Borrell continues witch-hunt against foreign diplomats over Catalan independence bid

Diplomatic sources decry the foreign minister’s intention to maintain the "state of emergency" declared by the PP

Following the controversy which erupted over the withdrawal of the diplomatic status from the Flanders delegate in Spain, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell made it clear that recent changes in the Spanish government will not result in policy changes with regard to the diplomatic corps in Barcelona. Borrell’s decision on Monday to dismiss the honorary consul of Greece to the Catalan capital, the architect Fernando Turró, shows the PP’s witch-hunt against diplomats suspected of supporting Catalan independence is set to continue. So far these have led to four dismissals. Diplomatic sources have expressed the "disappointment" felt by the diplomatic corps regarding Borrell’s insistence on maintaining the "state of emergency" and "repression" begun by the preceding Partido Popular government.

Taking part in a demonstration on the occasion of Catalonia’s National Day and wearing pro-independence symbols —such as a flag associated with independence— or having participated in a public event at the end of 2017 with the former president of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, were the reasons given by the Moncloa in the latest case of dismissing a consul who was proving troublesome. According to Borrell, Turró "has insulted the Spanish flag". He added that "a consul isn't allowed to do that sort of thing [...] and if I find out about it, naturally I’ll call the ambassador of the country concerned and ask for them to be removed”, thus making it clear that Borrell himself had applied pressure so that the Greek consul would be dismissed.

Turró is the fifth honorary consul to Barcelona to be dismissed in the last two years as a result of their pro-independence sympathies. According to our sources, the current situation has increased the "unease" felt by many consuls when it comes to making any kind of political comment or participating in institutional events. The first to be punished for his views was the Latvian honorary consul, Xavier Vinyals, from whom Spain withdrew its exequatur —or consent to official representation— for having flown an independence flag from the consul’s balcony during Catalonia’s National Day in 2016. The Spanish government always resorts to the same argument: the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which states that honorary consuls —those who are not career diplomats— must refrain from interfering in the host country’s internal affairs.

In Vinyals’ case, Spain made recourse to the Convention to directly revoke his credentials, since Latvia refused to yield to Madrid’s pressure. This was subsequently followed by the case of Jordi Puig, who was dismissed by the Philippines as their representative in Barcelona following renewed pressure from Spain. For what reason? On 3 October last year, during the general strike which brought the whole of Catalonia to a standstill, the honorary consul posted a photo on his Facebook page with him participating in a demonstration, with a poster that read "Keep calm".

The most recent case was that of Finland's honorary consul, Albert Ginjaume, who was dismissed in early 2018 for having organized, as secretary general of Barcelona’s diplomatic corps, a dinner with Mercè Conesa, the former president of the Diputació de Barcelona and mayor of Sant Cugat del Vallès. According to the Finnish embassy in Madrid, the meeting was inappropriate due to the mayor’s "pro-independence" stance. Finally, although not directly related to the Catalan independence bid, the dismissal of the former footballer and Bulgaria’s honorary consul in Barcelona Hristo Stoichkov should also be added to the list, following his "public appearances" after the 1 October referendum in which he referred to the former vice president of the Spanish government Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría as “Francoist".

Nevertheless, the offensive against those honorary consuls shown to be sympathetic to the Catalan cause or of having expressed opposition to the Spanish government’s policies has not been reciprocated in response to those consuls who have shown themselves to be clearly opposed to independence or the Catalan government’s anti-repressive stance. As an example, in July, the Honorary Consul of the Netherlands in Barcelona, Dirk Kremer, left halfway through a speech President Quim Torra was giving to the diplomatic corps in Catalonia, defending his position on independence and the freedom of prisoners and those in exile. The German consul, Peter Rondorf, also voiced his opposition to the event, subsequently communicating the fact in an "unpleasant" manner to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernest Maragall, as ARA reported at the time.

Both of these diplomats continue to carry out their duties despite having made their political position clear —in the case of Rondorf, more clearly than some of the consuls who were dismissed—. A situation that, if it should continue, would indicate that Borrell intends to continue to apply the PP’s double standard with regard to the diplomatic corps. Those in support of independence have criticized Borrell’s latest decisions as being both "inflammatory" and "way out of line".

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