THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT has stripped three Catalan MEPs of their immunity. All three face sedition charges for their part in organising the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence. One of these MEPs is Carlos Puigdemont, Catalonia’s former president, who like the others is effectively exiled from Spanish jurisdiction.
The vote wasn’t close. 400 MEPs against 248 voted to throw Puigdemont to the wolves, with similar numbers voting to remove immunity from Clara Ponsati, the former education minister who first sought refuge in Scotland and now lives in Belgium, and Toni Comín.
The move is a clear act of aggression against the democratic rights of the MEPs and their constituents, and effectively brings the notoriously authoritarian Spanish security forces into the parliamentary arena – indeed, it brings them, with handcuffs swinging, into the polling booth itself. The always threadbare pretence of democratic independence or neutrality of the European institutions has been abandoned, and even the supposedly most democratic of those institutions – the parliament – has been exposed as essentially a front for the powerful national and state interests of the EU’s leading powers.
It says everything you need to know that while the three democrats, eager to have their right to criticise Spanish state repression in their homeland (where there are active movements for basic rights of free speech) have lost their legal protections, the same parliament has not removed immunity from Neo-Nazi Greek MEP Iannis Lagos, accused of running the now-banned violent, criminal organisation Golden Dawn, among other crimes. The fascist party/murderous street militia was indicted after pressure from a popular anti-fascist mass-movement in Greece; yet the parliamentarians respond to the Spanish state, not the streets.
The parliament has never been a sovereign or democratic decision making body. Quite aside from the clear failure of MEPs to maintain meaningful contact with an electoral base (tiny numbers of people can identify their MEP – in 2019 a study found that only five per cent of Brits could name any single UK MEP) the parliament cannot initiate legislation, and just three per cent of EU laws are ever discussed on the floor of the chamber.
In other words, it isn’t a parliament, but rather a PR operation, dominated by right-wing and pro-EU career politicians, seeking to provide an air of democratic legitimacy to a project run behind closed doors by unaccountable nation-state leaders and their concentric circles of state and EU bureaucracies. The peoples of Europe have no voice at any level. In fact, taking swipes at democratic social movements, like the one in Catalonia, or Syriza’s drive to resist EU-backed austerity measures, are some of the only forms of decisive action ever taken by the parliament.
You can bet your bottom Sterling-denominated pound that it can and will be used against the interests and democratic rights of Scots in precisely the same way, should the need arise (and the austere economic environment necessitated by accession criteria means there is a very strong likelihood that it will).
This is the second breach of the rights and dignities of a small European nation in just a few weeks, with EU Commissioners breaching Irish sovereignty to try to tackle their own foul-up on implementing the vaccine rollout. It is simply impossible to maintain the attitude that the EU is not institutionally and permanently hostile to the democratic rights of smaller nations (in particular, because it has reduced the scope of democratic sovereignty of every population in its association).
It therefore falls to pro-EU nationalists to explain how they intend to protect Scottish independence from this clear and looming threat. The Scottish Greens issued a tweet arguing the parliament’s decision represents: “A shameful vote. Catalonia’s future must be decided democratically by its people, not through Spanish prosecution of its elected leaders.”
While this doesn’t tell us how Scotland would escape similar “shameful” treatment, it does at least acknowledge the problem. So far, the Scottish National Party has kept its council. Leaders are aware how emotive the issue is for many supporters of Scottish independence. When the SNP youth international officer told the party’s 2019 conference that the EU’s “hands are covered in blood” of Catalan people, to acclaim, the audience was gently coaxed back from the confrontation by then MEP, now Stirling MP Alyn Smith, who told the conference floor: “To blame the EU for the actions of a member state is to miss the target.”
What say he, now that the parliament – the body we’ve been told to place our faith in as a possible instrument of EU reform – has backed the Spanish state in its most regressive measures? Even as he spoke his words in November of 2019, the crackdown was well underway.
If we are really in an election campaign, which prefigures a second independence referendum campaign, when are we going to hear advocates of EU membership make their case? The accession process takes years – even an imagined ‘fast-track’ process would. Meanwhile, the case for independence is being moulded around an institution with this track-record – a rapidly growing record – of such anti-democratic behaviour. If there is a plan to change the EU – how, and with what instrument?
How will Scots express themselves in a parliament that doesn’t get a say on EU laws, and acts meaningfully only to slap-down popular expressions of democracy? The persecutions of Catalonia, Ireland, Greece and many other small nations demand an answer.
Picture courtesy of Sasha Popovic