Ciudadanos (C’s) Party MEP Adrián Vázquez Elected to Chair the Legal Affairs Commission Which Will Assess Catalan Leaders Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí’s Immunity

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.

Jailed Catalan Leader Oriol Junqueras Prepares an Appeal to the General Court of the European Union (EGC)

The defense of jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras is preparing an appeal in the General Court of the European Union (EGC) against the decision of the European Parliament to exclude him as Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Precautionary measures will be required for the EGC to suspend the decision of David Sassoli, President of the Euro-Chamber, and the court will have to determine whether to accept it within a few hours after the appeal is presented.

The General Court of the European Union (EGC) is a constituent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It hears cases against institutions of the European Union by individuals and member states.

According to article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), any citizen can file an appeal against the acts of European institutions that directly affect him/her. The procedure for this appeal may take several months, but the precautionary measures will be pronounced immediately, a few hours after the petition has been registered. The EGC could accept or reject them. If they are accepted, the European Parliament will be obliged to recognize Junqueras as an MEP again.

The parallel route to the ECJ

In parallel with the appeal to the EGC, Junqueras’ defense will file an appeal against the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to keep him in prison. If this move fails, Junqueras’ defense will appeal to the Spanish Constitutional Court for violation of his political and constitutional rights. The next and final step would be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The EU ParliamentDecision to Recognize Jailed and Exiled Catalan Leaders, Junqueras, Puigdemont and Comín, Causes Political Turmoil

On Monday, the news that the exiled and jailed Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Oriol Junqueras will be allowed to take up their seats as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) caused immediate political turmoil in Spain. The European Parliament officially announced that it will recognize the Catalan leaders as MEPs through a communique during the morning. This decision came after the European Court of Justice ruled on December 19 that the Catalans leaders have immunity.

While Catalan authorities celebrated the EU Parliament decision, the Spanish far-right and the right-wing, which had been attempting to prevent them from becoming MEPs, accused the EU Parliament of violating Spanish sovereignty and suggested that there had been an under the table agreement between the EU authorities and pro-independence forces, though no evidence was presented.

Regarding Spain’s Electoral Authority’s decision on barring Catalan President Torra from office and to veto Junqueras from becoming MEP despite the European Court of Justice immunity ruling, Torra said he was “proud that both the Catalan Parliament and the EU Parliament had disregarded Spain’s electoral Authority.”

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, first tweeted a prompt “mission accomplished.” Later he demanded also the annulment of the trial over the 2017 independence referendum because “the trial shouldn’t have taken place due to Junqueras’ immunity.”

Junqueras’ lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, called for his client’s release: “Junqueras is an MEP. He has parliamentary immunity. He must be released to be able to go to the European Parliament.”

Spanish far-right and right-wing reaction

The three main unionist parties, Ciutadans (C’s), People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox asked the EU Parliament to revoke its decision recognizing the Catalan leaders as MEPs.

The spokesperson of the PP in the EU Parliament, Dolors Montserrat, accused the EU Parliament President, Sassoli, of an under the table agreement with those seeking Catalan independence. In a letter, Montserrat also recalled that the Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC) ruled that Junqueras cannot be an MEP because he has been convicted by the Supreme Court. She also defended that the JEC is a “legitimate and competent” body in Spain.

The head of Cs’ delegation to the European Parliament, Luís Garicano, called on the chamber’s president, David Sassoli, to “revoke” and “reconsider” as well as to take into account the Spanish electoral authority veto. Garicano also announced that his party had already appealed the decision.

The head of the People’s Party in Spain, Pablo Casado, criticized the Socialist government’s “inaction” on the matter and called on Sassoli to “revoke his decision on Junqueras, who has been sentenced and barred from office for sedition and misuse of funds.” He also added that his party would “always defend Spanish institutions and respect for the law.”

The leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, accused Brussels of “trampling over Spanish sovereignty” and said that “the enemies of Spain in Europe want to take advantage of us having a treacherous prime minister to weaken our nation further.”

Catalan Leaders: How Does the Mechanism to Withdraw MEPs’ Immunity Work?

