BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Granting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont political asylum in Belgium would be “not unrealistic” if he asks for it, the Belgian migration minister said, underlining his country’s position as a contrarian voice in the Spanish standoff.
The Madrid government sacked the Catalan leader and dismissed the region’s parliament on Friday, hours after it declared itself an independent nation.
Spain’s constitutional court has also started a review of Catalonia’s independence vote for prosecutors to decide if it constituted rebellion.
While there was no indication Puigdemont was hoping to come to Belgium, the country is one of few members of the European Union where EU citizens can ask for political asylum.
“It is not unrealistic if you look at the situation,” Belgium’s migration minister, Theo Francken, told Belgian broadcaster VTM.
“They are already talking about a prison sentence,” Francken, a member of Flemish nationalist party N-VA, said. “The question is to what extent he would get a fair trial.”
It would be difficult for Spain to extradite Puigdemont in such a case, he said.
While most European leaders have refrained from commenting on the Spanish crisis, saying it was an internal matter and the country’s constitution should prevail, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.
Michel, a centrist from French-speaking Wallonia, has governed in coalition with the N-VA since 2014, a period during which the party toned down its calls for more independence for Belgium’s Dutch-speaking North.
The relationship between Belgium and Spain soured over a similar issue in the 1990s and 2000s, when the country refused to extradite a Spanish couple wanted over alleged involvement with the Basque militant group ETA.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, editing by Larry King