Last week, Spain’s King Felipe VI met with ex-chief of the Defense General Staff (JEMAD), Fernando Alejandre, the general who designed a plan to deploy the army in Catalonia in the aftermath of the 2017 independence referendum. This meeting took place during an event to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the completion of studies at the various Spanish military academies.
In one of his books, Alejandre stated that he had designed a plan to deploy the army in Catalonia in the aftermath of the independence referendum. According to him, this plan had been accepted by the then minister of defense, María Dolores de Cospedal (PP). The intention was to respond to the independence movement in the event that the Catalans’ vote led to the implementation of independence.
Alejandre affirms that the orders to implement the plan were active for eight seconds, the period of time that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence lasted on October 10th, 2017 before being suspended by President Carles Puigdemont in order to facilitate negotiations. Since the independence of Catalonia never did go beyond those eight seconds, the military plan was not deployed.
The Spanish government says that they knew nothing about the military plan, though there could be documents proving the opposite.
The EU Parliament inquiry into espionage with the use of Pegasus, a surveillance spyware, suggests that the Spanish government is behind the mass spying on the Catalan independence movement. According to the report, the espionage “shows a clear pattern” and included, spying on court cases against independence leaders, mass demonstrations, and communications of exiles and several Catalan leaders.
In a conference in Brussels, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, the inquiry committee rapporteur, stated that Spain was “probably” NSO Group’s first client in the European Union. The NSO is the Israeli company behind the Pegasus spyware.
Sophie in ‘t Veld: “There is evidence that Catalan politicians and others have been monitored, spied upon, while presenting no imminent, immediate threat to national security. We invite Spanish authorities to give us more information, so we can assess the situation in this very delicate matter.”
In ‘t Veld: “It is deeply worrying when there is no accountability.” She also called for sending a delegation to Spain to further investigate the case.
Reactions in Catalonia
President Pere Aragonès: “In a democracy, you don’t spy on your political opponents. We must get to the bottom of the matter.”
Foreign minister Meritxell Serret: “We celebrate the warning that has been issued to Spain.”
Òmnium and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC): “Spain is prepared to be discredited internationally before backing down.”
CUP party called for Spanish Justice Minister Margarita Robles and Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska to step down while demanding the Catalan government to stop “dialogue” with the Spanish government, warning that it is not possible to negotiate with those who are spying on you.
Junts and ERC also called for an international investigation into the matter.
The Spanish government has so far ignored the EU parliament’s findings and has defended their “tackling” of the case.
The Spanish state via unionist parties has launched an offensive against Catalan exiles and MEPs. The Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament, led by Adrián Vázquez from Spain’s extremist party C’s, announced that it could not verify the MEP credentials of exiles Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí, Toni Comin, as well as Jordi Solé. He asked for Spain’s Electoral authority, which is under influence of the far-right, to make a decision on the matter. However, Vázquez himself admitted that, for the time being, practical problems would not be an issue for them to continue doing their jobs as MEPs.
“The European Parliament has yet to receive any notification and documentation from Spain to prove the four civilians meet the requirements to get the credentials,” he said
The most surprising part of Vázquez’s explanation is that the decision of what should happen to the four MEPs is in the hands of Spain’s electoral authority because they did not swear in the constitution. This is a statement completely contrary to the doctrine of the Court of Justice of the EU set out in the ruling on Oriol Junqueras in December 2019, according to which an MEP has the full status when proclaimed an elected member, without state electoral endorsement. The sentence was ratified by the General Tribunal of the EU, and it was added that the oath of the Spanish constitution was not necessary. This is why the then President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, opened the doors to all four.
The EU commissioner of Justice, Didier Reynders, met with the far-right organization Catalan Civil Society (SCC) in December 2021 without being registered in the Transparency Register of the EU, which is a violation of EU regulations.
The EU internal code of conduct prohibits commissioners from meeting with organizations that are not registered.
The code of conduct
“Commissioners and members of their cabinet may only meet with those organizations or autonomous individuals that are registered in the Transparency Register (…) to the extent that they fall within its scope,” says Article 7. of code of conduct of the community executive.
The Transparency Register is a database that includes; stakeholders, organizations, associations, groups, and self-employed people who carry out activities to influence EU policy and decision-making.
On Tuesday at the National Court of Spain, former Spanish police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, said that the Spanish National Intelligence Service (CNI) was behind the 2017 terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. He said the aim was to destabilize Catalonia before the independence referendum. However, the outcome of 16 deaths was a miscalculation.
