Carles Puigdemont sought to wrest Catalonia away from Spain throughout his time period because the area’s president. But when Madrid crushed his illegal bid for independence in 2017, he fled to Belgium, crouched down on the again seat of a Škoda with tinted home windows to evade police guarding his home.
Now allies are envisioning the following chapter for the mop-haired former journalist, who lives in Brussels as a fugitive from Spanish justice: a return to Catalonia as a separatist hero. But his homecoming would additionally stoke the nationwide political fury that boiled over in Spain this week.
Not solely was Puigdemont the lead Catalan negotiator of the political accord that enabled Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to return to energy this week. The exiled leader can be essentially the most high-profile beneficiary of the worth he extracted in return: an amnesty for all these going through prison fees over the failed secession bid.
A draft amnesty regulation, anticipated to be handed by parliament early subsequent 12 months, ought to erase the prison fees towards him — disobedience and the misuse of public funds. The 60-year-old, an elected member of the European parliament and leader of the Together for Catalonia social gathering, would then be allowed to return to Spain as a free man.
The amnesty laws was “cut like a suit by a tailor for specific people”, stated one in every of its critics, Esteban González Pons of the conservative People’s social gathering (PP), which has described the plan as a perversion of the rule of regulation and a breach of Spain’s structure.
Puigdemont’s return could be a watershed second within the nation’s trendy historical past, marking a contentious postscript to Catalonia’s 2017 push for independence, which brought on the worst political disaster since Spain returned to democracy greater than 40 years in the past.
But it can additionally make him the embodiment of an amnesty regulation that polls present is opposed by a clear majority of Spaniards — and elevate his standing as a hate determine for diehard Spanish nationalists.
“My family, my friends are saying: is the president coming home already?” says Josep Rius, who was as soon as Puigdemont’s chief of workers and is now a vice-president of Together. “People are asking, some because they are eager for it to happen and some because they are afraid.”
Puigdemont has not made any public feedback about his potential return.
In his dwelling city Girona, the place he was as soon as mayor, his Romanian spouse and two daughters have maintained the household dwelling. It is a heartland of the pro-independence motion, which is based on a broader sense that Catalonia is a nation aside inside Spain with its personal language, historical past and tradition.
Many Catalans additionally complain that their rich area gives extra money to the central authorities than it receives and is in flip mistreated by Madrid. The proportion of the area’s 8mn individuals who need secession is down from 2017, however 31 per cent say it needs to be a state impartial from Spain.
To some folks in the remainder of Spain, Puigdemont has lengthy symbolised the assault on their nation’s unity that secessionism represents. On prime of that, he has struck a take care of Sanchez wherein Catalan “blackmail”, because the PP calls it, has clicked neatly with the premier’s alleged willingness to do something to keep in energy.
Puigdemont has seen a sharp uptick within the variety of demise threats he receives, Rius stated.
Sánchez says the amnesty will lastly finish the criminalisation of the Catalan battle and promote “peaceful coexistence” between the area and the remainder of Spain. It follows his 2021 transfer to pardon 9 separatist leaders who didn’t flee and have been serving jail sentences of between 9 and 13 years.
This week one other PP official, alluding to an apocryphal element about Puigdemont’s 2017 escape, stated Sánchez ought to “leave the country in the boot of a car”.
The first prison grievance towards Puigdemont was filed the day he arrived in Brussels. Since then he has been comparatively safe, as each Belgian and German courts have rejected Spanish extradition requests. But he’s on much less stable floor since an EU courtroom dominated in July he could possibly be stripped of immunity as an MEP, a resolution he’s interesting towards. Just a few weeks later Spain’s inconclusive election turned him into an surprising kingmaker.
One shut aide to Puigdemont stated his homecoming was “an issue he doesn’t speak about with anyone”, arguing that he didn’t need to elevate expectations or change into the centre of consideration provided that the amnesty will profit a number of hundred folks.
The query of precisely when he returns is fraught. Some surprise if he’ll run to be president once more in Catalan regional elections in 2025. He may select to come as quickly because the amnesty invoice turns into regulation, however it’s sure to be challenged by conservatives who will take it to Spain’s constitutional courtroom, a course of that would take months or years.
In Puigdemont’s favour is a clause that claims the regulation will stay in pressure even throughout the appeals course of. Lawyers say the constitutional courtroom has a left-leaning majority, which means it’s unlikely to strike down the amnesty.
Still, Puigdemont’s group is deeply cautious of the Spanish judiciary general, which it views as overwhelmingly conservative and anti-separatist. Earlier this month an investigating choose opened a “terrorism” probe into Puigdemont, however public prosecutors rapidly challenged it. “If there’s a doubt over his return,” stated the shut aide, “it’s that judges can do crazy things.”
When he comes dwelling he’s seemingly to obtain a heat welcome from some Catalan separatists, however not all. His social gathering’s nice rival is one other pro-independence group referred to as the Catalan Republic Left. And inside Together, often known as Junts per Catalunya within the native language, there are divisions.
Its hardliners see Puigdemont’s pact with Sánchez as a humiliating capitulation. Clara Ponsatí, an ex-Catalan official who fled to Brussels with him, stated it left separatists depending on the Socialists and had made “renouncing self-determination” the worth of amnesty.
But Together’s pragmatists, who now have Puigdemont on their facet, settle for that the dream of unilateral independence is useless. They view “dialogue” with the Spanish authorities as the one method ahead, even when their hope of persuading Madrid to approve one other referendum appears unbelievable.
“In two or three months [Puigdemont] has undergone a big change,” stated Andreu Mas-Colell, a former Catalan finance minister, who faces administrative fees that will be dropped beneath the amnesty regulation. “Not necessarily a big rhetorical change, but a practical change. He’s now playing the game.”