The Catalan government’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernest Maragall, will travel to Brussels on Thursday in his first official trip abroad since taking office. Maragall, a former MEP, will give a press conference to explain the plans of his ministry, which is in charge of Catalonia’s external action.
Foreign affairs was the department most directly affected by Spain’s direct rule over Catalonia. The Spanish government shut down all Catalan delegations abroad, but for the one in Brussels, and also closed the public diplomacy council of Catalonia, a public-private body known as Diplocat. Maragall’s predecessor, Raül Romeva, is currently in pre-trial jail for his role during the independence referendum. He faces charges of violent rebellion and misuse of public funds, which carry a 30-year jail sentence.
On Tuesday, the Catalan government said that it will reopen Diplocat, as it considers its closure “illegal”. Maragall also suggested shortly after taking office that he would re-open Catalan government delegations abroad, as Catalonia’s external action is a power foreseen by current laws. He is expected to clarify his plans during Thursday’s press conference.
Delegation under control
The Catalan government delegation to the European Union currently has no permanent representative, as its former head, Amadeu Altafaj, was deposed by the Spanish government when it took over control of Catalonia. 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.