Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

Sacked Catalan leaders get pride of place in electoral lists

November 18, 2017


© AFP | Carles Puigdemont (right) and Oriol Junqueras during a session of the Catalan parliament on October 26, 2017


Jailed and exiled figures from Catalonia’s separatist movement feature prominently in party lists unveiled by the region’s pro-independence factions, ahead of elections called for December 21.

Of the 14 members of the Catalan government who were dismissed by the central government in October, 12 are on the two main separatist lists, the “Together for Catalonia” group of sacked president Carles Puigdemont and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), led by his vice president Oriol Junqueras.

Seven of the former officials, including Junqueras, are currently jailed pending an investigation into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, while Puigdemont and four others are in Belgium fighting an extradition request filed by Spain.

Prosecutors in Brussels asked a judge Friday to extradite Puigdemont and the others, and a new hearing has been set for December 4.

But a final decision could still be months away, as both sides are expected to appeal if the judge rules against them, which means Puigdemont might be out of the country when the Catalonia vote is held.

Junqueras and the others being held may be released before the election.

Puigdemont presented on Twitter the lists backed by his conservative PDeCAT party, saying the candidates supported “independence, the republic and freedom”, as well as the restitution of the regional government and “a return of political prisoners and exiles”.

He had hoped to form a united separatist front for the new elections, as was the case in the region’s last elections in 2015, when the pro-independence camp secured a majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat parliament.

But the ERC rejected a joint ticket, and opinion polls suggest that while it is leading in the current campaign, which officially opens on December 5, the independence coalition as a whole could lose its absolute majority.

The polls indicate a tight race against the “Constitutionalist” bloc which favours Spanish unity, which includes Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP), the centrist Ciudadanos and Catalonia’s Socialist party.

Madrid has imposed direct rule on the once semi-autonomous region since the independence declaration made after a banned referendum on October 1, and called the new elections in a bid to “restore normality”.

Regional authorities said 90 percent chose to split from Spain, though less than half of eligible voters turned out in a region deeply divided on independence.


Catalan crisis: Carles Puigdemont ‘worsened situation’ for ministers

November 10, 2017

Carles Puigdemont ‘can’t come back a free man’ — Lawyer Pau Molins says

A lawyer whose firm represents two imprisoned former Catalan ministers says their situation was made worse by the self-imposed exile of deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

Pau Molins told the BBC he believes Mr Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium, should have stayed in Spain to fight his case.

He says it meant the justice system was able to justify jailing the ministers.

Eight sacked members of the Catalan government are being detained over an illegal declaration of independence.

They, alongside Mr Puigdemont, are being investigated for alleged rebellion and sedition following a banned independence referendum on 1 October, in defiance of the central authorities in Madrid.

Mr Molins told the BBC on Friday that legally, Mr Puigdemont’s situation will be worse the longer he stays in Belgium and continues to avoid the allegations against him.

Last week, a Spanish judge issued an EU arrest warrant for him and four of his allies. Mr Puigdemont later handed himself in to Belgian police. He has been released on bail until a judge decides whether to execute the warrant or not.

Mr Molins, one of Spain’s most senior criminal lawyers, is representing the sacked Catalan government spokesman, Jordi Turull, and ex-Sustainability Minister Josep Rull.

He described their situation as “the same of any prisoner facing criminal charges, with family access reduced to a few hours once a week”. But he says the men were “humiliated” by the police as they drove them to prison from court.

His comments come the same day the former speaker of Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, was released on bail, following a night in prison in Madrid where she faces similar charges.

Carme Forcadell’s supporters paid the €150,000 (£132,000) bail for her release, while four other Catalan lawmakers were granted bail of €25,000.

It was exactly two weeks ago when separatist ministers voted for independence in the Catalan parliament, and subsequently illegally declared the region, a new state.

The Spanish government has since taken control of the region’s government, dissolved parliament and called a snap election for 21 December.

