European Parliament refuses to issue pass to former Catalan premier

Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain in 2017 to avoid arrest over his role in the independence drive, was recently voted in as an MEP, but will be unable to take his seat unless he travels to Madrid

Toni Comín (l) and Carles Puigdemont (c) outside the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Toni Comín (l) and Carles Puigdemont (c) outside the European Parliament on Wednesday.ACN

Three days after Sunday’s European elections, ex-premier of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont and one of his former ministers in the regional government, Toni Comín, turned up at the European Parliament to request a provisional pass. But they were denied entry on Wednesday. The EU institution has been asked by three Spanish parties to not allow newly elected Spanish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to collect their provisional credentials until they have formally assumed their roles in Spain.

Both Puigdemont and Comín fled Spain in the wake of the 2017 independence drive in Catalonia. Their colleagues in that attempt at secession – which saw an illegal referendum and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence passed through the regional parliament – were arrested and are currently on trial in the Supreme Court. A number of those defendants recently ran for, and successfully took, seats in both Spain’s national Congress and Senate at the April 28 general election. Puigdemont and Comín, meanwhile, won seats as MEPs. Since those election victories, however, the four deputies and one senator – all of whom are being held in custody during their trial – have all been suspended from their roles as parliamentarians until the end of the judicial process. There are also doubts as to whether Puigdemont and Comín can take their seats in the European institution.

After being denied accreditation, Puigdemont announced that he would send a letter to the general secretary of the EU institution

The conservative Popular Party (PP), the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) sent a request to the European Parliament president Antonio Tajani asking that all Spanish MEPs-elect be denied a provisional pass until they have been officially sworn into their roles back in Spain. Given that both Puigdemont and Comín will be arrested if they return to their home country, they are highly unlikely to attempt such a move.

After being denied accreditation, Puigdemont – who has been living in Brussels to avoid facing charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds – announced that he would send a registered letter to the general secretary of the EU institution, as well as its president, on the basis that there was “discrimination” against the pair. He claimed that other Spanish politicians had been given passes, and showed an image of the Ciudadanos MEP-elect, José Ramón Bauzá, with his accreditation. Bauza himself had posted the photo in question on his Twitter account.

The European Parliament, however, has rejected that there is any kind of discrimination. A spokesperson said that accreditation is dependent on “the receipt of official notifications from the national authorities.” That’s to say, the list of MEPs from each country. The spokesperson added that the parliament can opt “not to concede any kind of facility until it can ensure that the person has genuinely obtained the role of parliamentarian.”

Nearly three months ago, the former Catalan premier entered the European Parliament for the first time since he fled to Belgium

The same sources added that this is not the first time that a provisional pass has been denied to someone “over possible doubts that the person is definitively included in the official list” from the member state, whether it’s because the results have been disputed or because the result is not yet definitive.

Puigdemont and Comín tried to get their pass accompanied by, among others, Spanish politician Diana Riba (Ahora Repúblicas), who had no problem getting her own.

The PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos wrote to Tajani pointing out that Spanish legislation does not allow “any euro-deputy” to be accredited “before they are sworn in in Madrid and swear to, or promise to abide by, the [Spanish] Constitution.” The letter called on Tajani to immediately suspend the provisional accreditation of all Spanish MEPs, and also cancel those that had been issued “by mistake” until the official list is drawn up.

Ciudadanos – now a national party, but which was formed as a response to the Catalan independence drive – sent another letter to Tajani requesting that Puigdemont “not be permitted” to register and access the European Parliament, on the basis that he has “fled from justice” and has not taken the “necessary steps” according to Spanish legislation to obtain his credentials. “We trust that you will understand the need to protect the image of the European institutions,” the party wrote, “as well as their integrity and independence,” especially at a time of “rising nationalism and populism.”

Nearly three months ago, the former Catalan premier entered the European Parliament for the first time since he fled to Belgium toward the end of October 2017. On that occasion, he attended the inauguration of an exhibition about the Catalan language, and was able to gain access thanks to an invitation from another MEP.

Spain’s central electoral authority, the JEC, will summon MEPs-elect on June 17 to be sworn in to their roles in Congress. Spanish legislation states that politicians who fail to attend will see their seats declared vacant, and they will lose the privileges that their role includes.

This means that unless an alternative legal route is found, Puigdemont will not be able to take his seat during the inaugural session of the European Parliament on July 2 in Strasbourg, given that, according to the JEC, he would need to travel to Madrid first, and could as such be arrested on entering Spanish territory.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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