offering political asylum to the former Catalan leader. This party takes part in the Belgium coalition government. Mr Puigdemont made it clear that his decision to travel to Brussels was due to it being 'the capital of Europe'. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel stated he would be treated like any other European citizen.

At a press conference held on 31 October, Mr Puigdemont stated he was not seeking political asylum in Belgium and that he would not come back to Spain until a fair trial was guaranteed. In the meantime, he was summoned to appear before the Spanish Supreme Court on 2 November. While other government members decided to appear in court, Mr Puigdemont announced he would not. Nine of them were jailed following the session.

A European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was later issued for the former Catalan leader and the other individuals still in Belgium. They vowed to fully cooperate with the Belgian authorities and presented themselves to be detained. Following a hearing in court on 6 November, Mr Puigdemont was spared custody but became unable to leave the country until a final decision on the EAW issued by Spain.

Background information:

Following a Cabinet meeting on 21 October 2017, the Spanish government decided to activate Article 155 of the country's Constitution, which suspends regional autonomy and grants the central government direct rule over that territory. The plan was submitted to the Spain's Senate (the upper house of the Parliament) and endorsed on 27 October.

On the same day, the Catalan Parliament approved a resolution declaring Catalonia's independence on 27 October. The new status of the territory lasted for a few hours only, as direct rule from Madrid decided to dissolve the Catalan Parliament and call for elections in the region on 21 December.

The situation escalated following a referendum which was held in Catalonia on 1 October, despite the active opposition from the Spanish government and being declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court. Catalan officials claimed that results of the referendum had shown 90% of the 2.3 million Catalans who voted were in favour of independence. Catalonia had 5.3 million registered voters. Turnout was 43%.

+ The days leading up to the referendum
+ The result and immediate aftermath of the referendum
+ The reaction in the EU Institutions to the referendum
+ Commentary features concerning the referendum

Related topics:

+ Declaration of independence, 10 October 2017
+ The economic impact for Spain and Catalonia
+ The wider separatist debate in Europe

Media reported in October 2017 that five members of the sacked Catalan government travelled to Belgium to seek legal advice and attempt to internationalise the cause.

At the same time, Spain's general attorney announced charges against the former administration following the unilateral declaration of independence. A European Arrest Warrant was issued against Carles Puigdemont and the remaining members still in Belgium.

Related Links
EurActiv, 31.10.17: Puigdemont says will stay in Belgium, accept snap election
N-VA: Statement, 29.10.17: Brute state power is not the answer
Politico, 30.10.17: Catalonia crisis hits home in Belgium
The, 01.11.17: Charges called for by Spain's attorney general against Puigdemont and other Catalan officials
The Guardian, 31.10.17: Catalan leaders facing rebellion charges flee to Belgium
EUObserver, 31.10.17: How 'Spanish protocol' could complicate Puigdemont asylum
Politico, 29.10.17: Belgian minister: Puigdemont can seek asylum here
El País, 31.10.17: Puigdemont hires Belgian lawyer who defended ETA members
EurActiv, 06.11.17: Puigdemont fate hangs on Belgium’s European arrest warrant response
Reuters, 06.11.17: Ex-Catalan leader granted freedom to campaign for independence
BBC News, 02.11.17: Puigdemont stays away as ousted Catalonia deputies attend court
Catalan News, 02.11.17: Spain speeds up legal process against dismissed Government and Parliament bureau
Belgium: Prime Minister's Office: Press Release, 31.10.17: 'Les mêmes droits et devoirs que tout citoyen européen pour Monsieur Puigdemont, ni plus ni moins' [in French]
Deutsche Welle, 02.11.17: Arrest warrant expected for Carles Puigdemont
The Guardian, 02.11.17: [Opinion] Will Belgium hand Carles Puigdemont over to Spain?
Euro|topics: Belgian judiciary to decide Puigdemont's fate

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