Catalan leader considers a secession-free solution
The ousted leader of Catalonia is prepared to consider a solution to Spain’s political crisis that does not involve independence.
Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium, was asked yesterday if an agreement with Madrid could be reached that did not involve the region splitting from Spain.
“I’m ready, and have always been ready, to accept the reality of another relationship with Spain. It is still possible,” he told Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper.
“I have, being pro-independence all my life, worked for 30 years to have another way of Catalonia being anchored to Spain.”
However, the sacked leader gave no hint of how such an agreement could work.
Mr Puigdemont, who had previously insisted that indepen- dence for Catalonia should form the basis of any political negotiations with Madrid, will appear in court in Belgium on Friday to face an extradition hearing after a Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant.
The former leader and four former ministers, who fled to Belgium because they said they could not expect a fair trial in Spain, are wanted for questioning for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public funds connected with the independence push in Catalonia. Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis since a failed military coup in 1981 when Mr Puigdemont’s separatist government declared independence from Spain after a secession referendum in the wealthy northeastern region on October 1.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by sacking the Catalan government, im- posing direct rule from Madrid and calling regional elections for December 21.
Mr Rajoy said he had tried to reach a compromise with Mr Puigdemont but the Catalan leader’s insistence on pressing ahead with the referendum that Madrid declared to be illegal made talks impossible.
“Many blame me for not seeking political solutions. But I’ve been in politics for a long time and ... there was no alternative,” Mr Rajoy told the German newspaper Handelsblatt. “The government of Catalonia had only one goal — the referendum.”
The crisis has caused deep distress in the EU as it comes to terms with Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc.
It has also sent business confidence plunging in Catalonia — home to 7.5 million people and accounting for a fifth of Spain’s GDP — with more than 2400 firms re-registering their headquarters outside the region.
Asked about Mr Puigdemont’s comments, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said: “Today the alternative to independence passes through the December 21 elections.”
Speaking in Brussels on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers, he added: “What Mr Puigdemont has to do is run for election and see what support he has.”
Amid further signs of splits in the pro-independence movement, the Republican Left of Catalonia party, which is expected to win the largest share of votes in next month’s election, admitted Catalonia was not ready for secession.
Mr Puigdemont intends to be a candidate for the regional election from outside Spain, but has failed to convince other secessionist parties to form a united coalition, as happened in 2015, when a group ran under the Together for Yes slogan, securing a slim majority.
Carles Puigdemont during a recent event in Brussels