The ruling of the EU Court of Justice on Junqueras’ immunity last week caused a political earthquake in Spain. The ruling, which is binding, stated that all candidates become members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and have immunity at the very same moment the results of the European elections are published by national authorities of each state member. This decision means Junqueras should be released immediately and his judgment on the 2017 independence referendum annulled and that exiled Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín can no longer be extradited nor detained in the euro-zone.

There is however a mechanism that the Spanish Supreme Court could activate if it still wants to prosecute the Catalan leaders, the supplicatory which is based in asking the European Parliament to withdraw the Catalan leaders’ immunity. This procedure, which lasts for several months, would internationalize the Catalan cause to levels never before seen. It would be like a trial on the Spanish Supreme Court, which would provide relevant evidence, clarification and information on the situation of Catalan exiles, as well as the Catalan conflict.

Supplicatory Mechanism

According to Article 9 of the EU Parliament regulations, the competent authority of a Member State, that is, the Supreme Court, can request the President of the European Parliament a petition to suspend a MEP’s immunity. If accepted it is transferred to the legal affairs committee of the Parliament.

There are no deadlines to resolve these sorts of cases, though EU regulation specifies it should be done “as soon as possible.” The legal affairs committee has to issue a recommendation after analyzing the specific case that will eventually be voted on by the plenary.

During this process, the EU Parliament could ask the Spanish Supreme Court “for all information and clarifications it deems necessary to form a criteria” as to whether or not immunity is needed. The MEPs affected, in this case, Junqueras, Comín and Puigdemont, could also take part in the commission to provide further information and defend themselves. The rest of the sessions would be behind closed doors.

Once the committee elevates a proposal to the plenary, it would be debated and voted on during the next EU Parliament plenary session. No amendments could be tabled, but the plenary would have to discuss publicly the reasons for and against the decision rendered on the petition. The Catalan cause and the judgment on the 2017 independence referendum would have extraordinary international visibility.

If the Plenary finally agrees on withdrawing the immunity of the Catalan leaders, the President of the Chamber would notify the Spanish Supreme Court. This, however, doesn’t mean that they would lose their credentials as MEPs, but that the EU chamber allows three of its members to be tried in a country that claims jurisdiction over them. The Spanish Supreme Court would then need to get their extradition; otherwise, the whole procedure to revoke the Catalan leaders’ immunity would have been useless. 

The Spanish National Police Followed and Spied on Catalan President Torra During Election Day on November 10

Catalan President Quim Torra was followed by Spanish police officers during the election day on November 10. In an exclusive interview at eldiario.es earlier this week, it is explained how presidential security members found that several vehicles followed the President during the election day.

The officers of the Mossos (Catalan police) detected that a Citroën C4 with three men followed the President when he was on his way to vote. When they approached the car, the three men claimed to be officers of the Spanish National Police, showed their identifying badges and said: “We are here for the same thing.” This was confirmed by sources of Mossos (Catalan police) at eldiario.es.

Upon returning from voting, the president’s escorts took an unusual itinerary because Torra had a personal visit to make; when suddenly, a Peugeot 308 which had ignored a traffic light was detected and stopped. The occupants identified themselves as Spanish police officers. When the presidential escorts asked them if they were following the president, they responded: “Oh, no. We, aren’t!” The escorts estimate that this Peugeot 308 followed them for 10 minutes over a stretch of 1.7 kilometers. The rest of the day no other suspect vehicles were detected.

The presidential security team reported these incidents through the channels of internal communication to the Barcelona-based Security Coordination Center (CECOR), the Coordination Center integrated by Mossos, the National Police and the Civil Guard.

The Interior Ministry Version

Sources from the Ministry of Interior deny any trailing of Torra. “No national police followed Torra, either that day or any other.”

The detection of police officers watching Torra has surprised his security team as it does not appear that the President has opened any other investigation against him, beyond the two already known for disobedience, which does not require surveillance or any other type of proceedings from the judicial police.