Presentation line

Catalan crisis: Timeline of key events

Includes video:

Ex-Catalan leader granted freedom to campaign for independence

November 6, 2017


Image may contain: 1 person, screen and indoor

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont appears on a monitor during a live TV interview on a screen in a bar in Brussels, Belgium, November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal Reuters

BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) – Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont was spared custody on Monday, when a Brussels court ruled he could remain at liberty in Belgium until it had heard Spanish allegations of rebellion against him.

The court’s decision means Puigdemont, who left Spain last month after Madrid fired his secessionist government and dissolved the Catalan parliament, is free to campaign for independence for an election in the region on Dec 21.

The vote is shaping up as a de facto independence referendum.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT and another secessionist party said at the weekend they might run on a combined ticket, but would need to make a decision on any formal alliance — which might also include other parties — by a deadline of Tuesday.

Alliances could however also form after the election.

The independence push has dragged Spain in to its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago and has deeply divided the country, fuelling anti-Spanish feelings in Catalonia and nationalist tendencies elsewhere.

Puigdemont turned himself in to Belgian police on Sunday along with four of his ex-ministers, after Spain issued a European arrest warrant on charges of rebellion as well as misuse of public funds.

All five are barred from leaving Belgium without a judge’s consent.

“The next step in the proceedings is the appearance of the five defendants before the Chambre du Conseil within the next 15 days,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The Chambre is a court of first instance that is responsible for ruling on extradition requests.

Spain’s central government took control of Catalonia, which makes up a fifth of the national economy, after local leaders held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 despite a Constitutional Court ban.

The region’s parliament then passed a unilateral declaration of independence. In response, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired the government and called the snap regional elections.


Opinion polls show support for secession and for Puigdemont and his allies, eight of whom stayed behind in Spain and are being detained on similar accusations to the ones the deposed leader faces, has remained steady.

On Sunday, the first part of a GAD3 survey showed that pro-independence parties would win the election but may not gain the parliamentary majority needed to continue with secession.

On Monday, the second part showed just one in seven people from Catalonia believe the current standoff between Barcelona and Madrid will end in independence for the region while more than two thirds think the process has been bad for the economy.

Published in La Vanguardia newspaper, that survey polled 1,233 people between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3.

Optimism that a negotiated solution would be found was low, with just over a fifth of respondents thinking the crisis would lead to talks between regional authorities and Madrid.

The uncertainty has prompted more than 2,000 companies to relocate their legal headquarters out of the region since Oct. 1, while the Bank of Spain said if the conflict persists it could lead to slower growth and job creation.

According to the poll, 67 percent said they believed the process had hurt the economy and almost 40 percent said the company exodus would have a negative affect on growth in the short term.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Paul Day; Editing by Mark Bendeich and John Stonestreet

Ousted Catalan leader blasts Spain after Belgium frees him

November 6, 2017


© BELGA/AFP / by Lachlan CARMICHAEL | Dismissed Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont was released with conditions Sunday night after turning himself in to a Belgian judge.

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Catalonia’s sacked separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Monday denounced Spain as an undemocratic country that “unjustly” jailed his colleagues, his first reaction since he was freed on bail in Belgium.

Puigdemont and four former ministers were released with conditions Sunday night after turning themselves in to Belgian authorities to face a Spanish warrant for their arrest on charges of rebellion and sedition.

“Released without bail. Our thoughts are with colleagues unjustly imprisoned by a state that is far from democratic norms,” Puigdemont said on Twitter hours after the five were released.

A Spanish judge in Madrid had on Thursday put Puigdemont’s deputy and seven other deposed regional ministers behind bars because of a risk they would flee.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders insisted it was a legal matter and not one for politicians to deal with, despite recent criticism of Spain from some Flemish separatist members of his own government.

“We must let the Belgian and Spanish courts do their work,” Reynders told his country’s media.

Puigdemont and his allies escaped to Belgium a week ago after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region following the declaration of independence by the parliament there last month.

– Surrendered to justice –

Spain issued European arrest warrants on Friday after Puigdemont and his allies ignored a summons to appear before a judge on allegations linked to the move to declare Catalonia an independent state.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party said Sunday that he had turned himself in to show his “willingness not to flee from the judicial process but to defend himself in a fair and impartial process, which is possible in Belgium, and highly doubtful in Spain”.

