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Carles Puigdemont meets Catalan separatist party in Berlin

April 18, 2018

Ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, wanted for rebellion in Spain, has met representatives from his JuntsxCat party in a Berlin hotel. The party insists it is open to talks with Mariano Rajoy's government in Madrid.

"Junts per Catalunya" in Berlin
Image: picture alliance/dpa/G. Fischer

The German chapter of ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's European exile saga continued on Wednesday with a meeting of his Together for Catalonia (JuntsxCat) parliamentary group in a four-star Berlin hotel.

Thirty out of the party's 34 members of parliament arrived at the hotel the night before and were due to fly back to Barcelona in the afternoon, leaving their leader in his legal impasse in the German capital and returning to a region that is still struggling to form a government after snap regional elections in December gave pro-Catalan independence parties a parliamentary majority.

"It's the only way we can stay together for a few hours to talk about the situation in the country, the last news," Anna Grabalosa, press spokeswoman for JuntsxCat, told DW. "We also talked about the next steps we can take in order to form a government in Catalonia."

The ex-president himself did not himself appear before reporters after the meeting of the party's representatives. However, Grabalosa told DW that, "Puigdemont is in a very good mood ... He's optimistic because of the court's decision in Germany."

A state court in Schleswig-Holstein refused to grant Spain's extradition request for the charge of rebellion because the violence required by a comparable charge in German law had not taken place. The court is still looking into whether Puigdemont can be sent to Spain on the charge of misuse of public funds.

The four absent MPs were unable to attend the Berlin meeting because they remain under investigation in Spain, and three of them are in preventive detention.

Read more: Berlin protesters demand release of Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont

Talking to Madrid

Two parliamentarians appeared in the lobby after the four-hour meeting to give brief statements and answer questions from the handful of mostly Spanish reporters.

"You know that we are being targeted for our political ideas," MP Francesc de Dalmases said in English. "So we need to meet our president in order to follow and continue his roadmap." JuntsxCats insists that Puigdemont remains the legitimate president of the northeastern region of Spain.

De Dalmases also criticized the Spanish state of hindering the formation of a new Catalan regional government led by pro-independence politicians.

"We are doing our best to establish a new government in Catalonia, but the Spanish judiciary and the Spanish state are denying the political rights of three different candidates even after the United Nations Human Rights Committee recognized their political rights," he added.

Spain Catalonia referendum
Around two million Catalans voted for independence in OctoberImage: Getty Images/AFP/L. Gene

De Dalmases insisted that Puigdemont was always open to dialogue with the central government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and that the prime minister was "always denying this dialogue because [Rajoy say] there is nothing to talk about, even though there are two million people who insist that this is a fact we need to discuss."

Just over two million Catalans voted to split from Spain in last October's independence referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal. Some 43 percent of eligible Catalan voters took part in the vote, which was marred by police violence.

Read more: Catalan independence - What you need to know

Pro-separatists Catalans have also accused Rajoy of using the justice system to stifle the independence movement rather than seeking a political solution.

"If you want to sit and talk about the political situation, you need to recognize this political situation," MP de Dalmases said. "And right now in Catalonia we have a political problem, and as long as Mr Rajoy and his government are denying this political problem he's not ready to sit and talk. We need to talk about this self-determination process, the will of the Catalan society — in fact we want to sit and talk about democracy."

Read more: Why Catalan separatists are singing a traditional German children's song

'Government in exile'

Grabalosa said that one topic addressed in the Berlin meeting was that certain JuntsxCat MPs could not attend the opening of the new session of the Catalan parliament because they face ongoing criminal investigations. The Berlin discussions were also limited to internal JuntsxCat dealings. "We can only discuss party affairs because we don't have a government yet," the press speaker told DW.

"At the moment, we're a government in exile," she added, pointing out that all the Catalan ministers from the last government are currently in Brussels (except for Education Minister Clara Ponsati, who is in Scotland).

Catalonia's day-to-day affairs continue to be run by the central Spanish government, which invoked Article 155 of Spain's Constitution on October 27, 2017, in response to Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence. This article allows for Spain's central government to take direct administrative control of any of its 17 autonomous communities.

Meanwhile, the Catalonian parliament remains in political limbo, unable to form a new government because all three presidential candidates put forward by the separatist parties are either in jail, or, Puigdemont's case, in Berlin.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight