Negotiations at a standstill over Puigdemont
ERC urges JxCat allies to reach "global" agreement with an "effective" appointment of new president and the recognition of the Catalan leader "legitimacy" in Brussels
It's more than a month since Catalonia hold an election but parties holding a majority in Parliament are still not able to agree on forming a new government –let alone choosing a new president. The biggest issue is which role, if any, should have Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, sacked by the Spanish government after the declaration of independence and in Belgium since then.
Although Puigdemont's ticket won the biggest number of seats amongst the pro-independence forces and is able to command an overall majority in Parliament, the Spanish government is challenging in court any attempt by the Catalan leader to retake his post as President. The Constitutional Court ruled that Puigdemont cannot be elected from Brussels, and he would be immediately arrested if he sets foot in Spain. And even from prison, his chances to be freed to attend an investiture debate are slim: so far, the Spanish Supreme Court has rejected all similar attempts by jailed MPs to be able to attend Parliament debates.
That is why Puigdemont's future is complicating party negotiations in Catalonia. His group, Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) insists on appointing him –or at least trying to appoint him- as president in Parliament. The group has already registered a proposal in the Catalan parliament to enable Puigdemont being sworn in from Brussels. The initiative includes amending the Presidency Bill to explicitly accept an MP being chosen as Catalan leader remotely, if they cannot turn up in Parliament, where the investiture debate would take place.
JxCat argue that he has all the legitimacy –from the ballot boxes- to be reelected as president. But their biggest allies, Esquerra Republicana (ERC) have already warned they won't do anything that could mean "criminal consequences or negative legal effects for a number of MPs." Bearing in mind threats coming from the Spanish government and the stance taken, so far, by the Spanish Constitutional Court, appointing Puigdemont will very likely be read in Madrid as an act of disobedience. JxCat and left-wing CUP have insisted so far that Madrid should not dictate who can be or cannot be Catalan president, as this is something up to voters. They consider Madrid's actions to be "undemocratic".
On Saturday, ERC's number two, Marta Rovira, said that any agreement with JxCat should be "global" and "strong", allowing the "effective" appointment of a new president –that is, one that would not be challenged by Madrid-, while recognizing the "legitimacy" of Puigdemont in Brussels. In a speech during a party meeting, Rovira urged "unity" to the pro-independence forces and said that they won't accept an agreement that doesn't put an end to the Spanish government intervention in Catalonia. Their leader, deposed vice president Oriol Junqueras, is in pre-trial prison in Madrid.
Since October 27, the Catalan administration is under Spanish rule, since Madrid applied Article 155 of the Constitution and suspended Catalonia's self-government. The Spanish government has already hinted it might not lift the suspension if Puigdemont is reelected president. In recent days, new names to succeed Puigdemont have appeared. Elsa Artadi, one of Puigdemon'ts closest allies and a Harvard doctor, is one of the favorites. But she has so far denied any plans to become the first female Catalan president.
Catalunya en Comú, a left-wing party in favor of self-determination but against independence, urged pro-independence forces to be "brave" and put forward alternatives to Puigdemont. In fact, spokeswoman Eulàlia Alamany said that left-wing pro-independence forces ERC and CUP have together more seats than JxCat, so should be able to put forward alternative candidates to the presidency and not leave all the political initiative to Puigdemont's party. However, any alternative candidate would need the 34 votes of JxCat to be sweared in.