The next court hearing will be in the following 15 days. Belgium has up to 60 days to decide whether to send the Catalans back to Spain.

Puigdemont, who still describes himself as Catalonia’s “president,” has also said he is willing to run as a candidate in the December 21 regional election called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to “restore normality” to Catalonia.

Puigdemont has said he and his colleagues — Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig and Clara Ponsati — would cooperate with the Belgian authorities, some of whom are sympathetic to the ousted Catalan leaders.

“In Belgium they release us without bail, while in Spain we would be jailed,” Serret said on Twitter.

Puigdemont admitted last week that he had gone to Belgium partly in a bid to take the Catalan issue to the heart of the European Union, which has so far backed Madrid over the crisis.

– Belgian tensions –

But the case has caused tensions both between Belgium and Madrid, as well as within the government of Belgium, a country divided between French- and Flemish-speaking populations.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, questioned why the EU has failed to denounce the harsh crackdown by one of its 28 member states.

“I see there is a deafening silence everywhere,” Jambon told Flemish VRT television Sunday, referring to Spain’s jailing separatist leaders and clubbing “peaceful people” who voted in a banned October 1 independence referendum.

He accused the EU of double standards by taking legal action against the right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary for allegedly defying democratic norms.

Puigdemont, 54, insists that Catalonia earned the right to declare independence following the referendum and has described his detained colleagues as “political prisoners”.

On Sunday, protesters in Catalan cities took to the streets to demand their release.

Puigdemont said he was not convinced by guarantees of a fair trial back home, denouncing the “enormous pressure and political influence on judicial power in Spain.”

The judge could “refuse to hand over Puigdemont if there is a proven serious risk to his fundamental rights,” said Anne Weyembergh, president of the Institute of European Studies at the Free University of Brussels.

She said the court would need to see evidence of criminal offences before executing the warrant.

But cases of refusal are rare, according to several lawyers interviewed by AFP.


Ex-Catalan leader turns self in to Belgian police

November 5, 2017


Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has turned himself in to Belgian police after an EU-wide arrest warrant was issued.

Four other cabinet members also turned themselves in at 9.17am local time, according to the Belgian prosecutor’s office.

The arrest warrant for Puigdemont was issued on Friday. He was wanted by Madrid for lying and disobedience.

Puigdemont earlier told Belgian media he “did not flee” Spain, but travelled to Brussels to avoid violence. “Violence has never been an option for us,” he said.

Catalonia has been in political upheaval since October 1, when the region held a disputed referendum on independence from Spain.


Deposed Catalan leader urges separatist ‘unity’ for vote

November 4, 2017



© AFP/File / by Alfons LUNA | Catalonia’s deposed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has been in Belgium since Monday
BARCELONA (AFP) – Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont called Saturday for separatists to unite in a December election called by Spain to try to avert a disputed push for the region’s independence.

Puigdemont’s rallying cry came a day after a Spanish judge issued an arrest warrant against him, with prosecutors seeking to charge him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his secessionist drive.

“The time has come for all democrats to unite. For Catalonia, for the release of political prisoners and for the republic,” he said on Twitter.

The 54-year-old has been holed up in Belgium since Monday and ignored a summons to appear before the judge in Madrid, saying he wants guarantees he will receive a fair trial.

The judge issued the European arrest warrants late Friday for Puigdemont and four of his allies who are also in Belgium, to force them to return to Spain.

The Belgian public prosecutor’s office confirmed Saturday it had received the warrants, saying a decision would happen within 24 hours of them appearing before a judge.

But the authorities said any appeals process could last for up to three months.

“The EU Framework Decision provides that the final decision must be taken within 60 days, with an extension to 90 days under exceptional circumstances,” the Belgian justice ministry said in a statement.

– Illegal referendum –

The warrants have further fuelled separatists’ anger and frustration after deposed members of Puigdemont’s government who did not flee to Belgium, including his deputy, appeared before a Spanish judge on Thursday and were detained pending a possible trial.

