March 10, 2019 / 2:43 PM / 4 months ago

Former Catalan leader Puigdemont to run in European election

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, will run in the May 26 European Parliament elections as the leading candidate of Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), his political party said on Sunday.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont addresses the media in Berlin, Germany, February 12, 2019, as twelve Catalan politicians go on trial for their role in Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Puigdemont, 56, fled Spain in October 2017 after Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia. The wealthy northeastern region had unilaterally declared independence on the basis of a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish courts.

“It is the moment to make another step to internationalize the self-determination right of Catalonia from Europe’s heart to all the world,” Puigdemont said on Twitter.

Puigdemont and five other former Catalan leaders in self-imposed exile in European countries would be arrested if they returned to Spain. Puigdemont, who was the Catalan president for about 22 months, faces charges of rebellion in Spain.

It is not clear if Puigdemont could be sworn in as member of the European Parliament if he is elected. The requirements for candidates are decided at the national level.

Spanish media have said that according to Spanish electoral law Puigdemont would have to return to Spain to formally swear to the central electoral board that he would comply with the Spanish Constitution as a European lawmaker.

If he does not do that within a set period of time he will not be allowed to assume his seat in the European Parliament, according to the electoral law.

Puigdemont’s party did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Last July, Spanish courts lifted the European arrest warrants for Puigdemont after a German court ruled that he could be extradited to Spain to face a separate charge of misuse of public funds, but not for the rebellion charge, something that Spain decided not to accept.

From Belgium, Puigdemont ran again for office in the December 2017 Catalan regional elections and was proposed for president by a parliamentary majority, but Spanish courts banned his attempt to assume office from outside the country.

Oriol Junqueras, leader of the pro-independence party ERC who is on trial in Madrid with 11 other Catalan politicians for their role in the 2017 secession drive, will also run in the European election.

If Junqueras would be elected, although he would already be in Spain it is also unclear if he could be sworn in as a member of the European Parliament.

Reporting by Joan Faus, additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jane Merriman

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