European conservatives move to isolate Puigdemont case

German-led majority in EU Parliament is trying to prevent it from becoming an international issue

Carles Puigdemont is awaiting a decision on his extradition to Spain.
Carles Puigdemont is awaiting a decision on his extradition to Spain.JOHN MACDOUGALL (AFP)

The conservative majority in the European Parliament, led by the members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, is taking steps to minimize the effects of a regional German court’s decision to dismiss the rebellion and sedition charges against Carles Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan leader wanted by Spain in connection with the breakaway attempt.

German members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are determined to stop Puigdemont’s uncomfortable presence in Berlin from becoming a political issue within national parliamentary debates – something that has already happened in Brussels.

We are going to make it clear that this is an internal constitutional and political matter between Spain’s central government and the Catalan government

David McAllister, CDU

They have also held talks with their coalition partners, the social democrats of SDP, to make sure there are no further statements like the one made recently by Germany’s justice minister, Katarina Barley, who said the regional court’s decision to dismiss the rebellion charge was “absolutely correct,” before going back on her words.

The idea is to stop the Puigdemont case from taking on an international dimension.

“We are going to make it clear that this is an internal constitutional and political matter between Spain’s central government and the Catalan government,” said David McAllister, a member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), vice-president of the European People’s Party (EPP) and chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“This is a domestic problem and therefore it is very recommendable for Germany, as well as all other member states of the EU, to remain in the sidelines,” said McAllister, who attended a meeting of the EPP in the French city of Lyon on Thursday and Friday.

EU Foreign Affairs Committee Chair David McAllister on a recent trip to South Korea.
EU Foreign Affairs Committee Chair David McAllister on a recent trip to South Korea.EFE

In Germany, the consensus within the new governing coalition was briefly endangered by Minister Barley’s controversial statements. But she was not the only one to speak about the matter: other voices have questioned Merkel’s position and asked for a political solution, and even for an international mediation.

The post-communist party The Left (Die Linke) wants to take the matter to the political arena. Andrej Junko, the party’s spokesman for European affairs, says that “ever since Puigdemont was jailed, we have defended a political solution. We believe this is a political conflict that has been addressed with judicial measures. Dialogue is the only way.”

Most recently, a dissenting opinion was voiced by Alexander Dobrindt, deputy leader of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, an ally within the chancellor’s conservative bloc. Dobrindt, who is fond of controversy, said that “what in the Scottish case was considered a right to self-determination, must not be considered a coup in the Catalan case.”

Merkel’s closest circle is determined to prevent further similarly provocative statements.

“We are aware that there’s been calls for mediation,” said McAllister, a German politician who is close to Merkel. “But my answer is always the same: it takes two to tango, and it takes two to find a neutral third party to act as the mediator. I haven’t heard a single petition for mediation from the central government of Spain. Not once. And that is why we don’t have to answer these questions. This is something internal that Spain and Catalonia will have to resolve. Spain has a Constitution. Spain is a democracy. And Spain is a country with the rule of law.”

Here in Germany, similar actions would also be illegal

Axel Schäfer, SPD

Norbert Röttgen, a CDU deputy who chairs the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, explains that one of the problems is that “in Germany, there is a clear lack of knowledge about the Constitution and the history of Spain. Our federalist experience is completely different, and that is why some Germans find it hard to understand that a person could be extradited for rebellion without firing a single bullet.”

Parliamentary sources attributed Minister Barley’s statements to this “lack of knowledge about a situation that is different from German federalism.” They also noted that her words “do not represent the government’s position nor that of the majority in the Bundestag.”

Also at the EPP gathering in Lyon where the leaders of the French conservative party The Republicans. Its new president, Laurent Wauquiez, also heads the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and as a regional leader he was petitioned to support the Catalan secessionists, a request which he turned down.

“The first form of extremism is populism. The urge is to create and close borders. But Europe cannot be built on the remains of national sovereignty. Europe must be saved and given a solid foundation,” he told the assembled MEPs at a gathering where the rise of nationalism was an underlying theme.

Esteban González Pons, a Spanish MEP for the EPP, had earlier sent a letter to the European Parliament noting that “something is not working in the European Union when a regional court can, in two days, dismiss the criteria of a national Supreme Court that has conducted a detailed, comprehensive investigation for six months based on legally demonstrable evidence.”

No exception

But the Puigdemont case is no exception. Recently, an Irish judge refused to extradite a Polish citizen accused of drug trafficking, alleging a lack of independence by the Polish judiciary. And last year a Dutch judge failed to hand over eight drug trafficking suspects to Belgium based on a report documenting unhealthy conditions inside Belgian prisons.

“Releasing Puigdemont [from custody] does not mean we don’t support the Spanish Constitution. He has no support here,” said Elmar Brok, also of Germany’s CDU. Brok was recently quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as asking for international mediation in the Catalan conflict, a position that is only defended by The Greens and The Left. Brok said that “when I talk about mediation, I make it clear that this would only make sense if both parties requested it, and excluding independence as the ultimate goal of the negotiation, because it is contrary to the Spanish Constitution.”

Axel Schäfer, a deputy for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), paints a similar picture. “Of course there are varying personal opinions within the SPD, but what’s clear is that for the European Union it would be a disaster to accept a secessionist movement. Nationalism is clearly contrary to European integration. Here in Germany, similar actions would also be illegal.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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