Protesters in the wealthy northeastern Catalonia region have held frequent demonstrations, chanting and waving Catalan flags, calling for their release.

Spain’s worst political crisis in decades flared up after the regional parliament in Catalonia voted to proclaim an independent republic following a referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court.

The central government responded by dismissing Puigdemont’s executive, imposing direct rule on the region and calling fresh elections in Catalonia on December 21.

Puigdemont said Friday he was ready to run as a candidate in the poll and on Saturday called for separatist parties to form a united front.

In his tweet, he referred to an online petition calling for the creation of a combined independent candidate list, which by Saturday had received more than 14,000 signatures.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party has been in power in Catalonia for much of Spain’s modern democratic era.

Separatist parties have 72 seats in the 135-seat parliament but PDeCAT is seen running fourth or fifth in the December vote according to opinion polls.

“It’s absolutely indispensable that we have a joint strategy to battle the repression,” Sergi Sabria, a spokesman for the separatist ERC party, told Catalunya Radio, in a sign the two main parties could work together.

Whether Puigdemont and his colleagues in Brussels, Maria Serret Aleu, Antoni Comin Oliveres, Luis Puig Gordi and Clara Ponsati Obiols, will be able to take part in the election is an open question.

The Belgium justice ministry said there are “some situations” where European arrest warrants can be refused, but added: “If the decision is to execute the (warrant), the person is in principle surrendered to the authorities of the issuing state within 10 days following the decision.”

– ‘Jailing of political opponents’ –

Puigdemont has repeatedly called on the international community to back him, but apart from Scotland’s separatist First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticising the “jailing of political opponents”, there are no signs that other countries will recognise the independence move.

Spain’s allies in Europe have voiced steadfast support for the nation’s unity and said they back the independence of the judiciary.

The 7.5 million people of Catalonia, which until this past week had considerable autonomy, are fiercely proud of their language and culture but are also deeply divided about the wisdom of independence.

Even though Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, Spain’s central bank has warned of a possible recession and unemployment in the region rose strongly in October.

Despite the negative economic headwinds, Peter Ceretti at the Economist Intelligence Unit said pro-independence parties might win the December election, as the jailed ministers could deliver an “important propaganda” boost.


by Alfons LUNA

Catalonia crisis: Arrest warrant expected for Carles Puigdemont

November 3, 2017

Spanish judicial sources have told reporters that a European arrest warrant for deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is imminent. Nine other Catalan leaders have been jailed for their role in an independence push.

Carles Puigdemont (Reuters/Y. Herman)

A Spanish judge is planning to issue an arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemonton Friday, judicial sources have told several media outlets. Nine former members of Catalonia’s separatist government have already been detained.

Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium also said the arrest warrant had been prepared, but there has not yet been official confirmation from Spain’s government.

Prosecutors had asked Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela to order the immediate detention of Puigdemont and four of his ex-ministers, who ignored court summonses to appear for questioning on Thursday over their role in an independence referendum.

The five fled to Brussels on Monday after unilaterally declaring the region of Catalonia independent from Spain. They are among 20 regional politicians ordered to face charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement — crimes that are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the self-proclaimed “legitimate government of Catalonia” said that Puigdemont and his four colleagues would remain in Belgium during the court proceedings in order to denounce “a political trial carried out according to the Spanish government’s directive.”

Catalonian cabinet members arrive at court in MadridDismissed Catalan cabinet members were summoned to Spain’s High Court to testify on charges of rebellion

What has happened so far:

  • Spain’s Catalonia region held an independence referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the central government in Madrid
  • Catalonia’s leaders unilaterally declared independence from Spain on October 27
  • Madrid exercised constitutional powers allowing it to take over the running of Catalonia
  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan cabinet and dissolved the regional parliament
  • Spanish prosecutors filed rebellion charges against Catalan leaders
  • Carles Puigdemont traveled to Brussels with several ex-cabinet ministers, saying he was seeking “freedom and safety”

Eight leaders jailed without bail

Eight Catalan leaders who did appear in court Thursday, including former Vice President Oriol Junqueras, were sent to prison without bail pending an investigation into the secessionist campaign and a potential trial. Former Business Minister Santi Vila, who stepped down from the cabinet before the independence declaration, was granted bail of 50,000 euros ($58,300).

