Benoît Biteau: ‘Not to acknowledge Oriol Junqueras as an MEP is an abuse of power’

VilaWeb interviews Green MEP Benoît Biteau, who is due to visit Junqueras and Romeva in prison today

VilaWeb
Source: Wikipedia
Andreu Barnils
23.01.2020 - 09:31
Actualització: 23.01.2020 - 10:31

Benoît Biteau (1967) is a French MEP with the group of the Greens-European Free Alliance. Born to a family of farmers —and a farmer himself—, Biteau is an agricultural engineer who wrote Paysan résistant! (2018), a book that outlines his organic farming project. Biteau is an activist and a member of the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform , which brings together MEPs who support Catalonia’s political prisoners and exiles. As the Greens-European Free Alliance are engaged in a debate about whether Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín should be allowed to join the group, this week Biteau is due to visit Junqueras, Romeva and the other political prisoners who are serving a prison sentence in the Lledorners facility, near Barcelona city.

In this interview Benoît Biteau explains that his visit will allow the Greens to hear Romeva and Junqueras’ views on the matter. Junqueras and Romeva’s party, ERC, have already expressed their desire that both MEPs be allowed to join the Greens-EFA. Biteau was one of severals hosts who met Puigdemont and Comín last week and offered a public press conference. In this interview with VilaWeb the French MEP appears sympathetic, as well as cautious.

—Last week you attended the press conference held to welcome Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín [to the European Parliament].
—As soon as I became elected to the European Parliament, I joined the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform. This group of MEPs was first set up in November 2017 and we believe that the Catalan issue is a political rather than judicial matter. That is exactly how I feel about it. The EU must allow both sides to dialogue and find a negotiated solution. As far as Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín are concerned, both are fully-fledged MEPs and they can represent their voters. That is a good thing.

—This week you will travel to Catalonia to visit the political prisoners. What do you expect from the meeting?
—I will be in Barcelona on Thursday and Friday to meet the Catalan prisoners and, specifically, Oriol Junqueras. The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has ruled that he is a full member of the European Parliament and, as such, he is my colleague. I’ll also make the most of my visit to meet the other prisoners and Raül Romeva, who was an MEP for ten years. It’s a solidarity gesture towards the men and women who have spent over two years in prison for political reasons. The decision taken by David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, not to acknowledge Oriol Junqueras as an MEP is an abuse of power. That was not for him to decide. Parliamentary immunity aims to protect the chamber as an institution so that no member state may put pressure on it by detaining or prosecuting its representatives. Sassoli caved in to political pressure and made a U-turn on the matter.

—So what now?
—The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee will have to rule as to whether the parliamentary immunity must be lifted in the case of Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comín. We will see what position it adopts and how the vote in the parliament’s plenary pans out. Still, I am totally convinced that if parliament insists on ignoring Catalonia’s democratic voice and the CJEU ruling, it will set a dangerous precedent in a Europe where democracy sometimes falters when it comes to growingly unstable regimes. The EU should take it upon itself to be the guarantor of democratic standards across the continent. Well, that is not the message that the president of the European Parliament sent out when he disregarded the ruling of the CJEU.

—You are a Green MEP. Puigdemont and Comín have formally asked to join your Greens/EFA Group . Would you approve of it? Would they fit in? Should they be allowed to? Why?
—You’re right. The Greens/EFA are engaged in a debate about it. Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comín have successfully joined the European Free Alliance, a political group that has had a long-term agreement with the Greens in Europe. My colleague Diana Riba is a member of the EFA and she believes we should welcome these two new members, as does MEP François Alfonsi.

—Other Green MEPs harbour doubts about Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comín. Do you?
—I understand that in some European countries there can be significant political differences between the Greens and regional movements. Personally, I intend to broach the subject directly with Oriol Junqueras, who was an MEP until 2012, and Raül Romeva, who served until 2014. When I return I will be able to convey their views. I want to share them with the Greens group in order to have a broader discussion.

Junts encara podem anar molt més lluny. Amb VilaWeb.

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