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Who is Carles Puigdemont?

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont makes a statement at the Catalan Government building Generalitat de Catalunya on October 26, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  

On October 27, announcing emergency measures to end the Catalan move for independence, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked Carles Puigdemont, president of the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia. Along with Mr. Puigdemont, a politician from the centre-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PdeCAT), more than 150 government officers were removed.

What led to the crisis?

The "secessionist" leader and Catalan officers had conducted a unilateral referendum on Catalonian independence earlier last month. The Puigdemont government declared independence for Catalonia last Friday; minutes later, the Spanish Senate in Madrid voted to apply Article 155 of the Constitution and impose direct rule on Catalonia. Spain’s constitutional court had already declared the referendum illegal.

 

Is he still in Catalonia?

On Monday, Spain’s attorney general, Jose Manuel Maza, announced that he would ask the Spanish courts to charge Mr. Puigdemont and 13 of his colleagues for rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. The charges could carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years. After a period of speculation as to their whereabouts, it emerged that Mr. Puigdemont and a few former Catalan ministers had travelled to Brussels,the seat of the European Union (EU). Mr. Puigdemont has since said his stay in Belgium was not to seek asylum but to be able to speak freely and “to make the European institutions aware of the Catalan problem.” The EU has consistently supported Madrid.

Will he return to Spain?

Mr. Puigdemont has said he would return to Spain once certain “guarantees” are made. Yet he has hired Paul Bekaert, a high-profile human rights lawyer, associated with asylum and extradition cases as well as various regional secessionist movements. On Thursday, a Spanish judge ordered the arrest of nine members of the former Catalan government. The list included Mr. Puigdemont and his influential deputy, Oriol Junqueras. A European Arrest Warrant has been issued for the former Catalan president and four of his colleagues who are also in Belgium. Mr. Puigdemont has said he will cooperate — but with the Belgian authorities.

What nurtured his politics?

The 54-year-old Mr. Puigdemont was born in Amer, a village in the mountains near Barcelona, in a family of pastry chefs. Growing up in Francisco Franco’s brutal regime, the young Puigdemont was passionate about Catalan culture and language. His involvement in Catalonian nationalism can be traced back to his teenage years, when he joined a Catalan nationalist party. In college, Mr. Puigdemont studied Catalan philology but quit to pursue journalism, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief of El Punt, a nationalist newspaper. An interest in technology and Catalonia’s relationship to the larger world led Mr. Puigdemont to start a news agency and an English newspaper.

Mr. Puigdemont formally entered the political mainstream in 2006, as a member of the Catalonian parliament and became the Mayor of Girona on the centre-right Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) ticket in 2011, the first time in over 30 years that a non-Socialist candidate had occupied the seat. The CDC was reconfigured to form PdeCAT.

How did he become President?

Mr. Puigdemont is often called an “accidental” president, after he became the consensus candidate in January 2016 when his predecessor, Artur Mas, failed to get the support of the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, whose seats were needed for the pro-independence parties to form a government. Since the start of his presidency, he reiterated his commitment to a referendum as part of the road map to independence.

What does the future hold?

Madrid has announced that it will hold snap elections on December 21 for a new Catalonian parliament. Mr. Puigdemont has agreed to this provided Spain guarantees it will respect the outcome even if pro-independence parties win a majority. Mr. Puigdemont’s conditional support for the elections could pave the way for a rapprochement between Barcelona and Madrid but the possibility of this has likely diminished after Thursday’s arrests. Spain has in the past indicated an openness to greater autonomy for Catalonia. However, what it will mean for Mr. Puigdemont, for whom there is an arrest warrant, is unclear.


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