Thousands travel to Strasbourg to protest empty MEP seats

MEPs-elect Puigdemont and Comín have not participated to avoid detention while Junqueras remains in prison

Aerial view of protest in front of European Parliament building (Natàlia Segura/ACN)
Aerial view of protest in front of European Parliament building (Natàlia Segura/ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

July 2, 2019 12:56 PM

Thousands of independence supporters and sympathizers have taken part in an ongoing protest in Strasbourg as the European Parliament held its opening session without three Catalan MEPs-elect.

The protest began on Tuesday morning while the chamber's first plenary session since the European election opened without the presence of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former health minister Toni Comín – currently exiled in Belgium – and former vice president Oriol Junqueras, who is in prison for his role surrounding the 2017 independence bid.

Puigdemont and Comín were initially expected to attend the Strasbourg protest, but in the end decided against it as they feared being detained in France and have instead remained across the border in Germany.

Other prominent politicians, however, have attended or expressed sympathy with the protest, including Catalan president Quim Torra, who addressed the crowd in a video he sent the organizers. Torra called on incumbent EU Parliament president Antonio Tajani to “respect democracy” and the electoral results that saw Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras elected.

Irish MEP Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin) spoke at the European Parliament’s opening session and denounced the fact that the the Catalan MEPs-elect were not present. In statements made to ACN after plenary, Carthy criticized the “hypocrisy” of European leaders who purportedly seek to defend human rights around the world and then fail to speak out about internal European issues.

Also speaking to the press after the plenary, head of the European Greens Ska Keller said she considered the three politicians’ absence “very problematic.”

Others did not view the protest favorably, including the Catalan People’s Party member Daniel Serrano, who characterized the march as a “humiliation for Catalans and their institutions,” or Ciutadans’ Jordi Cañas, who described the fact that Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras were not able to attend as a “triumph of democracy.”

Yesterday the Court of Justice of the European Union decided against granting Puigdemont and Comín – who were not allowed to take their oath of office from abroad nor through their lawyer, but did not want to face arrest in Spain – interim measures that would have allowed them to attend the EU Parliament’s plenary session on Tuesday.

The protest was organized by the Council for the Republic, the private organization led by Puigdemont from Waterloo, in support of “democracy, exiles and reprisals” and for the freedom of “political prisoners.”