“The CNI miscalculated the consequences of giving Catalonia a little scare,” said Villarejo during the trial of three of the branches of the Tandem case that is being heard in the Spanish National Court, the Court is reviewing several tasks that the former commissioner carried out.
Some analysts and media have been pointing out for years, that the attacks may have been intended to interfere with Catalonia’s independence referendum. Spain has always refused to investigate the matter.
On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved the removal of the immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí after a plenary session vote. The Spanish political parties PSOE, PP and Vox had requested this. The secret ballot was held on Monday, but the results were released on Tuesday morning.
The vote was not unanimous and some 80 MEPs from the Socialists, PP and Liberal groups broke the voting discipline imposed by PSOE and PP. That means that 42% of the MEPs didn’t vote in favour of the immunity waiver, which is an unprecedentedly high figure in such cases.
Spain seeks the extradition of the Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum – this is the third time the Supreme Court has attempted to have them handed over. Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected extradition requests before and Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant on another occasion before it was denied.
Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will keep their status as MEPs. They would lose their status only after extradition and conviction in a Spanish court. The extradition would have to be approved by a local court.
Belgian justice already denied the extradition request for exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig, who didn’t have immunity, on the grounds that the Spanish Supreme Court was not competent to request his extradition.
Removal of the Open Prison Privileges for the Seven Male Political Prisoners
On Tuesday, a few hours after the European Parliament decided to remove the immunity of the exiled Catalan leaders and MEPs, a penitentiary court decided to remove the day-leave permits of the seven male pro-independence political prisoners, who will now have to stay in prison full-time.
They had been enjoying the “low security” prison category status since late January, allowing them to leave jail during the day, sleep in their cells at night, and go home on weekends, after over three years behind bars.
The other two female political prisoners persecuted for their role in the 2017 referendum, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, are still pending a final decision of another Catalan penitentiary court.
The pro-independence movement has interpreted these moves as a punishment for getting historic results in the last Catalan elections, surpassing 50% of the popular vote for the first time, with 52%.
Tomorrow Monday, November 16th, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs will start discussing whether to lift the immunity of Catalan leaders Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín. This comes at the request of Spanish authorities, who have openly expressed their desire to have them extradited in order to jail them for their roles in the 2017 independence referendum, even though Belgian justice recently rejected the extradition of exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig arguing that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to issue a European arrest warrant against him.
The ultra-conservative Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki will be the head of the committee and will present the case, which will then be discussed by the rest of MEPs on the committee.
Monday’s session will be held virtually due to Covid-19 restrictions. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will be summoned for a hearing at a later date. The debate on their immunity is expected to last for several months.
In the event Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí lose their immunity, they would still remain MEPs until a potential extradition and conviction barring them from office takes place.
On Monday, Ciudadanos (C’s) party MEP Adrián Vázquez was elected to chair the Legal Affairs Commission (JURI) of the European Parliament which will discuss the response to requests for supplication sent by the Supreme Court to extradite President Puigdemont and exiled leaders Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.
The three Catalan leaders will soon appear before this commission to discuss whether their immunity as MEPs is lifted by the EU Parliament. This process is expected to take several months and will conclude with a recommendation that will be voted in the plenary.
The Legal Affairs Committee has a total of eight Spanish MEPs, five of them as holders and three more as alternates. The MEPs are the “socialists” Ibán García and Marcos Ros, and the “conservatives” Esteban González Pons, Javier Zarzalejos, and Adrián Vázquez. As substitutes are the unregistered liberal Javier Nart, the “socialist” Nacho Sánchez Amor, and the head of the far-right party Vox in the Eurochamber, Jorge Buxadé.
Vázquez joined the European Parliament in early February after the departure of British MEPs due to Brexit. According to the distribution of chairs between the political groups in the chamber, this presidency corresponded to the Renew Europe parliamentary group – the group that integrates C’s. In his presentation, Vázquez said that as chairman of the commission he wanted to work with “transparency and dialogue.”
The Greens asked for a postponement of the vote to have more time to examine and meet the candidate, but the interim president indicated that the rules did not allow it and the vote took place.
The same commission will decide in the next few days who will be assigned as the spokesperson at the request for the supplicatory issued by the Spanish Supreme Court against the Catalan leaders. Most sources point out that the Bulgarian Conservative and Reformist MEP Angel Dzhambazki will be the chosen one.