The Spanish Chamber’s Permanent Deputation Approves a Controversial Digital Decree

On Wednesday, the Spanish chamber’s Permanent Deputation approved the controversial digital decree, which grants the Spanish government the possibility of “shutting down” the Internet and intervening on servers and social media platforms without a court order in the case of exceptional circumstances: “public order, public safety and national security.” The decree was approved with the favorable votes of the Spanish “Socialist” party (PSOE), Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos (C’s) and the abstention of Unidas Podemos (UP).

Spanish acting PM Pedro Sánchez promoted the decree as a response to coordinated actions by the civil disobedience platform Tsunami Democràtic in the aftermath of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of the Catalan leaders jailed over the 2017 independence referendum. The decree; however, will also affect the rest of the Spanish state.

ERC and JxCat accused PSOE of promoting a “totalitarian” measure such as those implemented in countries like China, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

MP Montse Bassa (ERC) warned that her group will bring this measure to European Courts and criticized “the repressive strategy of the PSOE.” Bassa also accused the Spanish State of chasing “political dissidence” and freedom of expression with an “arbitrary system that allows censorship and coercion of rights and freedoms.”

MP Laura Borràs (JxCat) denounced that the decree is a “digital coup” and accused the State of being “technophobic […] the Spanish State will have nothing to envy authoritarian states in the matter of the Internet.” Borràs also warned that the Catalan government would take the decree-law to the Spanish Constitutional Court due to the fact that the initiative “is a serious misuse of power.”

The pro-independence party CUP also denounced the approval of the decree. The anticapitalists criticized Unidas Podemos and Catalunya en Comú Podem for negotiating the coalition government with PSOE without any democratic conditions, such as abolishing the Mordassa law or modifying the digital decree. “It is nothing more than a continuation of the repressive actions of the Spanish state against dissidence.”

The approval and enforcement of the digital decree comes at a moment when Pedro Sánchez is negotiating his investiture with the pro-independence parties ERC and JxCat.

49.3% of Catalans Are in Favor of Independence; 41.2% Against

The latest CEO poll, “Perception of the Territorial Debate in Spain 2019,” carried out throughout the Spanish State at the request of the Catalan Government and published on Thursday, shows that 49.3% of Catalans support independence, 41.2% are against it, and the rest either do not know or have not responded. Throughout the remainder of the Spanish State though, 75.8% reject independence and just 13.6% support it.

The poll also shows that 70% of Catalans support a self-determination referendum, while 21.6% oppose it. In the rest of the Spanish State, 57.3% are against it and 29.8% are in favor.

Despite the Spanish government’s opposition to a self-determination referendum taking place in Catalonia, 48.2% of (non-Catalan) Spaniards would accept Catalonia’s independence after such a vote, a figure that rises to 81.3% among Catalans.

Imprisonment of Jailed Catalan Leaders Regarding the 2017 Referendum

Some 75.2% of Catalans believe that the imprisonment of the Catalan leaders is unfair; in the rest of the Spanish State, 60.1% believe it is justified.

The poll also tackled the issue of how people think the current conflict between Spain and Catalonia should be resolved.

Solution to the Conflict

Some 75% of Catalans support a political solution; in the rest of the Spanish State, 45.2% do so.

Dialogue Without Limits

Some 42.4% of Catalans demand dialogue and negotiation “without limits,” and 38.1% want it within the limits of the existing Spanish Constitution. In contrast, 48.4% of respondents from the rest of the Spanish State want the dialogue to be limited to the framework of the Constitution, and only 17.2% want negotiation without limits, which is below the 26.9% that demands a hard response from the State.

Democracy

This is one of the issues that unites Catalan voters from all parties: both unionists and independents. Some 87.5% of those surveyed in Catalonia were either little or not-at-all satisfied with the Spanish democratic system.

Monarchy

The monarchy gets the support of 22% of Catalans, and 45% of the rest of Spaniards.

The CEO poll published on Thursday was based on a survey of 3,600 people across Spain, in the period between September 9 and October 7 2019.

