Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

High tension in Catalonia two years after referendum

  • A total of 12 separatist leaders were placed on trial for rebellion and other crimes related to their role in the unilateral secession attempt in October 2017. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

Two years after the former government of Carles Puigdemont held a unilateral independence referendum (1 October 2017) in defiance of the Spanish courts and constitution, the political and social conflict in Catalonia is still a key issue for both Spain and Europe.

Last week, nine pro-independence members of the Catalan Committee to Defend the Republic (CDR) were arrested for allegedly planning attacks at the second anniversary of the 2017 independence referendum.

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  • Pro-independence supporters in 2017 (Photo: Paco Freire/SOPA via ZUMA Wire/dpa)

Seven are currently in preventive detention without bail and two of them confessed last Friday that they were "making and testing explosives," according to El País.

The detainees face charges of belonging to a new terrorist organisation, possession of explosives and conspiracy to cause harm.

'Separatist terrorism'?

Puigdemont's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye said last week in an article that "in a situation of continuous tension like the one in Catalonia, it is foreseeable and possible that radicalisation will occur".

Spanish law enforcement found acid, paraffin, aluminium powder, industrial paint, and gasoline, as well as documents that explain how to make industrial explosives in a riot that took place at the beginning of last week - in an operation dubbed "Operation Judas".

The right-wing People's Party (PP), centre-right party Ciudadanos and far-right party Vox all accused the president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, of the re-emergence of separatist terrorism in Catalonia.

The Basque Victims of Terrorism Collective (COVITE) also accused the president Torra of "promoting violent radicalisation [by] defending the CDR detainees for possible terrorist attacks".

"There is no radical discourse that does not trigger violence, we have lived in the Basque Country," COVITE warned in a statement.

Between 1968 and 2010, the armed leftist Basque nationalist and separatist organisation, ETA, killed 853 people and injured 6.389, according to the official data of the Spanish government.

Parliament backs civil disobedience

These recent arrests of radical separatists facing terrorism charges triggered last Thursday one of the most heated sessions inside the Catalan parliament in recent years.

The parliament of Catalonia passed a proposal last week from one of the pro-independence parties that affirms "the legitimacy of civil and institutional disobedience, as instruments in defence of those civil, political and social rights that may be damaged".

The text also defends that "the parliament of Catalonia recognises that Catalonia exercised the right to self-determination" allowing the referendum to take place on 1 October 2017, which is defined as "legitimate and legal".

The proposal also demands debates and decisions "on membership of the European Union, the monetary and economic union, Nato and other international organisations."

The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is planning to implement legal appeals against the proposal approved by the Catalan parliament.

Meanwhile, seven of the separatist politicians involved in Catalonia's bid for independence are still fugitives from justice, according to the Spanish authorities.

Puigdemont and some former members of his government are still living in Belgium.

In response to a question of the Spanish liberal MEPs Maite Pagazaurtundua Ruiz regarding the effectiveness of the European arrest warrant (EAW), the Belgian commissioner-candidate for justice, Didier Reynders, said last week that he will consider revising it.

"A successful European arrest warrant system depends entirely on effective cooperation between member states," he said.

Upcoming verdict

A total of 12 separatist leaders were placed on trial for rebellion and other crimes related to their role in the unilateral secession attempt in October 2017.

The Catalan separatist trial has lasted for four months, with over 52 sessions that included the testimony from more than 400 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits.

The verdict of the Spanish Supreme Court is expected in the following days, probably before 16 October, as that date will mark two years in preventative detention for two of the separatist leaders, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart - which is the limit under the Spanish law (but it could be extended.)

Additionally, three of the political separatist leaders — Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, and Antoni Comín — involved in secession attempt of October 2017 and elected in the EU elections, are also expecting the outcome of the EU Court of Justice's (CJEU) preliminary ruling on the interpretation of their parliamentarian immunity as an elected MEP.

However, it is unclear how the answer of the CJEU may affect the verdict of the Spanish Supreme court since the actions being judged took place before the European elections.

The date for the first hearing of Puigdemont and Comín is still unknown.

However, the CJEU rejected that Puigdemont and Comín could take their seats as MEPs "provisionally" in July, declaring their seats vacant.

Puigdemont and Comín did not pledge allegiance to the Spanish Constitution in person - a requirement to take office as an elected MEP in Spain.

Instead, they did it through a written statement, which the Spanish Central Electoral Commission refused to accept.

However, the lead candidate of the European Free Alliance (EFA) Oriol Junqueras will face his first hearing at the CJEU on 14 October with a slightly different situation.

Junqueras, who is currently imprisoned in Spain, was not allowed to leave jail to pledge allegiance to the Spanish Constitution.

Now the CJEU will have to decide if the Spanish Supreme court ruled adequately or not.

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

Catalonia celebrated on Wednesday its national day - while awaiting the trial verdict on 12 Catalan separatists, former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's government. That decision is expected for early October.

French MPs criticise Catalonia situation ahead of verdict

More than 50 French MPs have voiced their concerns about the situation in Catalonia. The acting Spanish minister for foreign affairs - and incoming EU foreign affairs chief - Josep Borrell has lamented "the ignorance about the reality of Spain".

Opinion

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms

Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia's 2017 bid for independence. The possible legal immunity of some MEPs remains unanswered.

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