Diplomatic spat erupts between Spain and Flanders

By On October 17, 2018

Diplomatic spat erupts between Spain and Flanders

A pro-independence flag at the human towers competition in Tarragona | David Ramos/Getty Images

A diplomatic spat broke out between the Spanish and Flemish governments after the president of the Flemish parliament made statements in support of Catalan separatists.

The Spanish government stripped the Flemish representative in Madrid of his diplomatic status in retaliation for the remarks by Jan Peumans, in which he criticized Spain’s response to last year’s Catalan independence referendum.

Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois called Spain’s decision a “very unfriendly act” and said Wednesday he would summon the Spanish ambassador as soon as possible, according to Belgian media.

During the opening of a photo exhibition on the push for Catalonian independence last week, Flemish Parliament President Peumans said of efforts to stop the referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish judiciary: “Anyone who uses violence at the ballot box burns democracy … True democrats honor the ballot box as a symbol of the will of the people.”

He add ed that violence during a vote is “out of the question,” and “so is violence against politicians, because of their opinion. And imprisoning politicians is an act of violence.”

The Spanish ministry said it would not recognize anyone else who tried to succeed Hebbelinck.

Peumans previously sent a public letter of support to former Catalan parliament President Carme Forcadell, who is detained along with other former regional leaders pending trial over their role in last year’s independence push. In the letter, Peumans called her detention “an insidious act” and “proof that the central government in Spain is not able to … be part of a modern democratic European Union.”

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell summoned Belgian Ambassador Marc Calcoen on Tuesday and later confirmed that the Flemish representative in Madrid, André Hebbelinck, was being stripped of his diplomatic status and immunity.

In a statement, the Spanish foreign ministry directly referred to Peumans’ comments at the exhibition as being “unacceptable and inappropriate from a country which is a friend and ally, as Belgium is.”

The statement added that Hebbelinck will now be considered just an employee of the Belgian Embassy, and the Spanish ministry would not recognize anyone else who tries to succeed him.

Protesters hold portraits of separatist leaders in pre-trial jail and exile in front of the Lledoners prison in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada | David Ramos/Getty Ima ges

Hebbelinck said Borrell is wrong to have taken this step.

“You cannot revoke consular or diplomatic licenses for a diplomat. You can only do that if the government that he represents has made a mistake,” Hebbelinck said, adding that this is not the case. “Technically speaking, the Spanish foreign minister is barking up the wrong tree.”

The Catalan regional government said in a statement that it “regrets the decision of the Spanish foreign affairs ministry,” calling it “contrary to the principle of respect for the right of citizens and their elected representatives to express their opinion freely.”

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Source: Google News Spain | Netizen 24 Spain

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