Saturday

24th Oct 2020

EU says Spanish website seizures were legal

  • Catalans are gearing up for a referendum vote. (Photo: assemblea.cat)

The European Commission has refused to defend free expression following a clamp down on pro-Catalan websites by the Spanish government.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (26 September), the EU commission's chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, said he had nothing to say on the matter other than "our respect for the legal and constitutional order" of member states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Spanish authorities have been shutting down and seizing pro-referendum websites, in a move that appears to encroach upon internet freedoms and expression, in the lead up to a Catalan vote to secede from Spain.

Authorities have been ordering the administrative censorship and online blockade by forcing top-level domains to remove content that supports Catalan's secession from Spain. Such websites are being targeted after Spain's constitutional court suspended the Catalan referendum law.

On Monday, the Spanish police blocked a pro-independence civil society website, Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which was then relaunched under the .eu domain name hours later.

"In Spain, the Guardia Civil can already shut down the website of a legal private organisation without previous notification," tweeted Adria Alsina, ANC's communications director.

The EU commission's refusal to take a stand on such a matter in Spain appears to stand in sharp contrast to its outspoken defence of freedoms in countries elsewhere.

Pressed by reporters to explain the double standard, Schinas said that judges had ordered the website blockades.

"We stick by the legal order," he said.

French authorities last week had also carried out similar seizures, after forcing two websites from Indymedia, a leftist open publishing network, to remove anonymous claims of responsibility behind an arson attack on a police hangar.

Authorities say the claims constituted a "provocation to terrorism" although the same was published in more traditional news outlets without penalty.

French authorities had used 2014 anti-terrorism laws to enforce the extra-judicial censorship of the network.

Indymedia in Germany was also raided last month on the orders of the German interior ministry. Following the violence at the G20 summit in Hamburg, the raids were conducted on the basis that it was "sowing hate against different opinions and representatives of the country."

But Schinas' response on Spain also calls into question the EU commission's stated aims of defending internet freedoms, while posing further questions on its future plans to police online content throughout the member states.

On Wednesday, the EU commission is set to unveil a communication on what it believes to be the best approach to balance online free expression and hate speech.

Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for justice, earlier this week said that free expression in the EU is not unlimited like in the United States.

"We esteem and highly value the freedom of expression, this is guaranteed as a fundamental right, at the same time, we have some speech, which is prohibited by the European and national laws and we have to make sure that this prohibition applies also online," she said.

Quiet showdown in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets, in protest against the Spanish government's efforts to prevent the independence referendum. Both sides know that violence would go against their cause.

Spain and Catalonia in referendum showdown

Barcelona vowed to hold a vote and Madrid vowed to prevent one on the eve of Sunday's planned independence referendum. The deadlock has prompted criticism of Rajoy.

Spain's Sanchez in storm over judicial appointments bill

Spain's socialist-led coalition has proposed changing how members of the country's top judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary, are appointed - triggering a political and judicial storm about the independence, and drawing 'double standards' complaints from Poland.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Corruption failures also highlighted in rule of law report

The European Commission's first report on the rule of law has raised concerns over the lack of effective anti-corruption efforts in some members sates - while it considers Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have good governance measures.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us