Rough patch for Belgo-Spanish relations

The Belgian ambassador in Madrid has received a number of angry emails from circles close to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. In Spanish government circles there is scant understanding for the Belgian premier's attitude to the stand-off between Madrid and Barcelona and the Catalans efforts to secure independence.

Belgian Premier Charles Michel was one of the first to condemn the violence that accompanied the Catalan vote on independence. At the weekend Mr Michel spoke out in the daily Le Soir urging Spain and Catalonia to halt what he described as a "War of Nerves". The pronouncements did not receive a warm welcome in Madrid triggering the unpleasant emails that express stupefaction at Mr Michel's words.

Belgian Premier Charles Michel has been keen to play down speculation about a rift with Madrid suggesting that an erroneous interpretation may have been given to his words in Spain: “PM Rajoy has my phone number. He can always reach me!”

Mr Michel and Sr Rajoy are both attending the EU summit in Brussels today. It remains to be seen whether any differences will surface publicly. No official meeting is planned but Mr Michel would not rule out the two leaders speaking informally. Speaking in the margin of the EU summit Mr Michel made it clear that he still felt that dialogue was the best way for Madrid and Barcelona to proceed, though he pooh-poohed any talk of a full-blown diplomatic row with Spain.

Madrid has reportedly also withdrawn its support for a top Belgian police woman aiming to become the new head of Europol. PM Michel has been keen to talk up Catherine De Bolle’s chances suggesting that he couldn’t imagine that a prestigious country like Spain would stoop to such tactics.

Mr Michel can count on support for his stand in cabinet. Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon, a Flemish nationalist says: "He's doing what others should: condemning the Spaniards on account of the police violence on the day. It's a good thing that our PM is saying how things are."

Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo, a Flemish liberal shares this view: "The way that the Spaniards dealt with the referendum is unacceptable. This is the result of an unrestrained nationalism on both sides. Our reaction was the right one."