“The EU was not up to the task” says the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, in an interview with the Catalan News Agency (ACN), on the role Brussels played in the peak of the independence push in 2017. The Union sided with Spain during the conflict, failed to condemn the police violence during the October 2017 referendum and rejected launching any mediation between Barcelona and Madrid.
“I was disappointed at the no-reaction of the European institutions concerning the Catalan crisis. Because it was, and it is, a European matter,” he says. “We, Catalans, are European citizens, full members of the EU and our rights must be protected by the European institutions if, as it was the case, a member state violated clearly our fundamental rights.”
The 2017 episode, peaking in the declaration of independence on October 27, led Puigdemont and some of his recently-sacked ministers to go into exile, while the rest of his government was being jailed in Spain.
Almost three years far from his homeland, this week the former Catalan chief and current MEP has released a book with his memories, ‘M’explico’, or ‘I explain myself.’ “I felt the need to explain myself about the events that occurred in October 2017, which are very important for Catalan and European history.”
In the volume, he reflects on the role of the EU three years ago, which, for him, “turned a blind eye” on the matter. Yet, he admits they had not ensured the support of any country, less an EU member state. “The European Union is the most difficult arena to achieve recognition,” he says.
Exile as strategy
The man who led Catalonia to a referendum and who left the country to avoid being jailed defends his strategy of going into exile instead of facing imprisonment. “This has made us disappear from the list of victims of repression for some people,” he complains. Puigdemont reveals he has felt “very lonely” in Belgium but believes exile is a good long-term strategy for the independence camp.
When he was already in exile, in December 2017 a Catalan election was held, and he had a pro-independence majority backing him as president again – but since he was in exile, few days before the vote to appoint him, Spain’s Constitutional Court denied any election of a president by proxy, something that was accepted by the parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, a member of the other mainstream pro-independence party, ERC.
Torrent’s decision “was the beginning of a bad path of confrontation and lack of unity among us,” says Puigdemont, who denies having lied to voters for having promised to return to Catalonia if he prevailed in the election.
Lack of unity
In his book, he accuses ERC’s leader of being “disloyal” to him when vice president of the 2017 government. Yet, in the interview, he says that the pro-independence parties are “allies above all.”
Within his faction of the movement, there is also lack of unity, to the extent that he will launch a new party this weekend with his closest allies, and hopes that PDeCAT, one of the branches of his political group in parliament, joins, although this is far from clear. “I have not split up with PDeCAT,” he expresses.