Belgian judiciary to decide Puigdemont's fate

Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont turned himself in to the Belgian judiciary on the weekend and was released on bail. Other members of his separatist cabinet are currently in detention pending trial in Spain. Commentators have different views about how smart it was to involve the Belgian judiciary.

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Público (PT) /

Separatists still have an ace up their sleeve

Puigdemont's decision to remain in Belgium is a clever strategy, Público stresses:

“If he cleverly exploits his legal case [for the execution of the European arrest warrant] this could be the decisive victory Puigdemont needs to turn the situation to his advantage. ... The politicisation of this case opens up the possibility of a political attack on Madrid, with predictable consequences for the elections on 21 December. But even if this doesn't work out Puigdemont still has a last resort: he can give himself up to the Spanish judiciary in Madrid voluntarily and hope that the images of his detention pending trial will have an impact and persuade many undecided Catalans to vote for the independence parties.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Puigdemont fled to the wrong country

Even if Belgium supports the separatists under Carles Puigdemont this will carry little weight on the international stage, the pro-government paper Daily Sabah believes:

“The Catalan leader has probably imagined that the Belgians will support his independence bid or guarantee his freedom no matter what the Spanish government says. He was probably unaware that new independent countries may emerge only when great powers decide to allow it. Belgium is definitely not a great power that can weigh on the international balance of power. Puigdemont has unfortunately fled to the wrong country. The referendum in Catalonia has probably given some ideas to all independence movements around the world. Maybe they will be more careful in the future about their alliances and international circumstances.”

La Razón (ES) /

The Flemish have no right to lecture us

Jan Jambon, Belgium's interior minister from the Flemish nationalist N-VA party, said in a TV interview that Spain had gone too far with its reaction to the Catalan independence referendum. The Flemish separatists would do well to guard their tongues in future, La Razón counters:

“The separatists of the N-VA should be more cautious when they express opinions about Spanish democracy, which is every bit as effective as Belgium's and in many respects exemplary. ... For Spain Belgium's territorial model is by no means an example that it wants to follow, and the model promoted by the N-VA much less so. This populist party is campaigning for laws that would force all citizens in the Flanders region to use only the Dutch language.”

Delo (SI) /

Tackle separatism before it explodes

Instead of pretending to be uninvolved the EU must face the challenges of separatism, warns Delo:

“EU Commission President Juncker's statement that he doesn't want an EU made up of 95 member states is understandable. But simply ignoring the fact that the 'asylum seeker' Puigdemont is holed up in Brussels and facing years in prison because of his political activities is idiotic. And acting as if the Catalan problem has nothing to do with the EU while secretly hoping that this incident will be resolved through Spanish colonial-style politics - and thus serve as a lasting deterrent - is equally idiotic. And it also puts Brussels in a very bad light. With this approach separatism in the EU is more likely to grow stronger rather than weaker. And as opposed to the civilised separatism of the Catalans, things could get a lot wilder elsewhere.”

Le Soir (BE) /

EU must push Spain to find a political solution

For Le Soir it's not enough to expect Belgian judges to decide the question of Puigdemont's extradition:

“The Catalonian problem is political in nature; the judiciary won't solve it. We Belgians talk from experience. It's not enough to let the judges decide about Puigdemont's extradition, and then to turn around and say it's up to the Spaniards to solve their problems among themselves. In today's EU it's a complete aberration to jail political leaders for acts they believed - rightly or wrongly - expressed the will of their voters. ... Europe's politicians must demand that Spain find a political solution to this problem. Because the judiciary won't be able to keep the lid on the Catalan pressure cooker for long.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

The jailed should be allowed to run

Fresh elections in which the jailed separatists are also allowed to run as candidates will prove that the rule of law still holds in Spain and defuse the situation, Dagens Nyheter is convinced:

“The elections on December 21 are no good as an example of Spain oppressing Catalonia. Naturally all the parties must have their own candidates. There will hardly be enough time to convict anyone before the elections and it would be appropriate to allow those who have been jailed to participate in the campaign. ... Catalonia has comprehensive autonomy rights that were put in jeopardy by the separatists. Whether a majority really does want independence hasn't been proven so far but the region is deeply divided. In the long term the situation can only be resolved by a political solution.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Catalans drag EU into the mess

By forcing his own arrest in the EU's capital Puigdemont is trying to ignite separatist movements in other regions of Europe, La Stampa fears:

“If a European arrest warrant is issued Puigdemont and his ministers will become 'exile' victims not just of Madrid but of Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe. ... But for the advocates of independence the execution of the warrant would be a declaration - or confirmation - that Europe is against them. Then the Catalans, the Flemish, the Basques, the Corsicans, the Scots and - why not? - the South Tyroleans, Venetians and Lombards too will ask themselves: what do we want with an EU that only listens to governments that levy taxes on the regions and oppress their fight for independence?”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Puigdemont's extradition questionable

The deposed Catalan leader is facing the possibility of a European arrest warrant being issued against him. But all of a sudden it's by no means certain that Belgium would extradite him immediately, La Libre Belgique observes:

“One can no longer say, as we could at the start of the week, that Mr Puigdemont's tactic is doomed to fail. Together with Puigdemont's lawyer Paul Bekaert numerous journalists believe that when Spain delivers the European warrant the Belgian judiciary will first have to carefully examine whether the Catalan leader is not at risk of facing disproportionately harsh punishment, whether his fundamental rights are under threat and whether he will be guaranteed a fair trial. In short, there is no unanimity on whether he will automatically be extradited to Spain, or whether his request for asylum will be rejected.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Both sides must stop escalating the situation

