Catalonia crisis: Belgium's PM says he won't interfere

Belgium’s prime minister has been grilled in parliament, as he battles to contain the fallout of the arrival of Catalan leaders.

Facing pressure, Charles Michel urged Madrid to talk to the separatists, but said he would not interfere in any extradition to Spain.

“The judicial rebound in Belgium will be treated as a judicial rebound and nothing else,” he told lawmakers. “This judicial rebound is and will not be a matter for the government. It is a question of democracy, rule of law, separation of powers.”

Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former regional ministers turned up in Belgium last week.

They said they had fled arrest to campaign in Brussels against Spanish sanctions for running an independence referendum.

“I think that the European idea is in danger today,” said Peter de Roover, leader of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party in the Belgian parliament.

“So, as part of Europe I think we should try to influence other European countries to be more active here because I think something very important is happening at this moment.”

The Belgian prime minister, a French speaking Liberal, criticised police violence during last month’s referendum. But he has sought to curb statements supporting the Catalan case from Flemish nationalists, a major partner in his coalition.

“There are Flemish separatist and nationalist ministers in Belgium who are playing the game of the European Union, and that’s weakened Belgium’s position in Europe,” commented Olivier Maingain, a Francophone member of the Belgian parliament.

Belgium, with its own regional division between Dutch and French speakers, has become a reluctant host to the Catalans.

Reporting from Brussels, Euronews’ Elena Cavallone said: “Catalan independence claims have raised political tensions in Belgium, triggering perhaps the first of a series of domino effects in Europe.”
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