In a shock decision, Spain’s State Council has rejected the national government’s decision to dispute Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy as premier of the Catalan regional government before the Constitutional Court. The government’s highest advisory body found there was no legal grounds to justify the move. The Spanish government, however, has said it will continue with its efforts and trusts the Constitutional Court will agree to block Puigdemont from being sworn in as the next Catalan premier next week.
According to the State Council, the mere nomination of Puigdemont is not an act in contravention of the law
Puigdemont, who is currently in self-imposed exile in Brussels after fleeing sedition charges for his involvement in a unilateral declaration of independence for the northeastern Spanish region, was nominated as candidate for the Catalan premiership by Catalan Speaker Roger Torrent on Monday.
But according to the State Council, the mere nomination of Puigdemont is not an act in contravention of the law. The council’s decision, which is not binding, has alarmed the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which did not expect the setback. Sources from the State Council told EL PAÍS that the government’s unannounced move was not at all well received.
The unexpected appeal to the council comes as pro-independence parties lose hope of finding a candidate to replace Puigdemont, who is set to be sworn in on January 31.
As the date nears, Rajoy is pursuing all legal options to invalidate Puigdemont’s candidacy before this can happen. The government wants to avoid a hypothetical situation where Puigdemont is sworn in either remotely from Brussels (which is forbidden by parliamentary bylaws), by delegating his vote, or sneaking back into Spain, and is then removed from his post – for the second time – by the Spanish courts. In a previous consultation, the State Council agreed Puigdemont cannot be sworn in remotely or by delegating his vote. 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.
The council’s decision has boosted the separatists at a moment of peak uncertainty about the future of Catalonia. The pro-independence parties have dug in their heels and put forward Puigdemont as the only candidate for the premiership of the Catalan parliament.
The Spanish government has argued that the discrepancy between the government and the council comes down to timing, explaining that while there are not legal grounds at the moment for the dispute there could be in the future.
Rajoy announced the government will now appeal to the Constitutional Court to block the investiture. “We have consulted many experts and we see that this recourse is possible,” said Rajoy.
In its appeal to the Constitutional Court, the government will argue that Puigdemont does not have the “freedom to roam about” Spain given he is wanted on sedition charges and he would have to be detained as soon as he arrived in the country. If he does not have freedom of movement because of the charges, he cannot hope to be sworn in as the next Catalan premier.
The Constitutional Court has no plenary session scheduled for next week but will be on alert for what happens in Catalonia.
English version by Melissa Kitson.