The judge said the defendants must be remanded in custody because they were a flight risk and might try to destroy evidence.

Lawyers for the nine leaders said the ruling “lacked justification” and was “disproportionate,” adding that they planned to appeal.

Shortly after the decision, Puigdemont said on Twitter that the “legitimate government of Catalonia had been sent to jail for its ideas and for having been faithful to the mandate approved by the parliament of Catalonia.”

Read more:

– Spanish government ‘never been fair’

– ‘Rajoy will not make concessions’

– Opinion: Puigdemont and his disappearing act

Lawyer: Puigdemont could appeal

If an arrest warrant against Puigdemont is announced Friday, he could be detained by Belgian police and subsequently face extradition to Spain. It would also make his participation in a snap Catalonian regional election called by Madrid on December 21 unlikely.

“I can only say that the law will be applied if we receive (the European arrest warrant),” Belgium’s prosecutor told Spain’s EFE news agency.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer says his client will not be seeking asylum in Belgium and intends to cooperate with Belgian authorities, if necessary. The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, told The Associated Press Puigdemont would turn himself in to police if an arrest warrant was ultimately issued.

Later, however, he added that his client would appeal if a Belgian judge approved an extradition.

Catalan independence: Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, lawyer says

October 31, 2017

BBC News

portrait of Carles Puigdemont seen through a window of the Palau de la Generalitat, 30 October 2017
Mr Puigdemont has left Catalonia but his portrait was still hanging in government buildings on Monday. Credit Getty

Sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has gone to Belgium, a lawyer he has hired there says.

The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said he had not gone into hiding and did not confirm whether he would seek asylum.

Spain’s chief prosecutor has called for rebellion charges to be brought against him and other organisers of Catalonia’s banned independence referendum.

The Spanish central government took direct control of Catalonia on Monday, replacing sacked officials.

It suspended the region’s autonomy and called for fresh elections after Mr Puigdemont and his government declared independence last week.

On Tuesday, Spain’s Guardia Civil – a paramilitary force charged with police duties – raided the offices of the Catalan police force.

According to media reports, they searched eight offices for communications relating to the referendum on 1 October.

The Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has already been accused of failing to help Guardia Civil officers tackle thousands of pro-independence protesters during the run up to the banned vote.

What is Mr Puigdemont doing in Belgium?

Mr Bekaert said Mr Puigdemont was now in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

“He has full rights to be here, there is nothing against him at this moment,” he told Flemish public radio.

Asked whether the Catalan leader was planning to seek asylum in Belgium he added: “We’re keeping all options open – nothing has been decided.”

Catalonia’s human towers are said to represent the spirit of its people – when they stick together they can achieve big things

Theo Francken, Belgium’s immigration minister, said over the weekend that an asylum application was “not unrealistic” but Prime Minister Charles Michel later said it was “absolutely not on the agenda”.

Mr Francken, a member of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party, said last week that Catalan ministers could apply for political asylum in Belgium, adding that he had doubts over whether Mr Puigdemont and others would get a fair trial in Spain.

Political commentators in Belgium have suggested that Mr Francken’s earlier comments could be seen as an invitation to former Catalan members of parliament to seek asylum in the country.

On Monday Spanish media reported that Mr Puigdemont had met Flemish politicians in Brussels. The TV station La Sexta reported (in Spanish) that he was there with five of his sacked government’s ministers:

  • Meritxell Serret, agriculture minister
  • Antoni Comín, health minister
  • Dolors Bassa, labour minister
  • Meritxell Borrás, governance minister
  • Joaquim Forn, interior minister

Spain’s Attorney General José Manuel Maza called for rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds charges to be brought against Catalan leaders.

If found guilty of rebellion, Mr Puigdemont could face a jail term of up to 30 years.

