Catalan saga threatens Belgium-Spain ties

The Associated PressBRUSSELS (AP) — The Catalan crisis is being called a “nightmare” and a “time bomb” for Belgium’s government.

The outlawed independence referendum in Catalonia hasn’t just sparked a political crisis in Spain. The flight of the region’s ousted president to Brussels is sowing divisions within the Belgian government and looks set to damage ties between the two European Union partners.

Even as Carles Puigdemont and his lawyer were questioned by an investigating judge on Sunday about his extradition, members of Belgium’s government, Belgian politicians and Spanish officials were trading barbs in the mainstream and social media.

Most vocal are members of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party — a key member of Belgium’s ruling coalition and whose separatist desires appear to have been inflamed by Puigdemont’s most recent drive for Catalan independence from Spain.

“I am just questioning how an EU member state can go this far,” Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Jan Jambon told the VTM network Sunday, in reference to the jailing of several of Puigdemont’s associates in Spain last week.

Puigdemont maintains that his arrival in Brussels is about raising the profile of Catalan nationhood at the European level, and not to interfere in Belgian politics, or “Belgianize” politics in Catalonia. But his stay is being dubbed “the Belgian government’s nightmare” in the media. “The dossier is a time bomb for the federal coalition,” wrote the daily Le Soir.

Very little criticism of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government has been voiced by Spain’s 27 EU partner countries, but Belgium did condemn the violence, much of it blamed on police heavy-handedness, that marked the Oct. 1 referendum in Catalonia.

Around 900 people were hurt — nearly all of the injuries were minor. Spain’s government defended the police response, saying it was proportionate to the resistance officers met on the streets.

“You have Spanish law but also international law, the European Human Rights Treaty and such things and they come ahead of member state law,” Jambon said. “I think the international community must keep a close watch.”Speech

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