MEPs condemn "repressive" response to breakaway Catalan bid

Spain’s “repressive” response to continued moves for Catalan independence has been condemned by a cross party group of MEPs.

They have also defended the “legitimate and democratic” claims of a “significant” majority of Catalan citizens and institutions.

At a news conference in parliament, the politicians called  on the EU institutions and Spanish government and judiciary to “ urgently pursue measures to ensure full respect of human and fundamental rights within their borders.”

MPs that are members of Catalonia friendship groups in the parliaments of Denmark, Estonia, Flanders and the UK have teamed up MEPs to create a parliamentary network of friendship groups of Catalonia at the European level.

Slovenian Alde MEP Ivo Vajgl, who chairs the EU- Catalonia Dialogue Platform, said he and his colleagues were “deeply concerned” at the current situation in Catalonia.

He said they were also “worried about the growing aggressiveness and nationalist rhetoric of certain political and media sectors in Spain.”

His comments were echoed by MP Jan Van Esbroeck, a member of the Flemish parliament, who said the group was also concerned about the “lack of clear and constructive proposals to overcome the situation of deadlock in Catalonia.”

He said the MEPs and MPs had agreed that “joining our voices and conducting actions together is the strongest way to demand that both the EU institutions and the Spanish Government make a gesture of responsibility towards pushing for dialogue and amending the wrongdoings committed along the way.”

The group issued a statement that reads: “The imprisonment of Catalan political and social leaders on the grounds of crimes they did not commit and the existence of political exiles in several European countries constitute injustices that we as representatives of our own citizens cannot tolerate happening anywhere.”

The politicians also condemned the “violation of basic rights such as freedom of expression and the politicization of the judicial system.”

The statement said that Catalans “have been left on their own by Spanish authorities and the European institutions.”

It goes on, “Healthy democracies and proper functioning of the rule of law need dialogue to evolve and should always engage in the promotion of peace, political discussion and the respect of human rights.

“Listening to the voice of citizens is of the utmost importance for the European project and for Spanish democracy in order to develop and make citizens feel closer to their representatives. This also includes the recognition of people’s right to choose in a democratic and peaceful way their own collective future.”

The new network, according to the group, has several objectives, including:

· Calling for the release of elected members and social leaders who are in pre-trial detention, some of them for more than a year, and for the safe return of the exiled;

· Insisting on the “urgent” need to find a political solution to the Catalan situation;

· Urging the European institutions to mediate in the conflict and

· Calling for the respect of the right to self-determination of the Catalan people which “should be realized through an agreed and binding referendum”.

The statement issued at the news conference adds, “As members of national parliaments representing our own citizens we will be closely following developments in Catalonia with a view to defending and ensuring that the fundamental rights and principles, in which our democracies are based, are fully respected.

“If we want to build a better future and a stronger Europe, we must come together and stand for inclusive and consolidated democracies through dialogue and compromise.”

Apart from Vajgl and Esbroeck other signatories include: Belgian Ward Kennes; Hywel Williams, from the UK; Estonian Artur Talvik and Magni Arge, from Denmark.

Their demand comes after a Spanish court recently ordered former Catalan leader Artur Mas to repay the costs of organising an illegal vote on independence four years ago.

Mas and nine other former officials have to repay €4.9m of public funds.The independence consultation of 9 November 2014 was a forerunner of last year's disputed referendum.

Carles Puigdemont, who succeeded Mas and now lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, has condemned the court ruling describing it as "an abuse and an unworthy arbitrary act", and likened Spain's new Socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, to his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.

Spain's Supreme Court also recently ordered that 18 former Catalan leaders will stand trial over their role in last year's declaration of independence.

The court said nine jailed former leaders including Catalonia's ex-vice president Oriol Junqueras, should be tried for rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

But Puigedemont, the region's former president who played a key role in the separatist drive, is not part of those sent to trial because Spain does not allow trials in absentia. Puigdemont is also accused of rebellion.

Catalonia's parliament declared independence on 27 October last year following a banned secession referendum that was marred by violence as national police sent in from Madrid beat voters with batons and fired rubber bullets.

The move triggered Spain's worst political crisis since the country returned to democracy following the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Apart from Junqueras, the court ordered five other members of the Catalan government to stand trial for rebellion, along with the ex-president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell.

The leaders of two powerful grassroots separatist groups, Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural, were also ordered to stand trial for rebellion.

They have been in jail since October 2017.

Some of those accused also face charges of embezzlement or disobedience.The trial is expected to start in early 2019.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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