Spain maintains an arrest warrant for ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont who had been living in exile in Belgium. The controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which notoriously requires little evidence of an actual crime in order to be issued, remains on the books after Spanish authorities initially sought to detain the man who declared Catalonia an independent republic on 27 October 2017.
Since then, Madrid stripped Catalonia of its constitutional autonomy and called for new elections in which pro-independence parties won a majority, while the office of President of the Generalitat of Catalonia remains formally vacant. Puidgemont and his supporters continue to claim that he remains the legitimate Catalan leader. Nevertheless, Spain has largely been successful in quashing Catalonia’s very short lived independence, although legal battles over who should be the autonomous President of Catalonia persist.
Puigdemont had been in Finland when he learned that the authorities in Helsinki had agreed to detain him per the Spanish EAW. He quickly fled but was detained by German authorities on the Danish border. Spain faced international criticism for its heavy handed tactics against voters in the 1 October, 2017 referendum in which Catalans voted to secede from Spain. In spite of the peaceful vote and demonstrations by pro-independence Catalans, Spain’s infamous civil guard violently beat Catalan civilians throughout the prelude and aftermath of the vote.
The safety of Carles Puigdemont is no longer just a Catalan and Spanish issue, it is now a pan-European issue and Europe has failed from every perspective. No one in Europe could have be forced to take sides on the question of Catalan independence question, even though the Catalan independence movement was and remains pro-European in its outlook. But by failing to condemn Spain for disallowing what a minimum could be termed a return to normalcy, the EU has abrogated its own duty to ensure the rights of peaceful protesters and the autonomy of non-violent political movements throughout the Union.
If Puigdemont is not given his freedom, which includes his freedom to travel to Barcelona unmolested, the EU will have capitulated to the most anti-democratic tendencies of one of its constituent members. Spain’s approach to the Catalan question means that the issue has gone from one of black and white to one where Catalan leaders will likely attempt to negotiate enhanced autonomy, seeing as there is little international support for independence. In other words, an issue that burnt brightly just months ago, has reverted to a kind of frozen conflict that can be most easily settled through direct talks between Barcelona’s independence factions and Madrid. Such talks would ideally be mediated by EU officials, except for the fact that at present, the EU has arrogantly washed its hands of one of the most pressing issues that the Union has faced since the 2007/2008 banking crisis.
The EU owes it to its citizens to see that Carles Puigdemont is treated with dignity as a man whose position in Spain is controversial, but one that is not violent. This is especially ironic as major EU powers backed the violent terrorist campaigns against the integrity of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, while many, particularly in Germany are sympathetic to Kurdish secessionist terrorist groups in Turkey, most notably the PKK. So while Germany supported the blood-soaked KLA in Yugoslavia and the blood-soaked PKK in Turkey, the largest state in the EU has seen fit to treat Carles Puigdemont like a menace, when even if one disagrees with his politics and his methods, no one could argue that he poses a danger to the life of anyone, anywhere.
Once again, the EU has let itself down at a moment when it could have served as an example for how to manage what ultimately is a political movement that renounces all forms of violence.