Catalans protest outside the European Parliament and their voice is heard inside

Catalans outside and some of the supporting MEPs inside

The following is an article that appeared in the Irish Times and abridged from the original article published in Spanish newspaper El Nacional. This is a response to events that occurred there last Wednesday (3 July). Amid the jockeying for position, Brexit and other sideshows, something of greater importance took place.

Three members elected by the Catalans, were refused the right to take their seats. A group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), are supporting the Catalans. This has added to the tens of thousands of Catalans who turned up outside the parliament building in Strasbourg, providing a new show of strength for the independence movement.

Eighteen months after the large-scale demonstration in Brussels, some 10,000 protesters, according to French police, had travelled to Strasbourg by some eighty coaches, three special flights and other indeterminate means. They gathered this Tuesday in front of the European Parliament to express their opposition to Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and Toni Comín being prevented from taking the seats they won in May’s election.

Video from Euronews

The rally, which lasted almost five hours, ended with speeches organised by the Catalan Council for the Republic. Those who spoke included members of pro-independence organisations and from MEPs from around the continent.

As their lawyers feared they could be arrested, Puigdemont and Comín didn’t attend in person, but could speak via video from the German border. Similarly, a letter by Junqueras from prison was read out.

The three decried what they said was the violation of their political rights, asked Europe to not look aside, and warned them that the independence movement isn’t giving up despite the repression: “We’ll do it again”.

Speaking from a bridge on the Franco-German border, Puigdemont argued the importance of him being able to continue the fight from exile, for which he apologised for his absence. He also thanked the thousands who had travelled to Strasbourg for their commitment, saying they are “the proof of their failure and our success”.

Comín, with the president in Kehl, made similar remarks. He said that democracy is under threat in Spain and, as such, in the whole of Europe and that they will continue to be a “free voice” from exile.

Finally, Oriol Junqueras, writing by letter from prison, said that if the price he has to pay is the loss of his freedom, he’ll pay it. He argued that Catalonia can be the “spearhead” for the future of Europe and called on the continent to not look the other way.

Among the pro-independence leaders there, [Assemblea Nacional Catalana] ANC’s Elisenda Paluzie said that it won’t be easy to achieve their goal, and that the “battle” must be won in Catalonia: “We will win independence ourselves, no one will give it to us”. Marina Llansana, of Òmnium, meanwhile, said that “no sentence, however severe it may be” will make them give up: “We’ll do it again, each and every one of the crimes they tell us we’ve committed”.

More than 20 MEPs attended from various countries, members of the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform. They all denounced the situation where Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras couldn’t take their seats alongside them in the Parliament today.

But it was an Irish voice, that of Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, who spoke up in the brief opening plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to decry the absence of the three Catalan voices. During a short session to constitute the newly elected European chamber, the European United Left representative demanded the floor to send a powerful message of criticism to acting parliamentary president Antonio Tajani.

Video from Mauro Vaiani

Visibly indignant, Mr Carthy said that the pro-independence Catalan leaders had not been allowed to enter the EU Parliament and take their seats because of the decision of one member state and demanded that “the voices of the people of Catalonia must be heard”, while at his side, a colleague [Martina Anderson] held up a photo of Carles Puigdemont. Matt Carthy denounced to president Tajani, who presided over Tuesday’s session, that the decision to close the door to Puigdemont, Junqueras and Comín “undermines the credibility of this house “, which is entrusted with the mission of “standing up for democracy and human rights “.

As the Irish MEP explained to the press later: “Tajani opened his remarks by describing the European Parliament as the house of democracy, the only EU institution that is directly elected by the people. If that is the case, the votes of all the people must be equal and there cannot be administrative or judicial barriers put in place to prevent the will of the people from being recognised,” he said. “Two million Catalan people voted for their MEPs and they are as entitled to have representation in this house as those who voted for me or anyone else here.”

Mr Carthy, who also forms part of the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform, said that any MEP who fails to stand up for the rights of those Catalan voters “undermines our own ability to talk about democracy, human rights and rule of law anywhere else in the world.”. For the Irish MEP, the “silence” of all EU leaders on the matter is “deafening.

“If it were in South America or the Middle East, we would be hearing the lectures from European leaders,” he lamented. If such “administrative loopholes” were used to block elected MPs in other parts of the world, EU leaders “would be shouting from the rooftops.”

According to him, the EU is doing a “huge disservice to the people of Europe” because it is making it “impossible” for us to try and build peace and democracy in other parts of the world. “People see us clearly as hypocrites,” he warned.

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