The Flemish government has recalled its regional representative in Spain, after the Madrid government withdrew the man’s diplomatic recognition. The dispute started in October, when Spain stripped representative André Hebbelinck of his status, following comments made in Brussels by Jan Peumans, speaker of the Flemish parliament.
Peumans (photo) had criticised the decision by Spain to prosecute members of the Catalan regional government, comparing the situation to Bosnia at the height of the conflict in former Yugoslavia. Peumans, a member of the Flemish nationalist N-VA, expressed support for the separatist aims of Catalonia, whose minister-president, Carles Puigdemont, had taken refuge in Belgium and was present when Peumans made his remarks, at the opening of a photo exhibition at the parliament. He also expressed his position on Catalan independence in a letter to Carme Forcadell, his former counterpart as speaker of the regional parliament.
Peumans denied making any comparison between Spain and Bosnia, which happened to be the subject of the exhibition. Madrid had conflated two unrelated remarks, he said.
Flanders will meanwhile keep its regional office in Madrid open while a diplomatic replacement for Hebbelinck is found. In the meantime, minister-president Geert Bourgeois said, relations with Spain, Catalonia and the Basque country will be coordinated from Brussels.