Theo Francken, head of immigration in the northern European country – the only one of the 28 allowed to grant asylum to other EU members – said it would ‘theoretically be possible’ for this protection to be extended to the now-ex leader of Spain’s north-eastern region ‘if he does not get a fair trial’ in the event of his possible arrest.
As yet, no move has been made in Spain to impose criminal charges against Puigdemont, although the State prosecution service has discussed it and his proceeding with the independence referendum and subsequently declaring a ‘Republic of Catalunya’ are offences against the national Constitution.
Also, if he continues to try to carry out his functions as regional president despite having been sacked by the State, Puigdemont could be charged with usurping a public role.
“They’re already talking about a prison sentence [for Puigdemont], and it remains to be seen how fair any trial against him would be,” said Francken.
If he wanted to ‘escape’, the Belgian nationalist added, offering him political asylum in Belgium is ‘not something unreal, when you look at it properly’.
“Clearly, this would put us in a difficult situation, diplomatically, with the Spanish government, but it is indeed possible, by law, to request asylum in Belgium – and a request of this nature, like any applications for asylum, would be reviewed objectively, properly and independently, just as the people of Spain would expect.”
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel governs in coalition with Francken’s Neo-Flemish Alliance, whose main aim is the peaceful secession of Flanders from the mother country.
Michel has already implied he is ‘not entirely in agreement’ with Spain’s actions in the face of Catalunya’s disputed referendum – that of involving the police to stop it taking place, seizing paperwork, posters, voting slips and ballot boxes, then applying Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, stripping Catalunya of its autonomous governing powers.
Generally, the rest of the EU and its leaders, including UK prime minister Theresa May, have openly backed Spain’s response – particularly those presidents and prime ministers with simmering independence movements in their own countries.
Il Veneto – the province of which Venice is the capital – the French island of Corsica and the north-western French region of Brittany, plus Flanders and Scotland, are some of the European territories which want to break away from the countries they belong to.
The photograph, by Johan Bakker on Wikipedia, shows part of La Grande Place in Brussels, where the Belgian government is based.