Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont returned to Belgium Saturday to reactivate support for Catalonia’s separatist movement after Spain’s bid to extradite him on rebellion charges from Germany failed.
Puigdemont will live in the French-speaking town of Waterloo, but he said he will continue to travel around Europe in an attempt to explain the separatist position in wealthy Catalonia, which has so far failed to garner any support from European governments or major political parties.
He fled to Belgium in October after Madrid imposed direct rule on the region after his administration declared independence.
“This will not be my last stop, this is not the end of my journey,” he told a press conference in Brussels held alongside current Catalan leader Quim Torra, who had traveled to Spain to greet him.
He had been in Germany since March when he was arrested on a Spanish warrant while traveling by car from Finland back to Belgium.
A German court ruled earlier this month that Puigdemont, 55, could be extradited to Spain to face a separate charge for misuse of public funds, but not for a more serious charge of rebellion.
Under European law, that means Spain would have been barred from trying him on the more serious charge if the extradition were to proceed. The Spanish court rejected that proposal, lifting the arrest warrant altogether.
The charges against Puigdemont and the five others remain in place however, meaning they would be arrested if they return to Spain.
Relations between Spain’s central government in Madrid and the Catalan capital Barcelona have thawed in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Sanchez hosting cordial talks with Torra in Madrid earlier in July.
But Sanchez, who took office in June after his more hardline conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy lost a confidence vote, has ruled out allowing any referendum on independence, saying it goes against Spain’s constitution.
Puigdemont said on Saturday Sanchez’s period of grace regarding the Catalan issue was over and it was a time for action, not words.