My very real enthusiasm for the European Union had survived decades of sometimes bruising encounters with reality before being fatally holed by the strong political support given by European Council, Commission and Parliament to the brutal and violent suppression of Catalonia’s independence referendum. Subsequently, while I still view membership of the single market as beyond argument beneficial, I have been an enthusiast for membership of the customs union and EEA/EFTA, but agnostic on full EU membership and the political union.
This was reinforced on Monday with the shameful vote of the European Parliament to strip the legal immunity of those Catalan Members of the European Parliament in exile, to assist Spain in its efforts to extradite them to add to its list of Catalan political prisoners. There are today nine Catalan political leaders already enduring lengthy sentences in Spanish prisons for the “crime” of wishing their nation to be independent and attempting to hold a democratic vote on the idea. These are the EU’s highest profile political prisoners. Not even the much reviled Viktor Orban or Andrzej Duda treat democratic opponents in this way.
None of this has cowed the Catalans. The recent elections to the regional parliament resulted in the largest ever vote for pro-Independence parties, who had a clear majority of votes as well as seats. Part of the democratic expression of Catalan will has of course been the elections to the European Parliament, and nothing could send a clearer message than the decision of Catalan voters to elect three MEPs in exile whom the Spanish state wishes to jail for wanting a free Catalonie, which it calls “sedition”. Those are former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont MEP, former health minister Antoni Comin MEP and former education minister Clara Ponsati MEP, who now lives in Scotland.
The vote of the European Parliament to remove the legal immunity of these MEPs is the more shocking because this is precisely the kind of political circumstance in which the immunity is intended to protect MEPs.
I was interested to see which MEP’s had voted to lift the immunity, but on the European Parliament website I could find only a the result of the votes, with no indication how individual members voted. There were separate votes for each Catalan MEP and the results were all broadly similar to the vote on Carles Puigdemont MEP- 400 for, 248 against and 45 abstentions. I was genuinely shocked to discover that the reason that I could not see who voted which way, was that the vote was in fact secret.
When you are going to do something shameful, then it is best to do it in private. Parliaments do not generally take secret votes, for fundamental reasons of democracy – how can you know whether to vote for an MEP if you do not know how he votes in parliament? Nor is secret voting mandated in the official guide to this procedure for lifting an MEP’s immunity.
We do know that the move to lift immunity was initiated by the Spanish government and actively promoted by the Eastern European far right parties. I do not expect it to have practical effect, as judicial authorities in Belgium and Scotland have to date not accepted Spanish extradition requests on quite other grounds. But this shabby, grubby behaviour of EU parliamentarians in seeking, secretly and furtively, to enable further persecution of the Catalans, is another chapter in a truly shameful history for the EU.
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