Yesterday evening, Catalan president Quim Torra and former president Carles Puigdemont spoke in Brussels on the topic “Catalonia and the trial on the referendum: a challenge for the EU”. The event, organised by MEPs Ralph Packet and Ivo Vajgl, was originally to be held at the European Parliament, but an alternative venue had to be found after the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, vetoed the planned talk citing security concerns.
President Torra began his speech by criticising Tajani’s decision: “Mr Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, has carried out one the most undemocratic and un-European of actions: to violate the principle of freedom of speech of two elected representatives of the Catalan people.” The head of the Catalan executive said the decision was “political and ideological”, and that Tajani should be “the president of all Europeans, not only the most radical right-wing”.
Torra said that he and former president Puigdemont were in Brussels to defend Catalonia’s right to self-determination and draw attention to the fact that “some of our political and social leaders are right now facing a trial that could put them in jail for decades”. The Catalan president said the “EU should be a bastion of freedom” and called on democrats working inside EU institutions not to remain silent.
Speaking of the trial under way in Spain’s Supreme Court, Torra invited European politicians who say they expect a fair trial from Spain to follow the proceedings and see for themselves how the questions posed by the prosecutor and state lawyers show that “it is a political trial, and they are political prisoners”.
“They cannot have a fair trial, for the simple reason that under Spanish law the unity of Spain is seen as more important than democracy. The unity of Spain is seen as more important than human rights,” Torra said.
The Catalan president also made an appeal for the support of “all Europeans who favour dialogue, who believe in democracy, human rights, fair justice and the right of nations to be free”.
Concerning the personal risks he faces, Torra said: “If the price of defending our freedom, the price of defending the rights of our people, and the price of defending the right of self-determination is my personal liberty, I will pay the price.”
Torra argued that independence is now the only way for Catalonia to move forward. “How can Catalans trust a state that prefers to force us with violence to remain Spanish rather than convince us of the benefits of their project?” he asked.
He blamed the Spanish president for the breakdown of dialogue with Catalonia: “Sanchez has broken the dialogue with Catalonia because he refuses to listen to 80% of Catalans that would like to see a normal, bilaterally agreed referendum as in Scotland.” He also stressed the need for international mediation to get the Spanish government to engage in “real negotiation”.
“We are here to accuse [the Spanish state] of violating European values for the sake of a border,” he said.
Catalonia’s current president concluded by insisting that “the democratic credibility of Europe is at stake in Madrid”.
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont then took the podium.
“Our exile in Belgium, our time in Germany, our exile in Switzerland and Scotland have shown that this is a political trial. The unity of Spain is not worth such violations of human rights,” Puigdemont said.
The former president was sceptical of the reason given for not allowing the event to take place at the European Parliament: “I am a free European citizen who’s been invited to visit and speak at the parliaments of Flanders, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Faroe Islands and Bavaria. And this has never been a ‘threat to security and public order’.”
“The European Union cannot continue to support demophobic attitudes such as the president of the European Parliament standing by the Spanish political parties that have supported the repression against Catalonia,” he said.
Puigdemont stressed the need for outside pressure to break the deadlock: “Only the power of international pressure will force the Spanish state to sit down at the table and negotiate. International public opinion is going to be crucial in the next weeks.”