MEP Renata Weber from Romania with Carles Puigdemont in January 2017

A group of 76 outgoing and incoming MEPs have called on the European Parliament’s bureau to “recognise and protect the political rights” of three jailed or exiled Catalan independence leaders, who have been prevented from taking up their seats in Brussels by the Spanish authorities.

Exiled president Carles Puigdemont and former minister Toni Comín, who are in exile in Belgium, and former vice president Oriol Junqueras, in custody facing a prison sentence over the 2017 independence bid, have a right “to immunity and to hold office” say the MEPs. In a letter to the EU Parliament’s bureau, the signatories say that preventing the three politicians from taking up their seats is “a clear violation of their political rights and a disregard of more than two million European citizens that voted for them.”

The letter also calls Spain’s actions “an unacceptable breach of the Rules of Procedures of the European Parliament” and an effort “to avoid any debate in the European Parliament that might put into question the judicial trial against the Catalan political and social leaders.”

Five parliamentary groups

Among the signatories to the letter are MEPs from five different parliamentary groups from across the political spectrum, with representatives from a number of different countries, such as Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Italy and France. A number of MEPs from Catalonia and Spain also signed the letter: Ramon Tremosa of the PDeCAT party, Josep-Maria Terricabras and Jordi Solé of the ERC party, María Dolores Sánchez Caldentey of Podemos, and Basque representatives Izaskun Bilbao and Pernando Barrena.

With Junqueras refused permission to leave prison and Puigdemont and Comín unable to enter Spain over fears they will be arrested, none of the three were able to attend the Spanish congress on Monday morning to register as MEPs.

Meanwhile, the EU bureau was due to meet on Monday afternoon in Brussels, with four of the chamber’s vice presidents expecting the institution’s president, Antonio Tajani, to explain why he barred Puigdemont and Comín from entering the parliament earlier in the month.

Spain’s problem

Shortly after the move by the MEPs, the chamber head, Antonio Tajani, seemed unmoved at Spain’s obstacles to the jailed and exiled leaders. Indeed he said that “it’s Spain’s problem” if some of their MEP seats remain vacant. Tajani made these remarks after a meeting of senior EU Parliament officials, where four of its vice-presidents requested clarification on the issue: Dimitrios Papadimoulis from Greece (GUE-NGL); Fabio Massimo Castaldo from Italy (EFDD); Pável Telicka from the Czech Republic (ALDE); and Heidi Hautala from Finland (Greens/EFA).

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