Catalan separatists and left-wing lawmakers on Tuesday (4 June) called on the European Parliament president Antonio Tajani to “defend the political rights” of newly-elected MEPs from Catalonia.
In a letter addressed to Tajani and his 14 vice-presidents, the 76 deputies of the 135-seat regional Catalan parliament, said that a recent decision by the parliament to prevent the two MEPs accrediting themselves in the EP sets “a flagrant and dangerous violation of MEPs political rights and the political rights of their voters”.
On Wednesday last week, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his ex-minister Toni Comín – both in self-imposed exile in Belgium – were denied accreditation to the EP building as MEPs. Both were elected in Spain under the ‘Together, Free for Europe’ list.
It is common for newly-elected MEPs to get a provisional access pass, in order to prepare for the first assembly of the new team of lawmakers in the European Parliament.
Other Spanish MEPs, such as Jose Ramon Bauza from Ciudadanos, as well as Diana Riva and Pernando Barrena from the Ara Republiques party, had already been given the accreditation pass.
Earlier in the week, six Spanish MEPs from the Ciudadanos party had written a letter to Tajani asking him to deny access to the Catalan separatists, saying “Mr Puigdemont is still a runaway from Spanish justice, with a criminal case opened against him,” adding that “he perpetrated a coup against democracy.”
Soon after denying accreditation to Puigdemont and Comin, the European Parliament decided to stop all accreditations to Spanish MEP-elects, and to withdraw those already given.
All 54 Spanish MEPs have to attend a ceremony in Madrid on June 17th to make an oath to the Spanish constitution, before taking up their seat in the European Assembly.
If MEP-elects do not show up in Madrid, they will lose their EP seat.
Both Puigdemont and Comin are expected to be arrested on charges of rebellion if they return to Spain, for their involvement in the 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia and the following independence declaration – which was immediately suspended until further notice.
“Everything that happens before July 2nd, is not played in Brussels, it is played in Madrid,” said EP spokesperson Jaume Duch on Tuesday, replying to questions on why MEPs had been denied accreditation. “This is not a decision that is taken at the European parliament.”
“On July 2nd and onwards, there is a new parliament, a new composition, and it is this parliament that has to decide how to react, if it wants to react,” he said, speaking at an event in Barcelona.
“Maybe it would be different if the European Parliament had its own electoral law, but this is not the case,” Duch added.
It is still unknown if Oriol Junqueras, the former Catalan vice-president, who is also an MEP-elect, will be given permission to leave his prison to pledge before the Spanish constitution and then join the MEPs assembly in Brussels on July 2nd.
Junqueras has been in preventative prison on charges of rebellion for over a year.
The EP developments have been met with criticism from several MEPs, who wrote a letter to Tajani late last week, signed by signed by 11 MEPs from different parliamentary groups such as the Greens, Alde and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
“It is a decision of the president of the European parliament to block the entry of the Catalan MEPs, this is not a normal procedure at all,” Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker, from the ECR group.
“It is a very bad message so shortly after the European elections. The European institutions have invested and the parliament has invested a lot of money in the campaign, asking people to cast their vote, but then they will exclude two MEPs – or maybe three – who got more than two million votes,” he told EUobserver.
“If Spain has an objection, then Spain should bring this to the committee on legal affairs here in the European parliament,” says Demesmaeker.
“It is a dangerous precedent, because it shows that the presidency of the European Parliament is not primarily concerned about the rights of the members of the European Parliament, and the people they represent,” he says.
“The way Spain avoids constructive dialogue with Catalonia,” says MEP Ivo Vajgl, from the liberal Alde group. “This raises doubts about democratic rules in EU electoral process.”
“This is not the first time that Spanish authorities are using their national legislation and practices, to counter the principles of European rule of law and democracy,” he added.
On Tuesday afternoon, there were reports that Puigdemont and Comin had somehow entered the EP building in Brussels.