MADRID – Former socialist French prime minister Manuel Valls said on Thursday he believed there would be a political solution to the uncertainty in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, but that the answer did not lie with the separatist campaign there.
Valls, who was born in Barcelona and later served as France’s prime minister under Françoise Hollande between 2014-2016, opened a leaders’ forum at Spain’s EFE news agency.
“It was a challenge to Europe and if Spain breaks, the European Union breaks,” said Valls, opining that both France and the EU were slow to grasp just how great a test October’s banned separatist referendum and subsequent independence declaration would be.
“Being patriotic is not the same as being nationalistic,” added the politician. “You can be a patriot and still love your country and the European Union but you cannot be a nationalist and love Europe.”
Valls became a prominent anti-Catalan independence campaigner at the time of the banned referendum and subsequent independence declaration in Catalonia in October.
He called for the German justice system to extradite the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who the Spanish judiciary accuses of masterminding the secessionist ballot, back to Spain so he can face trial for accusations of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Puigdemont fled Spain to Brussels after his post was punitively dissolved by the Spanish government and was later detained crossing into Germany when Spain lodged a European arrest warrant.
He was released on bail after almost two weeks in jail when the judge scrutinizing his case found no evidence for Spain’s accusation that his alleged role in the referendum amounted to violent.
The ousted Catalan leader, who remains in Berlin and is not allowed to leave Germany for the time being, could yet be extradited should the judiciary find grounds to execute the order for allegations of misuse of public funds.
Several ex-Catalan ministers, including the former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, remained in pre-trial detention in Madrid.
Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, from the ruling conservative Popular Party, and Albert Rivera, leader of the center-right Citizens Party, were also in attendance at the EFE leader’s forum.