Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The extradition of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from Belgium to Spain, which is almost a certainty after the European Parliament revoked his immunity, will be a big blow to the Catalan separatist movement and could cause turbulence, not only among Catalan separatists, but also across Spain. It also demonstrates the European Union’s hypocritical policy towards Kosovo.
It seemed that Puigdemont would escape Spanish justice and remain permanently in Belgium under the protection of his Flemish separatist allies. However, Spain is preparing for a new trial against the leaders of the Catalan separatist movement. In October 2019, the Supreme Court of Spain sentenced a group of Catalan separatists to prison. The sentences ranged between three and 13 years. As an example, Oriolo Junkeras, the former Vice President of the Catalonian Autonomous region, received a 13-year prison sentence.
The fact that Puigdemont’s immunity will be lifted by the European Parliament is a huge blow to Catalan separatists as he is an icon for their movement. His stay in Belgium gave a glimmer of hope that anyone who tried something similar would be able to at least escape a Spanish prison. However, Puigdemont is not alone and his associates Tony Comín and Clara Ponsatí also lost their immunity from the European Parliament - 400 Members of the European Parliament voted in favor, 248 were against and 45 abstained.
Puigdemont and his associates fled to Belgium after the October 2017 unconstitutional referendum on the independence of Catalonia. The Catalonian separatist movement will suffer a major blow with the extradition of Puigdemont given that the three Catalan separatist parties won a narrow majority in the regional elections that were held in February. The three largest separatist parties, the Popular Unity Candidacy, the Republican Left of Catalonia and Together for Catalonia, announced a coalition government whose task will be to organize a new referendum on independence.
The extradition of the Catalonian leader will be a serious blow to organizing a new referendum and will further burden internal relations in Spain, especially between Barcelona and Madrid. Puigdemont’s extradition might shake the political landscape of the Catalan separatists as it could lead to a power struggle between the parties. With Oriol Junqueras, President of the Republican Left of Catalonia, also in prison, the battle for supremacy over the separatist movement will likely be between the Vice President and Minister of Economy and Finance of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, and Quim Torra, a former President of the Government of Catalonia.
The decision of the European Parliament demonstrates the strength and influence of the Spanish state at the European level. However, it will inevitably reinvigorate separatist movements in Spain, not only in Catalonia, but also in Andalusia, Basque Country, the Canary Islands and Galicia. This will occur despite the initial blow of having major separatist leaders in prison.
Puigdemont will definitely be tried for inciting separatism from the Spanish state, which is one of the most serious crimes in the country, and will face over ten years in prison, especially if we consider that far less important figures of the 2017 referendum were sentenced to over a decade in prison. This also ends any hope that Puigdemont could be released or pardoned by Madrid.
Catalan society has been significantly polarized since 2006 when independence talks began openly. Although separatism and unity enjoy about equal support in Catalonia, Puigdemont’s return to Spain could increase the number of those supporting independence.
If we compare the case of Catalonia with the case of Kosovo, it demonstrates the hypocrisy and double standards of the European Union. By Brussels vehemently supporting Kosovo’s separation from Serbia, a non-European Union member, it opened a Pandora's box for certain regions in Europe wanting the same recognition as Kosovo. This includes the Swedes of the Åland Islands in Finland, the Danes of Southern Schleswig in Germany, Sardinians and Sicilians in Italy, the Bretons of Brittany in France, and the Flemish of Belgium, among others.
Brussels has been participating in destabilizing actions in the Balkans since the end of European communism in 1991 and has a particular emphasis on weakening Serbia. The European Union is afraid that if it allows Catalonia to secede from Spain, it would cause a domino effect across the continent. It is for this reason that Brussels is trying to present Kosovo’s independence as a unique case. Puigdemont, according to his own testimony, was present in Slovenia when it held a referendum on secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, demonstrating that the European Union is enacting a policy of double standards regarding separatism in Europe.
Therefore, the European Union happily advocates separatism in non-Member States but strongly defends unity among its own members. This is despite legitimate demands for autonomy or independence. Kosovo’s separation from Serbia serves as a geopolitical necessity to weaken Russian influence in the Balkans whilst simultaneously strengthening European Union interests. As for Catalonia and other separatist movements within the European Union, they have no geopolitical advantage and are therefore not considered legitimate by Brussels.
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