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The leader of ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group) in the European Parliament, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, has this Sunday questioned the imprisonment of members of the Catalan government, asking whether it might be a "disproportionate" measure which would "undermine" the result of the Catalan election coming up on 21st December.

Verhofstadt, whose group includes both pro-union Spanish party Ciudadanos (Citizens) and Catalan president Puigdemont's PDeCAT (Catalan European Democratic Party), released a statement on social media which does, however, describe the imprisonment as coming after a "proclamation of an illegal independence".

He thus argues that "the right and the obligation of Spanish Courts to defend and to protect the rule of law" must be respected, but questions the proportionality of the preventive custody without bail for vice-president Oriol Junqueras and other Catalan ministers. "Are there no other ways to secure that these separatist leaders receive a fair trial and a judgement?" he asks.

The Flemish politician believes that the imprisonments will "one way or the other undermine the outcome" of the 21st December elections in Catalonia, suggesting the possibilities that it might reduce or boost "their chances of re-election (as some Catalans will view them as martyrs)".

As such, he calls for "urgent measures" to bring an end to "the social and political conflict in Catalonia" which go beyond "decisions taken by the judiciary, however justified they may be".

"Our hope is that the Supreme Court could undo some of the provisional measures", adds Verhofstadt, "and more importantly that the results of regional elections on December 21st, will compel the Catalan legitimate representatives to go beyond legal arguments, and find genuine dialogue and compromise". In expressing these doubts about the legal process and the Spanish government's handling of the crisis, he notably varies from the line expressed by Ciudadanos within Spain.