Madrid exploring ways to stop Puigdemont from being reinstated

Rajoy’s worst-case scenario involves appointment by video link or proxy, followed by court cancellation

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Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy.
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy.Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis (Getty Images)

The Spanish government is exploring all legal options to prevent a hypothetical scenario in which the Constitutional Court strikes down the possibility of an appointment by video link or by proxy once Carles Puigdemont has already become the new Catalan premier using one of the above unorthodox methods.

The central executive admits it would look very bad if the secessionist leader were appointed to the post, then this act got canceled by the Spanish courts after the fact, even if there is a solid legal foundation for the decision.

If Puigdemont had Catalonia foremost in his mind, he would take a step back

Deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría

But sources familiar with the Spanish government’s strategy admit that it will be difficult to find enough legal arguments to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court to stop the investiture session, unless the Catalan parliament’s governing body, the Mesa, openly announces ahead of time that it plans to let Puigdemont be remotely elected by the separatist majority in the chamber. And this is not likely to happen.

Since the separatist leader has a seat in the newly elected parliament, the court can only put the session on hold if it is expressly held in order to appoint Puigdemont remotely or by proxy. The former premier has been living in self-imposed exile in Brussels since late October, when the separatist majority in the Catalan parliament approved a unilateral independence declaration. Madrid responded with a takeover of regional self-rule under Article 155 of the Constitution.

Puigdemont says that he can rule the region from a distance, and so far refuses to return to Spain where he is wanted by the courts in connection with an investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. His return would entail automatic arrest and pre-trial detention, as has been the case with other secessionist officials who stayed behind.

Between a prisoner and a president, I would rather be a president

Carles Puigdemont

“Between a prisoner and a president, I would rather be a president, because at least now I can get things done, but in prison I wouldn’t be able to,” he said on Friday in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio.

Parliamentary lawyers have issued a report stating that chamber bylaws forbid remote appointments, as the candidate needs to be physically present at the investiture debate. But the report is not binding, and the final decision is up to the Mesa, which is controlled by the separatist bloc. This means that it is a possibility that Puigdemont will be voted in despite his absence from the chamber, and that any decision by the Constitutional Court will come too late.

This would be viewed by the central government as a dramatic scenario. Among other things, it would force King Felipe VI to sign a royal decree confirming the appointment even though Puigdemont is currently a fugitive from justice.

And if the Constitutional Court ultimately struck down an appointment by proxy or video link, it would provide separatists with new arguments about Madrid ignoring the will of the Catalan people.

“It is necessary for the new Catalan premier to be physically present to accept the post,” said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on Thursday. “He has reached the end of the road. He may make decisions that are not very rational, but he cannot be the leader of the Catalan government.”

“He knows it, his people know it, and separatists know it,” she added in an interview on Cope radio station. “He can spend his time on propaganda and trying to keep the myth alive, but he is not going to be the Catalan premier, and if he had Catalonia and even pro-independence foremost in his mind, he would take a step back.”

If an appeal against a remote investiture does not prevent Puigdemont from being elected, the effects of Article 155 will remain in place, meaning that Madrid will retain control of Catalan affairs.

English version by Susana Urra.

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