Under the Spanish legal system, Mr Maza’s requests will be considered by a judge.

What is the situation in Catalonia?

The working day on Monday passed off peacefully, despite some Catalan officials defying instructions from Madrid not to turn up.

Any ministers who arrived at their offices were given hours to leave under threat of “action” by Catalonia’s regional police force, Mossos.

Madrid’s temporary move to impose direct control by invoking Article 155 of the constitution – a first for Spain – will see as many as 150 of the region’s top officials replaced.

Mr Puigdemont and his vice-president Oriol Junqueras reject the central government’s moves, arguing that they can only be removed from office by the citizens of Catalonia.

What’s next for Catalan autonomy?

Madrid has called for fresh regional elections on 21 December.

A spokeswoman for Mr Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party said it would field candidates “with conviction”. The ex-president could run in new elections if he has not been jailed by then, according to Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis.

On Monday, Mr Dastis said he hoped the forthcoming elections would help to “restore legal governance and rule of law in Catalonia”.

How did we get here?

Spain has been gripped by a constitutional crisis since a referendum, organised by Mr Puigdemont’s separatist government, was held on 1 October in defiance of a constitutional court ruling that had declared it illegal.

The Catalan government said that of the 43% of potential voters who took part, 90% were in favour of independence.

On Friday the regional parliament declared independence.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy then announced the dissolution of the regional parliament and the removal of Mr Puigdemont as Catalan leader.

Mr Puigdemont has urged “democratic opposition” to direct rule from Madrid.

Flags in Catalonia and what they mean

Before this, the region had one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain.

It has its own parliament, police force and public broadcaster, as well as a government and president.

Catalans had a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety.

Expect Israel To Feel Threatened By Austria’s New Far Right Leaders

October 17, 2017
 OCTOBER 17, 2017 05:20

Jerusalem will have to tread carefully as it calculates its reaction to the rise of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which holds views that are not supportive of the Jewish state.

Norbert Hofer (L) and Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) top candidate Heinz-Christian Strache attend the

Norbert Hofer (L) and Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) top candidate Heinz-Christian Strache attend their party’s final election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, October 13, 2017. . (photo credit:MICHAEL DALDER/REUTERS)

Israel has not yet reacted to Sunday’s elections in Austria that will likely catapult the far-right Freedom Party into the government, but this outcome poses a clear challenge to Jerusalem: Should it engage with European far-right parties if they become a part of a government? Jerusalem has avoided having to face the issue this year, thanks to the National Front’s loss in the French elections and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position of not including the AfD in her governing coalition.

Austria’s Freedom Party, however, will bring the issue to the fore.

Under Jorg Haider in 1999, Austria’s Freedom Party – a party formed in 1956 by former members of the Nazi party – became part of the Austrian ruling coalition. Israel responded by recalling its ambassador and downgrading its relations with Vienna for more than three years, until the coalition fell apart.

But that was then.

In 1999 Israel could boycott Austria’s government because there was little chance that by doing so it would lead to a need to boycott other governments joined by right-wing parties – because that prospect seemed remote. But that is no longer the case, as the European far-Right is on the rise.

In other words, it is one thing not to engage or to boycott parties in the opposition; it is quite another if those parties may soon be ruling various countries.

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Israel’s unstated but clear policy up until now has been to break up the European far-right parties into three distinct categories.

The first are the fascist and neo-Nazi parties, such as Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, and the NDP in Germany. These are parties with which Israel will not engage, even if they become members of the ruling governments.

The second category includes parties – like Austria’s Freedom Party – that have a Nazi or fascist past, and which currently have antisemitic and racist tendencies. Other parties in this category include the National Front in France, AfD in Germany – which did surprisingly well in that country’s elections last month – and the Swedish Democrats in Sweden.

Up until now, Israel’s formal policy has been to avoid contact with those parties and not to engage with them or their members at a diplomatic level. This means that neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister meet their leaders if they visit Israel, and that Israel’s ambassadors in those countries do not meet with the party heads.

