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Battle for independence movement hegemony reemerges in European election

Catalan voters expected to express overwhelming support for EU despite rise of far-right Euroscepticism elsewhere on the continent

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10 May 2019 05:04 PM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

The European election is hard to call in Catalonia – which party will triumph on May 26 is far from clear, and neither is whether certain candidates would be able to take their seats.

However what does appear certain is that the country will remain pro-European – free of representation from explicitly far-right or Eurosceptic parties for another five years.

So what are the keys to viewing this election from a Catalan perspective?

1. Jailed and exiled candidates

Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan vice-president and one of the pro-independence figureheads, is the top candidate for Esquerra Republicana, with Diana Riba, the wife of another of the leaders currently on trial and in preventative prison, as his second-in-command.

Meanwhile in Belgium, his exiled old boss Carles Puigdemont heads the Junts per Catalunya list – 18 months after the Spanish government dismissed him from the presidency.

After failed attempts by Spain's electoral authority to bar the latter from running, it remains to be seen whether either Junqueras or Puigdemont would be able to take office.

The protagonists in a discreet but endless battle for hegemony over the independence movement, each of the men leads one of its two mainstream political factions.

Puigdemont prevailed over his former right-hand man Junqueras by a slight margin in the 2017 Catalan election, the only time they have directly faced off as election frontrunners.

2. Catalans top Spanish lists

Catalan politicians are top of the electoral lists for both the Socialists and People's Party at a Spanish level (unlike some other member states including the UK, Spain is a single constituency in the European election).

They are Josep Borrell, currently Spain’s foreign minister in the acting Socialist government, and Dolors Montserrat, a health minister in the previous conservative administration.

Fellow Catalans Javi López (Socialists), Ernest Urtasun (Catalunya en Comú, part of the Green alliance) and Javier Nart (Ciutadans, part of Liberals and Democrats group) are likely to stay on as MEPs, with Jordi Cañas (also Ciutadans) joining them in Brussels, at least according to the latest opinion polls.

All in all, it looks like at least nine Catalans could win seats in the European Parliament.

3. Winners unclear, 44% votes for independence

The latest Catalan opinion poll (CEO) predicts a tight race for the top spot in the election, with Esquerra (part of the European Free Alliance) coming first with 22.5% of the vote, with the Socialists (Socialists and Democrats) trailing closely behind on 22.2%.

Junts per Catalunya, who have not revealed which European grouping they intend to join, is the other competitor in the three-horse race on 21.2%, and would bring the pro-independence parties' share to 44% or thereabouts.

4. People’s Party: frontrunners in Europe, falling behind in Catalonia

The fourth-largest group is expected to be Catalunya en Comú, in the European Greens as part of Spain’s Unidas Podemos, with around 13.3%, while unionist Ciutadans (ALDE) is currently polling at 11% of the Catalan vote.

The European People’s Party is set to amass more MEPs than any other group, but Catalonia is unlikely to contribute to its success, as only 4.2% of voters will back the party, as per the poll.

5. High turnout to detract from far-right and Eurosceptic parties

While some parties are critical of the EU in its current form, none can be seen as Eurosceptic, and they go nowhere near suggesting a referendum as took place in the UK in 2016.

Vox will be a far-right presence but its support will not be higher than 3% in Catalan territory, according to the same pollsters.

The turnout is set to reach 65% – if that happened, it would surpass the previous proportion for any European election in Catalonia, except the first-ever edition in 1987 (67.8%).

6. First European election since 2017 independence referendum

This will be the first time Catalans cast their vote for the European Parliament since the 2017 referendum, after which the EU was clearly seen to have sided with the Spanish government and avoided condemning reports of Spanish police violence on the margins of the vote.

There is a widespread feeling within the pro-independence movement that the European institutions should have been more sympathetic or proactive during the crisis, potentially offering to mediate or encourage dialogue.

On the other hand, unionist parties are content with the role of Brussels and insist that this is evidence that Catalonia would be expelled from the EU should it become independent.

7. Environmental, agricultural policy as possible hot topics

The Catalan question is expected to dominate the European election campaign, as it did in last month's Spanish general election and is certain to in the local elections, also on May 26.

This may overshadow European policy issues with a direct impact on the country – among which are the environment, the impact of the Russian fruit veto on farmers, the impending reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and the dangers and opportunities of Brexit.

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  • Image of the European Parliament in March 2019 (by EP)

  • Image of the European Parliament in March 2019 (by EP)

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