Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Oriol Junqueras were absent from Tuesday’s inaugural session at the European Parliament, amid disagreement among the EU’s leaders as to whom they should elect president of the European Commission. The new legislature convened at 10 am, with the newly-elected members taking up their places in the chamber. Despite losing about forty seats in the elections of May 26, the Popular group managed to come out ahead once again and holds the most seats in parliament. The socialist group is the second largest, but both traditional parties lost their outright majority and the Green party and the liberal group —recently renamed Renew Europe— have now become kingmakers.
All 748 MEPs took up their seats and less than half an hour later the session was adjourned till Wednesday at 9 am, when the lawmakers are expected to elect the president and 14 vice presidents. All representatives were present except for the three Catalan MEP-elects who are have been affected by the Spanish Supreme Court: Junqueras couldn’t pick up his credential because the court didn’t allow him to appear before Madrid’s Central Electoral Committee to take his oath, while Puigdemont and Comín were also expected to travel to Madrid, but they didn’t so as to avoid being arrested. Some of their peers held up placards with bearing faces of the three pro-independence MEPs who missed Tuesday’s inaugural sitting.
During the short session, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy took the floor to voice his support for the pro-independence MEPs and urged president Antonio Tajani “to stand up for democracy and human rights in Europe”. Carthy called on the president to “make a statement in the name of these representatives” and went on to remark that “three representatives of the Catalan people have been denied representation in this house (…) If this parliament does not value the votes of the people of Catalonia, then the credibility of this house will be undermined”. Tajani did not respond to Carthy’s words.
ERC MEP Diana Riba complained that Tajani had denied her the chance to address the house during the inaugural session, as she wanted to denounce the situation of Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, the newly-elected MEPs. Speaking for the Catalan News Agency, Riba stated that “Tajani looked straight at me” and “clearly indicated that I wasn’t allowed to speak”. Riba complained that this was “an anomaly” and she thanked Matt Carthy, the Irish representative, for speaking on her behalf in support of Junqueras, Puigdemont and Comín. The ERC representative noted that the “chamber welcomed Carthy’s words, which many applauded”.
At a press conference held in the European Parliament, Green leader Ska Keller demanded “a solution” to ensure that Oriol Junqueras can take up his seat in the chamber. Keller stated that “we would like for any president of the European parliament to have an opinion on the matter. What happens when an elected member is not allowed to take up their seat? There needs to be an institutional solution to the problem”. She went on to draw a distinction between the ERC leader’s situation (Junqueras is a member of Keller’s Green group) and the situation of Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín: “their case is different, as they are awaiting a decision from Luxembourg”, she argued, and added that “Junqueras wanted to take the oath in Madrid, but he wasn’t allowed to”. “We will persevere so that our member can join the group, but first they need to take up their seat”, she added.
The European Parliament denies taking “specific” measures
When questioned about it by reporters, the European chamber’s spokesman, Jaume Duch, denied that any “specific security measures” had been taken in the event that former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont turned up outside the parliament. Duch added that, at any rate, information about the parliament’s security measures would never be disclosed to media. In fact, the pro-independence demonstrators gathered outside the parliament were being monitored by a large police contingent.
Jaume Duch emphasised that, despite the absence of Puigdemont, Junqueras and Comín, the European Parliament would be “properly inaugurated” with 748 members, three short of the total number (751). The spokesman played down the situation and claimed that “it’s not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last” and he pointed out that during any term sometimes seats are vacant because a representative has resigned or been promoted to a new office and no substitute has been appointed yet. He explained that all that’s needed in such cases is to “adjust the percentage of the qualified majority” for the votes tabled for that particular sitting.