Catalan secessionist parties fail to ink pre-election deal
From Brussels Puigdemont challenged again the EU to finally make its voice heard
10 November, 2017
Catalan secessionist parties failed to agree on a united ticket to contest snap regional election on 21 December, making more difficult to win the vote and press ahead with their bid to split from Spain, news wires reported. The central government in Madrid called the election after assuming control of Catalonia, following its parliament's unilateral independence declaration last month.
Catalan political parties had until midnight on Tuesday to register coalitions ahead of the December vote, but the two main forces which formed an alliance to rule the region for the last two years did not manage to agree on a new pact in time. Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, leader of the centre-right PdeCat (Catalan Democratic Party) is in Belgium, fighting against extradition. Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, who leads leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) is currently in custody in Spain pending a potential trial for the same charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. An opinion poll released last Sunday by Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia showed ERC could garner between 45 and 46 seats in the 135-strong regional assembly, while PdeCat would win between 14 and 15 seats. In order to reach the 68-seat threshold for a majority, they would then have to form a parliamentary alliance with anti-capitalist CUP, which is expected to get seven or eight seats. Such an alliance previously existed between 2015 and 2017.
Catalonia's ousted leader last Tuesday again urged the EU to speak out over the Catalan issue. "Is this the Europe you want, is this the Europe you want to build, with a democratically elected government in jail?" Puigdemont told some 200 mayors from Catalonia, who gathered in a central Brussels art museum. Previously they participated in a campaign-style rally in the Belgium's capital, greeting the deposed president with chants of "president" and "freedom."
Speaking for Belgian Daily De Standaard, Puigdemont complained that EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed mayors, but didn't want to meet him. In another interview from Brussels with Catalan public radio, the separatist leader said that there is an "absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites" and that Catalonia's problem is an "issue of human rights that requires maximum attention."
A Belgian court will decide on Puigdemont's extradition to Spain on 17 November. Meanwhile Belgian PM Charles Michel denied that his government was "in crisis" over Puigdemont's presence, which risks reigniting communal tensions in Belgium. "There is a political crisis in Spain and not in Belgium," Michel told Parliament, after Flemish separatist members of his coalition government spoke out in support of Puigdemont.
A general strike, called by pro-independence campaigners in Catalonia, severed transport links in the Spanish province last Wednesday, news wires reported. Protesters shut down roads, causing huge tailbacks into Barcelona, and some public transport ran minimum services. Many smaller stores left their shutters closed, but most larger shops and businesses in the region remained open as normal, though activists were blocking access to the Sagrada Familia basilica.
Catalan independence is now the second cause of concern for Spaniards, behind unemployment and ahead of corruption, according to the latest government-run poll. Before the illegal independence referendum that deepened the political crisis, the issue was only ninth in the ranking of concerns by the CIS survey.