The Catalan independence movement has little support in Bavaria, the German federal state, which has its own unique culture and one of the highest per capita incomes in the European Union. For half a century, the state has been governed by the Christian Social Union (CSU), a coalition partner of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – the leading political force in both the German and European Parliament.
One of its most prominent leaders is Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. After German courts dismissed the rebellion and sedition charges against ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, Weber sought to allay concerns and reiterate Germany’s support for the rule of law.
Question. What does the presence of Carles Puigdemont mean to Germany?
Spanish government has no other alternative than to fight for the constitution and for the rule of law
Answer. The fundamental principle of the European Union is the rule of law. That’s why I think in the investigation and the court case against Puigdemont in Spain there’s a real problem on the table because he was not respecting the constitution of the country. What we have to do as politicians is simply to implement the rule of law. I can see the Spanish government has no other alternative than to fight for the constitution and for the rule of law. I would advise everybody in the political scene from now on to do their best job and it’s in the interest of their job to leave it in the hands of the judges.
Having this said, it’s not at all clever for the justice minister in Germany to give any kind of statement and comment on justice issues. The role of politicians is not to comment on justice issues. It was not a good thing to do.
Q. Is this the general view of your party?
A. That’s the position of the EPP family. Full stop. There is no doubt about this. There are probably individuals who have different opinions but the EPP has this clear position. The question of the unity of a country is a domestic issue. While the implementation and the handling of constitution are very important, they are domestic issues.
Unity gives you a lot of power
I wonder myself if Spanish politicians would comment on the German constitution and the German implementation of the constitution. That’s why I ask for firstly, respect for the rule of law and full support for Mariano Rajoy in how he has managed this. And secondly, to remember that the question is a domestic issue. There is no role for the European Parliament in the mediation of this.
Q. You mentioned a comment made by the minister of justice. Do you think this is was a careless act or something other Social Democrats believe?
A. I cannot comment on this. I cannot analyze why she did it. I can only say that it’s a mistake for the justice minister to comment on judicial rulings. You can agree or disagree with a judge’s decision but in a democracy under the rule of law we have to respect them. I have complete trust in the judicial system and in Spain. When there is a court case against Puigdemont, the judges will do a fair and independent job.
Q. On a European level, do you think the social democrats in this problem of Catalonia?
A. I think there is a general understanding among the big political families [CSU and CDU] that this is a domestic issue and we have to respect the rule of law. There are other independents in the European Union, for example in Belgium.
Q. Are you concerned that populist parties in support of independence movements could grow in the next year because of the elections?
A. We can only defend our way of life if we are together. We need the strength of the states and society, and we also need a strong European Union. So, I would say yes, with globalization, digitalization, the challenges of foreign competition, people are looking for borders that will protect them.
Spanish judges will do a fair and an independent job
And we have to tell people these small borders will not protect them and you cannot survive with such an approach. London is very weak in the Brexit negotiations. And Europe is extremely strong. Unity gives you a lot of power and when you are alone you have no power. That’s probably helpful at the moment to show people that together we can achieve a lot and alone we will achieve nothing.
Q. The European arrest warrant against Puigdemont has not worked out as planned. Are you concerned that this has stained other European institutions?
A. I understand the frustration of Spaniards about the decision of the German court. I can politically understand this, but on the other hand I ask for respect for the judges. I would also ask others to respect what the Spanish judges decide in the future. I ask for the judicial system to be independent, whether I like it or not.
There are a lot of rulings and court sentences which I don’t like at all, but I respect them. That’s what we have to ask for to create stability in our sector. The rule of law is fundamental to this. But there is still a lot of room for improvement in the future in the extradition of criminals, for example. It’s a legal situation that has to improve in the future.