Spain rescinds diplomatic status of Flemish ambassador

Summary

The Spanish government has started the process of removing Flanders’ official representative to the country, based on statements defending Catalonian politicians

‘In a democratic state, politicians are not put in prison’

André Hebbelinck, the government of Flanders’ official representative to Spain, has been told to expect paperwork that will remove his status as a diplomatic official in the country. The Spanish government made the decision, according to press in the country, because of statements made by Flemish parliament chair Jan Peumans (pictured).

Peumans’ recent written and spoken statements repeat what he and his N-VA party colleague, minister-president Geert Bourgeois, have said before: that it is unconscionable to jail politicians. The statement were made in reference to the Catalan leaders imprisoned in the wake of last autumn’s independence referendum.

A year later, nine politicians and civil society leaders remain in jail, including former president of the parliament of Catalonia, Carme Forcadell. Six more are living in exile outside the country, including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is currently residing in Belgium

Peumans recently wrote a letter to Forcadell in which he said: “The violence during the referendum and months-long imprisonment of politicians prove that Spain’s central government is not capable of fulfilling the conditions required by a modern, democratic European Union.”

No danger to Belgian ambassador

Peumans made similar comments last week at the opening of an exhibition in the Flemish parliament building dedicated to the Catalan fight for independence from Spain. Puigdemont was present at the opening of the exhibition.

According to Spain’s foreign affairs minister, Peumans compared the Catalan situation to the Bosnian War, which led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, at the opening. Peumans strongly denied that allegation this morning on Radio 1.

“At the opening of the exhibition, I repeated what I had written in my letter to Ms Forcadell,” Peumans said. “That’s nothing new. But now they are saying that I compared the situation to Bosnia, and that is simply a lie. I was speaking of a previous exhibition that we had organised involving two Flemish teachers in Bosnia. It has nothing to do with Catalonia.”

Now they are saying that I compared the situation to Bosnia, and that is simply a lie

- Jan Peumans

He called the Spanish foreign minister’s claim “rabble-rousing” and said that “he would do better to inform himself before he makes that kind of a statement”. He also repeated his sentiment that “In a democratic state, politicians are not put in prison.”

Peumans also responded that his stance is in keeping with the resolution on Catalonia adopted last year by the Flemish parliament. The resolution, passed three days after the 1 October 2017 referendum, strongly condemns police violence carried out during protests and at polling places.

Spain’s decision on Hebbelinck essentially breaks its official diplomatic ties with Flanders as a territorial entity. The Belgian ambassador to Spain, Marc Calcoen, who is also Flemish, has been called in more than once to discuss the government of Flanders’ continued statements on the matter. His diplomatic post, however, is not being threatened.

Photo: Jan Peumans during a visit to Vienna earlier this month
©Dirk Waem/BELGA