In defence of democracy to save Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Protests against the so-called 'proces' trial continue [Alejandro Garcia/EPA/EFE]

Europe has an opportunity and must intervene in the political conflict between Spain and Catalonia, writes Oriol Junqueras.

Oriol Junqueras i Vies, is the leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left). Elected as an MEP in May 2019 he has been unable to take up his seat and is currently serving a 13 year jail sentence for his role in organising the 2017 Catalan referendum.

The political conflict between Catalonia and Spain is a European conflict. Today, Catalans’ fight for democracy and political and civil rights is a domestic issue, indeed, but a European domestic issue. Catalonia calls for democracy, claims justice. Europe has an opportunity.

This week the Spanish repression arrived at the heart of Europe through the judicial conflict on the status of the Catalan pro-independence MEPs. My status, for the moment, has been vetoed because of the irregular activity of both Spain’s electoral board and the Spanish courts, but president Puigdemont and minister Comín are now MEPs. It was an enormous joy to see how my colleagues took up their seats in the chamber and I am convinced that I will be an MEP again, as I already was back in 2009, and we will hug each other soon in the European Parliament.

We have always said that this was a European conflict, but today that is definitely not in dispute. Spanish justice faced shame when the European Court of Justice issued its ruling, which stated very clearly that I am an MEP, as well as Puigdemont and Comín, because of the citizens’ democratic choice and not by Spanish procedures denying me to do so. As I am an MEP, just like all members of the European Parliament, I enjoy immunity, which should have avoided my sentence without previously having passed the adequate request to waive it. The ruling proves two facts: that I am an MEP in spite of the Spanish state’s obstacles and, at the same time, that my rights were violated because I haven’t been able to serve as MEP because I have been condemned without the previous request to lift my immunity.

We live difficult times for democracy all around the world. The lawfare mechanisms spread and allow hidden powers to attack democracy and its founding values in order to appoint or remove presidents, public positions and alter majorities. This is what has been happening in the Spanish state for some years now, during which the Catalan pro-independence movement has become a majority in our country. However, this is a global problem and it affects the founding values of the European Union too.

Europe cannot look away when one of its member states decides to fail to comply with a European judicial ruling and to confront the sovereignty of the Union. Spain is challenging Europe while Madrid is conscious that the European Union does not have enough mechanisms in order to impose itself. They do not care if they lose reputation or international legitimacy as long as they can marginalise pro-independence leadership.

I do believe that we will legally win the battle against the Spanish state, as the list of rights violations is endless. Yet, this victory will not come in a long time. Meanwhile, the powers of the state will have already achieved its intention to remove us from political life and to take revenge against those who they consider their enemies. We are the strongest advocates of democracy, freedom and Europe, and thus we are sure that victory will come from the European institutions. For this reason, we make a call to all European democrats to help us make the most of the dialogue process between Catalonia and Spain that has started and to urge the end of the repression that transports us back to the darkest moments of European democracy. We also ask them to stop the request to waive our immunity that does not seek justice, but revenge. It is in your hands to avoid it.

Repression is no solution. Dialogue, politics and democracy are. It is because of this that we stand for the end of repression through an amnesty to the whole case against the pro-independence movement. We stand for the beginning of a negotiating table between Catalonia and Spain, and we stand for finally voting in a referendum on independence, as other democracies like Scotland have been able to hold.

The Catalan conflict is no longer only the legitimate aspiration of a very important part of the Catalan people: it has become a problem of human rights’ violations and a democratic conflict right at the heart of Europe.

We receive support from all over the continent, but we need Europe to intervene to defend democracy. The EU needs to take steps forward in finding a democratic mechanism that tackles the end of repression and the right of self-determination.

This process is an opportunity for Europe to side with democracy and to fight against those forces that want to destroy it. European democrats need to know that the enemies of the pro-independence movement, represented by the far-right party Vox, are also enemies of Europe. Salvini, Orbán, Le Pen or Abascal are the same. To stand for democracy in Catalonia is to stand for democracy in Europe and its survival. Do not waste this opportunity: let us defend democracy to save Europe.

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