At the same time, Jerusalem cannot do anything about errant ministers, MKs or politicians who do meet with members of these parties from time to time, as was the case when the Freedom Party’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache visited Israel last year.

In the third category are populist parties with some racist elements in them, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, UKIP in Britain and the Vlaams Belang Party in Belgium. These parties, which are different from one another, do not have Nazi or fascist pasts. Israel’s policy toward them is generally not to boycott but, rather, to deal with each party according to the particular situation and each party’s merits.

For instance, Israel does engage with Wilders’s party, and has normal relations with UKIP.

This set of policies has emerged over the years amid a sense in Jerusalem that Israel – as the state of the Jewish people – has a unique standing on these matters, and that its position on these parties is carefully watched by many inside Europe. For example, that Strache has made efforts to distance himself from his party’s past and put forward strong pro-Israel positions has been interpreted in Jerusalem as an effort to get Israel’s “stamp of approval,” something that would help him gain legitimacy elsewhere.

Another element that has guided Israel in its policies toward these parties has been the position of the local Jewish communities, and these Jewish communities have – in all cases of those parties in the second category – come out against Israel engaging with them.

Jerusalem is not expected to comment on the Austrian elections until after a coalition is formed, and even then, it is unlikely to be among the first to comment or formulate a policy.

Rather, it will likely wait to see how countries like Germany, France and Britain respond.

Ironically, the candidate who won Austria’s election, 31-year-old Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, is considered in Jerusalem as pro-Israel. Jerusalem has no problem with him, but, rather, only with his potential coalition partner.

Even so, there are three reasons that Jerusalem is unlikely to boycott the Austrian government, as it did when the Freedom Party was a member from 1999 to 2003.

Firstly, the success of parties like the Freedom Party is a phenomenon increasingly evident throughout the European political system. Secondly, because Strache, as opposed to Haider, has professed pro-Israel positions.

And thirdly, because the party has – at least to a certain degree – tried to moderate itself.


If Catalonia goes independent, these places could be next — “The Europe of regions is making a comeback.”

October 6, 2017

Image result for catalonia, photos

A demonstration for Catalonian independence in Spain. (Photo: Day Donaldson)

By Holly Ellyatt


Catalonia might be the separatist region making headlines at the moment but Europe has many other separatist movements that are closely watching developments in northeastern Spain.

Separatist movements in Europe can range from small townships to entire regions and the motivations for wanting to go it alone are equally as diverse encompassing linguistic and cultural differences as well as economic and historical justifications. While some separatist movements harbor dreams of gaining just a bit more autonomy from the national government, others like Catalonia are aimed at gaining full independence and nothing less.

Countries like Germany and Italy where states can have very distinct linguistic, cultural and historical differences tend to have numerous and significant separatist movements to contend with. Geographical characteristics can play a part too with islands — such as Sicily or the Faroe Islands (between Norway, Scotland and Iceland) — and peninsulas (such as Cornwall, in southwest England) often seeking more autonomy or independence, feeling “separated” and far from the centers of power.

Spain not the only country with secessionist problems, economist says

Spain not the only country with secessionist problems, economist says  

Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC on Wednesday that “the Europe of regions is making a comeback.”

“Too many countries in the European Union have secessionist problems, including the U.K., Belgium and Italy and this is not a unique problem,” he said.

Here. CNBC highlights some of the larger and long-standing separatist movements that are monitoring Catalonia’s referendum with interest.

A Venetian autonomist screams pro independence slogan on April 25, 2014 in Venice, Italy. The march, which takes place on St Mark's day, had been banned by the Police for reasons of public order.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images
A Venetian autonomist screams pro independence slogan on April 25, 2014 in Venice, Italy. The march, which takes place on St Mark’s day, had been banned by the Police for reasons of public order.

Venice and Lombardy

Italy’s wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto are both eyeing referendums on October 22 aimed at gaining more autonomy.

Both regions have strong separatist movements, mainly driven by resentment at the perception that taxpayers’ money is spent in the poorer south of the country. As with Catalonia and Spain, Italy’s Constitutional Court has blocked the regions’ plans to hold a referendum on independence and so the citizens in each region will be asked if they want more autonomy (and more money) from the national government.

