The new foreign minister of the Catalan government intends to “immediately” reopen the offices in large cities abroad that were closed down by the Spanish government after it suspended Catalonia’s self-rule.

During an official visit to Brussels on Thursday, Ernest Maragall spoke about the urgent need to restore Catalonia’s representation abroad in cities such as London, Rome, Berlin, New York, Washington, as well as the one in Switzerland.

In fact, Ernest Maragall said the first moves towards reopening the offices could come as soon as next week, with the offices becoming operational within “two or three weeks.” He also said that he aimed to ensure continuity in the running of the offices, meaning that in “most” cases, the officials who managed the offices but who were deposed by the Spanish government will recover their posts.

While in Brussels, Maragall met the staff of the Catalan foreign office to the European Union, which was the only one to be kept open under direct rule, who welcomed him with applause.

Three phases

During a press conference, the foreign affairs minister explained that re-opening the delegations is set to take place in three phases, the last of which is foreseen for 6 months from now.

The first step, stated Maragall, is one that is “urgent:” to recover the five delegations in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. The second phase is one of “consolidation” that foresees “new visibility” on the International horizon, with new delegations or “special envoys” in Paris, Portugal, the Balkans or Nordic countries – even, Maragall said, to areas on other continents.

The third and final part of the plan is of “expansion,” opening nine new centers with “new figures of presence” in places like the Mediterranean, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia or Latin America. This, it was revealed, would take place before the end of the year.

The government has also pledged to restore the Diplocat agency, the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, which was also closed down under direct rule.

Delegation under control

As well as reopening Catalonia’s foreign offices, the government has said it will appoint a new representative to the EU after Amadeu Altafaj was dismissed by the Spanish government in October. Altafaj worked for years as a respected spokesman of the European Commission before joining the Catalan delegation.

During Spain’s direct rule over Catalonia, the delegation in Brussels was not allowed to organize or attend political events. In fact, the Spanish foreign affairs ministry controlled its agenda and authorized whether members could attend conferences or events, depending on their content.

One of the few events organized in the building during that period, a cultural conference, sparked controversy after the deposed culture minister, Lluís Puig, took part. Puig, who is living in exile in Brussels, was allowed to speak after a citizen’s association gave him their turn. As a consequence, the Catalan government’s then Director General of Foreign Affairs was sacked.

Back to normal

Nor did the Spanish government allow the Catalan parliament president, Roger Torrent, to use the delegation in Brussels for meetings with deposed president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers. In fact, it asked all staff to go home and shut the building to avoid the meeting from taking place there. As a result, Torrent and Puigdemont met at the office of the European Free Alliance.

Recently, once direct rule had been lifted, the government delegation in Brussels held a meeting between the new ministers of culture, agriculture and health and their predecessors, all of whom are exiled in Belgium.