Carles Puigdemont can't govern Catalonia from exile, Madrid says

Spain's government has dashed any hopes in Catalonia that former president Carles Puigdemont could lead the region from self-imposed exile. Madrid has said it is prepared to challenge his election as leader in court.

The Spanish government on Friday warned Catalan separatists against re-electing Carles Puigdemont as regional leader should he remain in self-imposed exile in Brussels.

Madrid's warning came after Catalonia's regional government, where separatist parties boast a majority, agreed to re-elect Puigdemont on Wednesday, raising the scenario that the former leader might govern the northeastern region via video link. Puigdemont himself also raised that possibility when he put himself forward in December's local election.

Read more: Pep Guardiola tells Spain to take note of Catalonia election result

Madrid, however, dismissed such an arrangement.

"Parliamentary rules are very clear: They do not contemplate the possibility of a (parliamentary) presence that is not in person," Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters at a weekly press conference. "This aspiration is a fallacy, it's totally unrealistic and it goes against the rule books and common sense."

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Rich ancient heritage

Catalonia has been settled by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Greeks, who were mainly in the coastal areas of Rosas and Empuries (above). Then came the Romans, who built more settlements and infrastructure. Catalonia remained a part of the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Visigoths in the fifth century.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Counties and independence

Catalonia was conquered by Arabs in 711 AD. The Frankish king Charlemagne stopped their advance at Tours on the Loire River and, by 759, the north of Catalonia was once again Christian. In 1137, the counties that made up Catalonia entered an alliance with the Crown of Aragon.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Autonomy and the war of succession

In the 13th century, the institutions of Catalan self-administration were created under the banner of the Generalitat de Catalunya. After the unification of the Crown of Aragon with that of Castile in 1476, Aragon was largely able to keep its autonomic institutions. However, the Catalan revolt — from 1640 to 1659 — saw parts of Catalonia ceded to present-day France.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Remembrance of defeat

After the conquest of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, by the Bourbon King Phillip V, Catalan instuitutions were dissolved and self-administration came to an end. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the end of their right to autonomy.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Federal ideas in wider republic

After the abdication of King Amadeo I of Spain, the first Spanish Republic was declared in February 1873. It lasted barely a year. The supporters of the Republic were split – one group supporting the idea of a centralized republic, the others wanting a federal system. Pictured here is Francisco Pi i Maragall, a supporter of federalism and one of five presidents of the short-lived republic.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Failed attempt

Catalonia sought to establish a new state within the Spanish republic, but this only served to exacerbate the differences between republicans, ultimately dividing and weakening them. In 1874, the monarchy and the House of Bourbon (led by King Alfonso XII, pictured here) took the helm.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Catalan Republic

Between 1923 — with the support of the monarchy, the army and the church — General Primo de Rivera declared a dictatorship. Catalonia became a center of opposition and resistance. After the end of the dictatorship, the politician Francesc Macia (pictured here) successfully pressed for important rights of autonomy for Catalonia.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

The end of freedom

In the Second Spanish Republic, Catalan lawmakers worked on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. This was approved by the Spanish parliament in 1932. Francesc Macia was elected president of the Generalitat of Catalonia by the Catalan parliament. However, the victory of Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) put an end to all that.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Loss of liberties

The Franco regime ruled with an iron rod. Political parties were banned and the Catalan language and culture were surpressed.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

New autonomy by statute

After the first parliamentary elections that followed the end of the Franco dictatorship, the Generalitat of Catalonia was provisionally restored. Under the democratic Spanish constitution of 1978, Catalonia was given a new Statute of Autonomy just a year later.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

New and different statute

The new Statute of Autonomy recognized the autonomy of Catalonia and the importance of the Catalan language. In comparison to the 1932 statute, it was enhanced in the fields of culture and education but curtailed when it came to the realm of justice. Pictured here is Jordi Pujol, the long-time head of the government of Catalonia after the dictatorship.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Stronger self-awareness

A desire for independence has grown stronger in recent years. In 2006, Catalonia was given a new statute that broadened the Catalan government's powers. However, it lost these after a complaint by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court of Spain.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

First referendum

A referendum on independence was already envisaged for November 9, 2014. The first question was "Do you want Catalonia to become a state?" In the case of an affirmative answer, the second question was posed: "Do you want this state to be independent?" However, the Constitutional Court suspended the vote.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Clash of the titans

Since January 2016, Carles Puigdemont has been president of the Catalan government. He proceeded with the separatist course of his predecessor Artur Mas and called the new referendum for October 1, 2017. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed this as unconstitutional.

De Vigo added that the central government would void Puigdemont's election as Catalan leader and, if necessary, take the issue to court.

The new Catalan parliament is set to hold its first sitting on Wednesday.

Barcelona's search for a leader

Puigdemont faces sedition and rebellion charges for spearheading Catalonia's independence movement last year. Madrid subsequently disbanded his administration after the Catalan parliament voted in favor of the region's independence from Spain following a disputed referendum on October 1. Puigdemont fled to Brussels shortly thereafter to avoid arrest.

However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's decision to hold local elections in Catalonia last month saw the separatist parties, led by Puigdemont's Catalan European Democratic Party, claim a slim majority — once again raising the possibility of a renewed independence push this year.

Because he is currently unable under the Spanish law to lead Catalonia, according to Madrid, Puigdemont would be forced to pass on his seat to another lawmaker able to attend parliamentary sessions.

Related Subjects

Read more: Opinion: After Catalan elections, it's back to the drawing board

It remains unclear who that might be as a number of major separatist figures are either in exile with Puigdemont or in custody for their role in organizing October's contested independence referendum.

Also on Friday, a Madrid judge refused a request by Puigdemont's former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, to be transferred to a prison in Barcelona so that he could sit in on parliamentary sessions.

Now live
00:58 mins.
DW News | 22.12.2017

Puigdemont, Rajoy react to Catalan election results

dm/sms (Reuters, dpa)