“Too many countries in the European Union have secessionist problems”-Willem Buiter, Chief economist at Citi

Known for being the city of romance rather than rampant nationalism, it’s worth remembering that Venice only became a part of Italy in 1866. In 2014, Venice had its own non-binding referendum on independence in which 2.1 million citizens (89 percent of the vote) voted for independence. Many voters feel that their taxes go to the poorer south rather than contributing to investment in the region.

Picture taken 14 May 2007 of two billboards pasted on a shopwindow by a local resident of Ninovse Steenweg, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek / Chaussee de Ninove, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, expressing his opinion in favour of two republics ie Flanders and Wallonia, instead of the Belgium monarchy, that would cost less money for Belgian citizens (200 millions Euro for monarchy every year while only 1 million Euro for a President). The message warn the population saying ' Think at your pensions, Think at your salary'.

Picture taken 14 May 2007 of two billboards pasted on a shopwindow by a local resident of Ninovse Steenweg, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek / Chaussee de Ninove, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, expressing his opinion in favour of two republics ie Flanders and Wallonia, instead of the Belgium monarchy, that would cost less money for Belgian citizens (200 millions Euro for monarchy every year while only 1 million Euro for a President). The message warn the population saying ‘ Think at your pensions, Think at your salary’.

Flanders and Wallonia

Belgium is a country split between three communities, languages and regions. Flanders and the Flemish community is in the north of the country (where Dutch or Belgian Dutch – also known as Flemish) is spoken. Then there is the mainly French-speaking south, known as Wallonia and just to complicate matters further, there is a German-speaking region in the far east of the country. There are also considerable movements within each of these regions striving for independence.

Political groups such as the New Flemish Alliance, a nationalist, conservative group which is dominant in the Belgian parliament, advocate a gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium. Euronews reported that the party even hung a Catalan flag outside its headquarters recently in support of the Spanish separatist region. With elections in 2019, the issue of Flemish independence is not likely to disappear soon.

The Basque Country

One region of Spain that is certainly watching events in Catalonia with interest is the Basque Country, an “autonomous community” situated on the north coast of Spain.

Like Catalonia, the Basque Country has its own language and distinct culture. Unlike Catalonia, it also has a history of some violent separatism with various terrorist attacks carried out by the nationalist and separatist group Eta. The armed movement for independence called a ceasefire in 2010 which was made permanent in 2011, however.

Separatist movements remain a force to be reckoned with in the region, with a spokesman for the region’s largest separatist party – the Basque Nationalist Party – saying recently that he hopes the region could have its own vote on independence just like Catalonia.

South Tyrol

The South Tyrol region is found in the northern-most part of Italy and is also known as the Alto Adige, but is distinctly un-Italian with German being the predominant language with only around a quarter of the region’s 510,000 inhabitants speaking Italian.

Despite being an autonomous province since 1972, giving it a greater level of self-determination – the region has a secessionist movement that would like to secede from Italy and reunify with Austria. The region was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was annexed to Italy following the World War I.

Hundreds of Yes supporters gather in George Square to show their support for the independence referendum

Jeff J Mitchell I Getty Images
Hundreds of Yes supporters gather in George Square to show their support for the independence referendum


One country looking at the Catalan referendum with interest is Scotland. Despite holding its own legal and U.K.-government approved referendum on independence back in 2014, which separatists lost with 55 percent of voters choosing to stay a part of the U.K., the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has not given up hope that another vote could be held sooner rather than later.

Following the vote in Catalonia last Sunday, the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, said that the “strength of feeling” in Catalonia “cannot be ignored” but she added that talks needed to be held by both sides.

Sturgeon was close to calling a second referendum on independence in Scotland recently but the party lost a number seats during the 2017 general election this year. Political analysts saw these losses as signifying that Scottish voters have little appetite for another vote on the matter, especially so close to the last one in 2014.

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See also:

Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe’s geopolitical conundrum