Secessionists urge ousted Catalan leader to accept a symbolic premiership

Carles Puigdemont would have no formal power, and a legal executive would be created in Catalonia

Former Catalan premier Puigdemont with Lluis Puig, Clara Ponsatí and Eduard Pujol.
Former Catalan premier Puigdemont with Lluis Puig, Clara Ponsatí and Eduard Pujol.Delmi Álvarez

Carles Puigdemont is being asked by fellow secessionists to end his bid for the Catalan premiership, and to instead accept a symbolic leadership position.

Under the proposal, which is being backed by the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the ousted Catalan leader would have a symbolic premiership without any legal powers.

The initiative seeks to resolve the political uncertainty in Catalonia after Catalan house speaker Roger Torrent indefinitely postponed the session to vote in a new government chief in the wake of the December 21 election, where separatists secured a majority of seats.

Under the plan, Puigdemont’s team would work from Brussels and a legally recognized executive would work from Catalonia

The speaker’s decision was triggered by the legal complications stemming from Puigdemont’s involvement in a criminal probe into the illegal independence push.

By offering this alternative, ERC hopes to move forward with a new candidate and end the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which stripped the region of its autonomous powers in response to the unilateral declaration of independence.

ERC spokesperson Sergi Sabrià said the idea “sounds good to us, because it lends weight to the legitimate government in Brussels and it is also compatible with ending Article 155.”

“We are optimistic and we not going to get into specifics because we have to maintain the necessary discretion,” said Sabrià, who said he is “convinced” they will be able to reach an agreement with Puigdemont and his party, Junts per Catalunya.

In person

Carles Puigdemont.
Carles Puigdemont.STEPHANIE LECOCQ (EFE)

The ousted premier is in self-imposed exile in Brussels after fleeing Spain to avoid an investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds during the illegal independence drive.

Although he was allowed to run as a candidate in the December election despite being a fugitive from justice, Puigdemont cannot be legally sworn in unless he physically appears before the Catalan parliament for the investiture debate, with permission from the Supreme Court, which is in charge of the rebellion case.

Puigdemont refuses to return to Spain, where he faces arrest and pre-trial detention over the rebellion probe, yet he insists in public that he is the only possible candidate to head the Catalan government. But in a private phone text exchange caught by a TV news cameraman, Puigdemont recently confessed that “it’s over” and that he has been “sacrificed” by his colleagues.

Sabrià says it is important for Puigdemont to be named premier, but equally important to create a “legitimate” Catalan government so that the region can recover its self-rule. Under this plan, Puigdemont’s team would work from Brussels while a legally recognized, executive branch would work from the official seat of government in Catalonia.

We are certain that from Brussels, we can work with greater comfort Eduard Pujol

The agreement being negotiated by ERC and Junts per Catalunya would leave Puigdemont without any political jurisdiction but allow him to continue to influence Catalan politics from Brussels.This position would be recognized by the Catalan Assembly of Elected Officials, itself an unofficial body created by separatist parties before the summer.

It hasn’t been ruled out that Puigdemont could form his own symbolic government in the Belgian capital. Indeed the idea came from ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is himself in pre-trial detention in Spain while the Supreme Court investigates the charges against him and other ex-officials. Negotiations between Junts per Catalunya, ERC and the far-left CUP, the three separatist forces in the Catalan parliament, continue “in a good direction,” said Sabrià.

Junts per Catalunya deputy Eduard Pujol did not deny or confirm the proposal: “We are working to reach an agreement. There will be a pact and Puigdemont will be sworn in. We are certain that in this European space, in Brussels, we can work with greater comfort.”

Law and regulations

The ousted premier called together Junts per Catalunya deputies in Brussels to explain the terms of the negotiations between his party, ERC and CUP. After the meeting, Pujol said he was against “triggering new judicial proceedings” and insisted that the process must “abide by the rules and the law.”

The leader of the Catalan branch of the Spanish Socialist Party, Miquel Iceta, has criticized the pro-independence parties for offering Puigdemont this “consolation prize.”

It lends weight to the legitimate government in Brussels and ends Article 155 Sergi Sabrià

“There is only one head of the Catalan government,” said Iceta, who asked the secessionists not to “devaluate the institutions of self-government which belong to everyone.” He argues that Catalonia must have a government that can “work 24 hours,” and has also proposed banning any official under court investigation from joining the new Cabinet.

Inés Arrimadas, head of the Catalan branch of Ciudadanos, which was the most-voted party at the Catalan elections, said she hoped the unaligned Junts per Catalunya deputies on their way to meet with Puigdemont would have the “courage” to tell him that he cannot be premier.

Popular Party (PP) coordinator Fernando Martínez-Maillo said Puigdemont is “more trapped than ever,” arguing that his only options are to be “a fugitive of justice, or come to Spain and be held accountable.” He dismissed the proposal of a symbolic government in Brussels and a real government in Barcelona as “fanciful.”

Assembly of Elected Officials

ERC has suggested the Assembly of Elected Officials be used to recognize Puigdemont's symbolic leadership. This unofficial body was created by secessionists in summer last year in anticipation of the central government's takeover of Catalan institutions. Around 4,000 local and regional officials belong to the assembly, with each official selected on an individual basis. None of their decisions carries any legal or institutional weight.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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