Catalan leaders flee to Brussels

Facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s deposed president, and a handful of his ministers slipped across the French border on Monday. They then drove to Marseilles and boarded a plane to Brussels.

In a “hot, last-minute and chaotic” press conference held on Tuesday, that was “a fitting tribute to the political crisis that has gripped Spain”, says Jon Stone in The Independent, Puigdemont denied that he was in the Belgian capital to seek political asylum.

Rather, he was there “to avoid a confrontation that may possibly have occurred if we stayed in Barcelona”. The charges he faced had little to do with justice, he said, rather they amounted to “persecution” and a “desire for vengeance”. He would stay in Belgium as long as his safety was not assured and would “continue our work despite the limits imposed on us”.

With Puigdemont having “decamped to Brussels to try to run the secession campaign in exile”, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, had the upper hand in the country’s “complex political chess match”, says Charles Penty on Bloomberg.

This is despite some “early missteps”, which included the “clumsy” deployment of riot police and subsequent violence against voters during Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum. Calling a snap election for 21 December was a “clever move”. Nevertheless,  Rajoy has only “managed at best to contain the Catalan issue”, and has failed to address “the root causes of separatist anger”.

Quite, says David Gardner in the Financial Times. There is still no sign that the saga is any closer to resolution. This is Spain’s worst crisis since the attempted military coup in 1981, and it is being “handled as a legal question rather than what it is and long has been: a political problem that threatens the future of Spain”.

While calling a snap election could “help channel the dispute back into the realm of politics”, the whole thing is looking like “an episode of Tom and Jerry with a scratched soundtrack”. What Spain really needs is “statesmen, not lawyers”.