The Spanish State Can Shut Down Websites Without a Court Order in Cases of “Threats to Public Order”

Since Wednesday, the Spanish government has the authority to shut down websites without a court order in cases of urgent threats to “public order, public security and national security.” This is reflected in the decree promoted by the executive led by Pedro Sánchez, which was published in the Official Spanish Gazette (BOE) on Tuesday and became effective on Wednesday.

The Spanish government is now authorized to intervene or stop servers that host social networks or websites in cases of “public disorder.” This could already be done earlier, but only with a court order. With this modification, no “prior hearing” will be necessary, and there is a risk that the government will apply it to curtail basic fundamental rights, especially in cases of political dissidents and peaceful demonstrations.

These are cases enshrined in the decree where the Spanish government is authorized to shut down websites:

a) When there is an immediate and serious threat to public order, public safety or national security.

b) When there is an immediate and serious threat to public health.

c) When the alleged infringing activity could result in serious damage to the operation of the services of emergencies, public security and civil protection.

d) When it seriously interferes with the electronic communication of other services or networks.

e) When it might be used to provoke a serious economic or operational problem for other providers or users of electronic communications networks or services or other users of the radio spectrum.

According to the text the government can also intervene in elements that necessarily accompany “the installation or deployment of a network” or “a communications service.”

In this way it opens the door to interrupt any “infrastructure for public networks of electronic communications, its associated resources or any element or level of the network or the service in order to preserve or restore public order, public security and national security.” 

Parties from across Spain call for release of Catalan leaders

Last week representatives from the pro-independence parties JxCat, ERC, PDeCAT, Demòcrates, CUP, Crida Nacional per la República, EH Bildu, BNG, Més per Mallorca, Més per Menorca and Esquerra Valenciana signed a declaration in Barcelona calling for “reaching a political agreement” with the Spanish State that recognizes the right to hold a referendum on independence, to free the Catalan political prisoners, and to allow the safe return of exiles. They also called on the international community to “promote solutions” to the conflict.

The signatories of the document regret that full democratization of the State has not been possible after Franco’s dictatorship “due to the resistance of the old structures of the regime.”

The declaration states that the sentences on the jailed Catalan leaders “have serious effects in the exercise of fundamental rights of all citizens, leaving them seriously worried.”

The notable absences from this declaration were PNB and Compromís parties. The leaders from these organizations have recently abandoned the clear defense of the right to self-determination of Catalonia and the Basque Country. In exchange, they will have more economical power and capacity of decision on some regional matters.

What to Expect after the Upcoming Independence Trial Verdict

The Independence Trial verdict on the 12 Catalan leaders is expected to be announced tomorrow Monday. Mass demonstrations and political responses are expected if they are found guilty. Here’s a guide on what to expect in the hours and days following the verdict:

Catalan Government Response

President Torra has been saying for months that he will “not accept” the decision if the Catalan leaders are found guilty. He affirms that the parliament will articulate a response based on “democracy, self-determination and human rights.” However, he has not disclosed yet what this might mean.

Protests

Pro-independence organizations such as Òmnium and ANC have already called for “mass peaceful demonstrations” once the verdict is out, such as halting vehicles, using their horns, making noise, and protesting in the streets.

The ANC is also expected to call for demonstrations in undisclosed places that they will announce a few hours before the protests take place.

Marches

ANC and Òmnium will organize “Marches for Freedom” in the next few days after the verdict is out. They will kick off from the cities of Girona, Vic, Berga, Tàrrega and Tarragona, and each route will consist of walking 100 kilometers over three days, from Wednesday to Friday. This action is inspired by the historical marches of Gandhi’s Salt March and Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

General strike

The Catalan trade union Intersindical-CSC has called a general strike for Friday, October 18. The student’s union Sindicat d’Estudiants has also announced a three-day strike from October 16 to October 18.

Spanish Government Response

The Spanish government may suspend Catalonia’s self-rule, depending on the response from the pro-independence camp.  Spanish acting PM Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) appears to embrace the same repressive strategy as his right-winger predecessor Mariano Rajoy (PP).