Last week, the Head of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency, Raül Romeva, travelled to Belgium as part of the President’s first institutional visit to a foreign country since the legislature began.
Antwerp and Ghent
On Saturday, President Puigdemont and the Catalan representation travelled to Antwerp where they were personally received by the city’s mayor, Bart De Wever. Episodically, upon arrival to Antwerp’s Grote Markt square, Carles Puigdemont, Minister Romeva and the Government’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Amadeu Altafaj, were greeted with the Catalan national anthem as it played from the City Hall’s carillon.
In the afternoon, the President met with the Minister-President of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois, for bilateral talks. The meeting was held at the Gouverneurswoning in Ghent and both representatives agreed to conduct joint business missions “in areas where [Catalonia and Flanders] can cooperate and improve their economies”, explained Puigdemont. According to the Catalan president, both territories have high economic potential and “maintain good relations” with one another.
The President made these declarations after the meeting took place in a joint press conference with Minster-President Bourgeois in which the Catalan political process was also discussed with member of the press.
According to the President, the day’s agreement to conduct joint business activities with Flanders is related to the Government’s “obsession” to mitigate the effects of economic crisis and making the Catalan economy “stronger, more dynamic, innovative and open to the world”.
Flanders covers 44.8% of Belgium's territory and represents the majority of the country's industry and workforce. The region provides 37% of the national gross domestic product and according to both heads of the government, “the dynamism, similarity and geostrategic position of the [Catalan and Flemish] regions offer good business opportunities for companies in both countries”. In this regard, both already maintain a strong economic and commercial relationship, with Catalonia accounting for 22.2% of Spanish state investment in Belgium. Catalonia and Flanders also cooperate in fields such as mobility, foreign policy, research and development.
During the meeting, Puigdemont and Bourgeois also discussed the Catalan political process, affirming that it is “a democratic process led by the Government and Parliament of Catalonia and involves a vast majority of the community”. “We want our own state and to be part of the EU to improve our lifestyle and face the future with better guarantees for our people”, asserted Puigdemont. In this respect, “Catalonia needs the tools to serve the needs and fulfil the aspirations of the Catalan community”. The president also noted that the Catalan political process “is not against anybody” and insisted his wish to “to maintain a good relationship with Spain”.
The Head of the Catalan Government expressed his gratitude for “the cordial welcome and deep understanding” of the Catalan political process shown by the President Geert Bourgeois, who stated that it would be “difficult to understand” if the EU were to deny Catalonia’s right to self-determination and he encouraged EU institutions to act “pragmatically” and find a solution.
On Sunday, the President, accompanied by the Permanent Representative to the EU, Amadeu Altafaj, visited the Government’s Delegation in Brussels and held an informal gathering with the bureau’s personnel. After the meeting, Puigdemont held a brief press conference and highlighted the delegation’s “exceptional work” and expressed his gratitude for “their support” on behalf of the Catalan people. The president also described the institutional visit as “very satisfactory and very positive for Catalonia’s interest”. The Head of the Executive Council asserted that the visit reaffirmed the Government’s “interest in collaborating with Flanders”. “A collaboration that is already well established with the government of Flanders and that can go even further in terms of the political processes that both countries are undergoing”, he added.