Any hope of a détente has been destroyed with the imprisonment of the ex-ministers, the Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia complains:

“The prospect of new elections was like an invitation to relax and reflect. After five years of struggle for independence that ended with unsatisfactory results for all sides and a frenetic week we had finally recovered a certain measure of social peace. But that peace has been swept aside once more. Tensions will run high in the run-up to the elections and there is the risk that yesterday's events will increase the number of radicals. ... The campaign threatens to catch fire. ... Both sides have recklessly missed too many opportunities to defuse the situation and return to dialogue, which is the only way to resolve this conflict.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

No evading Spanish justice

Puigdemont's argument that he won't be given a fair trial in Spain doesn't hold water according to El Periódico de Catalunya:

“We can only repeat once again: Spain is a state based on the rule of law that fulfils the standards of modern democracies. There is nothing that justifies fleeing justice, trying to delay it, or seeking to turn the judicial process into a weapon for fuelling a political project that is legitimate but that reality has shown to be a dead end. Puigdemont should appear in court and defend himself together with his government.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Leniency harder on the separatists

The judiciary shouldn't be too harsh with the separatists, Deutschlandfunk advises:

“Naturally Spain's justice system is independent, but there is always latitude for interpretation. And that can be used to take a harsh or a lenient approach. The indications are that a tough approach will be taken with the separatists. It would be grist to the mill of the separatists if a few members of government were martyred behind bars. Yes, they should be punished for violations of justice and the law - but no vendettas, please. ... Political conflicts should be resolved politically through dialogue and negotiation. The only long-term solution to the dilemma is to amend the constitution and convoke a referendum that is binding for all. If Madrid is clever and makes concessions to the Catalans the separatists will suffer a crushing defeat.”

Courrier International (FR) /

A clear case of populism

Puigdemont is behaving like a dyed-in-the-wool populist, Courrier International comments:

“What does Carles Puigdemont embody if not a certain brand of populism? That evil that is constantly being reinvented in the name of hijacked popular sovereignty? By relying on popular disgruntlement with a Spanish state weakened by years of crisis and scandals, the secessionist Catalonian leader tried to foster separatism on his home turf. His main creed was to never say die. And that's exactly what characterises populists: nothing will stop them. Neither the scorn of the sensible, nor transgressing democratic or constitutional principles, nor even a clear view of the dead end they find themselves trapped in.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Shifting the conflict to the ballot box

Puigdemont was right to travel to Brussels and campaign from there, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung argues:

“In any event, by the looks of things the separatists want to concentrate on the new elections to the regional parliament. Everything points to the next big trial of strength taking place on December 21. The current calm must no doubt be seen in that context. Until now the separatists have shied away from using massive civil resistance. That would only have delayed the imposition of direct rule and led to acts of violence and unrest, jeopardising the separatists' participation in the elections. If both sides now concentrate on voters, it's a good thing to the extent that it means that the conflict won't take place on the street but at the ballot booths - which is precisely where it belongs in a democracy.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Captain shouldn't be the first to abandon ship

Hospodářské noviny shows little understanding for Puigdemont's trip to Brussels:

“Captain Puigdemont has abandoned the ship of Catalan independence and fled abroad. He is not the last one to abandon ship, as would have been honourable, but the first. In so doing he gives the impression that he is a cowardly leader of the nation. He plans to return only once he has received certain non-specified 'safety guarantees' from Spain. ... Spain could gloat and say that if Puigdemont is so serious about his course he should return and fight for it in the election campaign. And if he prefers to play the martyr abroad Madrid could cynically advise him to first earn that status with a stint in a Spanish prison.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Danger of setting a precedent

Under no circumstances should Belgium grant Carles Puigdemont political asylum, journalist Cristian Unteanu demands in his blog with the daily paper Adevărul:

“If such an application were approved it would automatically create a dangerous precedent within European law. Because on the one hand the Belgian judiciary would be sending the message that Spain's legal authorities don't function and are not impartial. On the other, European separatist leaders would potentially have a 'retreat' in another country of Europe even if the judiciary of their own country has issued an arrest warrant against them.”

Le Soir (BE) /

A problem for Belgium

Puigdemont's fleeing the country will have domestic consequences for Brussels, comments Béatrice Delvaux, editor-in-chief of Le Soir:

“In fact, Carles Puigdemont is an embarrassment to everyone in our country. First of all our schizophrenic government, which is now forced to tackle a separatist issue although some of its ministers have distinct nationalist leanings. ... But also - and to the same extent - for our schizophrenic [Flemish] nationalists. They feel obliged to show solidarity with Catalonian separatists to please their own ultras and remain in conformity with their statutes, although they can't admit that they consider the Catalonian adventure a mad enterprise that would be impossible to adopt in Flanders.”

ABC (ES) /

Independence movement is dead

Puigdemont's appearance before the press on Tuesday in Brussels was like a Halloween show, ABC writes:

“It was a creepy allegory in keeping with the current festivities. But after listening to Puigdemont yesterday in Brussels it's clear that Catalonia's separatist cause is dead. Yesterday Puigdemont reappeared to try to cast himself as a false martyr of a failed cause that even his own party is beginning to turn the page on. ... The death certificate of the independence process is now irreversible and those responsible are looking on in resignation as their shameful deeds collapse. They have been forced to realise that they overestimated their movement and underestimated the power of the Spanish state and the law.”