The Catalan problem is Europe’s problem, too
The picture of Puigdemont and Comín in the European chamber is a victory for democracy
As expected, the arrival of Carles Puigdemont and Antoni Comín at the European Parliament as fully-fledged MEPs —as announced by the president of the chamber before the plenary— has managed to bring the Catalan issue back to the forefront of the European debate. The nervousness exhibited by Vox MEP Jorge Buxadé, who tried to interrupt the session as David Sassoli was addressing the chamber, and the tense remarks by PP’s Dolors Montserrat and Ciudadanos MEP Luis Garicano are evidence of the tremendous discomfort that this has caused in some Spanish political groups, which is —undoubtedly— a victory for democracy. Yet they will have to get used to it because, from now on, the whole process of the petition [to lift Puigdemont and Comín’s immunity] will provide a fresh opportunity for the exiled Catalan leaders to expose before the eyes of the European public the irregularities committed by Spain’s justice system in its persecution of Catalonia’s independence movement. Needless to say, it is obvious that the battle over the petition will be an uphill struggle, but it will provide a platform and it may win [the Catalan exiles] some new sympathies.
The other great battle, which is far from lost, is that of Oriol Junqueras’ seat in the European Parliament. On Monday Sassoli himself admitted that the ERC leader had been an MEP from July 2 to January 3, when he was disqualified on orders from Spain’s Central Electoral Board. Such an admission is, in itself, contradictory. If you argue that Junqueras became an MEP in a lawful manner, then you cannot justify removing him from office in violation of the European Parliament’s regulations, which state that a petition must be formally lodged and granted. Failing that, Junqueras should have been spared from the judgement of October 14. On this point the ruling handed down on December 19 by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) constitutes a judicial landmark which, no doubt, will open up new avenues.
At any rate, the most important aspect of what happened on Monday is the fact that the EU will find it increasingly difficult to ignore the Catalan issue. It is no longer an “internal affair” about sovereignty, but a question of democracy and political rights. In other words, a question that lies at the very heart of the European project. Indeed, thanks to the ruling by the CJEU on Junqueras European law and the rights of Europeans have been given preeminence over the rights of member states and, therefore, the breadth of European citizenship has been widened.
For this very reason, Catalonia’s independence movement should always operate from a militant pro-Europe standpoint and leave the Eurosceptic follies to the populist far right (Vox) and even to the PP and Ciudadanos. If there is a slim chance that justice will be served in this case, it is thanks to the legal protection afforded by the EU, whose courts of law are free from political bias when it comes to the Catalan issue. The European Parliament and the courts of law are the two international spheres where the game is being played. All the way.