Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has said this lunchtime that he's not in Brussels to request political asylum and isn't trying to escape the Spanish justice system. He also called on the parties of the article "155 bloc", in other words, the alliance of PP (Popular Party), PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) and Cs (Citizens) that agreed the intervention measures in Catalonia, to clarify whether they will accept the results of the 21st December elections. The head of the Catalan executive was giving a press conference at Brussels' International Press Centre to great media anticipation, his first public appearance since it emerged he had travelled to the Belgian capital.
Puigdemont explained that on Friday evening, after the Parliament voted on the declaration of the Catalan Republic, the Catalan government, in a meeting at the government palace, decided unanimously to prioritise "prudence, security and moderation" in their strategy in the face of the news they were receiving about a "highly aggressive, unprecedented offensive" by the Spanish government. This offensive against civil servants that have remained faithful to the legitimate government and against the government itself was ratified yesterday, he said, with the lawsuits presented by Spain's Attorney General for charges that could add up to 500 years in prison for members of the Catalan cabinet and the Parliament.
Alongside the president in Brussels were the Catalan ministers Clara Ponsatí (Education), Meritxell Borràs (Governance), Meritxell Serret (Agriculture), Joaquim Forn (Interior) and Toni Comín (Health). The rest of the government, including the vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, followed the press conference from a room in the Parliament in Barcelona.
"This government has preferred to guarantee that there will be no violence. If the Spanish state wants to build their project on violence that will be their decision, but they can't drag us into something that the whole independence movement has consistently rejected," said Puigdemont.
The president, in a press conference that lasted just over half an hour and in which he switched repeatedly between Catalan, Spanish and French, with a little bit of English too, said that the Catalan executive hasn't wanted to put civil servants at risk, even though that slows down the setting up of the Republic. It's an act of coherence, he said, showing that the Catalan Republic "will be a different state". "We haven't got to this point to behave in a way that so many times we've criticised the Spanish state for behaving," he said.
He described the lawsuit from Spanish Attorney General José Manuel Maza as confirming the "extreme aggression and maximal belligerence" of the Spanish state which, in his opinion, doesn't stand up legally and in which they ask for 30 years' imprisonment for each person charged, with accusations that could include prison without bail pending trial and abusive financial demands.
In this context, he said that the "legitimate government of Catalonia has adapted its plan prioritising four areas". First, that part of the government has travelled to Brussels, the institutional heart of Europe, to "denounce the politicisation of Spanish justice, the absence of impartiality and the desire to persecute ideas" from the Spanish state.
The second decision is that the rest of the cabinet, among them the vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, and the head of JxSí's (Together for Yes) list of election candidates, Raül Romeva, will remain in Catalonia carrying out political activity as legitimate members of the government. Both groups of ministers will continue with their work, within a strategy of no-confrontation.
"We don't want to escape the action of the [Spanish] Justice system. We don't want to neglect our responsibility to the Justice system. We will confront it politically," he said as the third point.
Finally, he called for effort to avoid the application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution provoking a "demolition of the Catalan institutional system", saying that independence supporters will take on the elections "as a democratic challenge". "We completely agree that it is through voting that problems are solved, not by imprisoning politicians, or assaulting civil servants. It's a challenge that we take on with all our strength," said the president.
Challenge to PP and PSOE
On this topic, the president gave a challenge directly to the Spanish state and its largest political parties. "We will respect the result of the 21st December election as we have always done, whatever the result may be. Will the '155 bloc' do the same? Will it respect the result? I want a clear commitment that the state will respect the result. If there is no clear commitment by the state it will mean that there will be two types of voter in Catalonia, first-class and second-class ones," he warned.
The president later tweeted a video of this part of the speech with English interpretation.
Translation: It's by voting that problems are solved, not imprisoning politicians or citizens. We will respect the results of the 21st December. And the '155 bloc'?
The president noted that the pro-independence parties stood for the last Catalan elections on 27th September 2015 with a manifesto that clearly included their road map ending in a declaration of independence and that this was recorded with and accepted by the electoral authorities with no problems. He went on that it then obtained unprecedented support at the ballot box.
No political asylum
Questioned by journalists, he didn't clarify how long he plans to stay in Brussels, saying it depends on receiving guarantees of a fair trial, but repeatedly insisted that he had travelled to Belgium to continue working with "freedom and safety" and not to request political asylum.
"I ask the people of Catalonia to prepare for a long road, we are facing a state that only understands force, which has decided to use violence, repression to get us to abandon our political project, and they won't achieve it", he said, calling for unity, peacefulness and democracy as tools to "make [the independence movement] invincible". The president called for full recognition of and support for the members of the Catalan government for the effort and personal sacrifices they are making.