Speaking at a press conference hosted by the Catalan News Agency on Monday, Carles Puigdemont —the candidate of Lliures per Europa-Junts per Catalunya (Free for Europe-Together for Catalonia)— claimed that his “goal is to become a member of the European parliament” and to focus on explaining the Catalan independence process to the European institutions. When asked whether he will give up his seat in the Catalan parliament, Puigdemont replied that he has “never given up on the idea of being elected President of Catalonia” but that Madrid has made it impossible. “I have never renounced the office of president. I ran in the December 21 elections with that goal […] but all of you know the circumstances that have made it unfeasible. The Spanish state has built a wall of legal engineering to prevent it, even though there isn’t a majority against it in the Catalan chamber and in Catalonia at large”, he remarked.
On this point he added that, as a member of the Catalan parliament, he feels “suspended and blocked” and he went on to accuse the Spanish government and justice system to veto his “reinstatement”. However, he chose not to mention the role of the Speaker, Roger Torrent, who has been criticised a number of times by the JxCat leadership for calling off the parliamentary session of January 30 [when Puigdemont was due to be voted back in]. Carles Puigdemont did announce that he does not intend to run in a Catalan election again: “I have no interest in being a candidate in the Catalan polls again, but I would like for things to go back to normal”, he said. He also predicted that there won’t be fresh elections in Catalonia. “This ought to be a full term”, he declared, and he added that he does not anticipate getting caught in the electoral competition between JxCat and ERC during this polling cycle.
Puigdemont argued that, once Spain’s Central Electoral Board announces that he has won a seat, he will immediately gain immunity and will be allowed to collect his credentials in Madrid, as mandated by Spain’s Polling Act. He stated that “there are precedents of this”, referring to the Ruiz-Mateos case, a Spanish businessman who won a seat in the European parliament and was issued his credentials despite having an arrest warrant against him. In that case, immunity prevailed over other considerations. Still, Puigdemont did not clarify whether he would return to Spain for that formality. Instead, he answered with a question of his own: “Will the Spanish government respect the rules of the game?”. The Catalan leader believes that the Spanish institutions should “pledge” to act in accordance with “European law”.
After the press conference, Josep Borrell —the PSOE candidate and Spanish foreign minister— stated that Puigdemont collecting his MEP credentials was “not a concern” of the Spanish government. Speaking to the Catalan News Agency, Borrell opined that this is a matter for Spain’s electoral authority, following the legal criteria laid out by the European chamber. A report requested last month by Antonio Tajani —the president of the European parliament— suggests that Puigdemont would be expected to collect his credentials in Madrid and that he would only be granted immunity “once his mandate as an MEP has begun”. Furthermore, this immunity would not protect him against “outstanding judicial proceedings at home”. Puigdemont’s legal team have called this report “biased”.
He won’t ask to join ALDE because “it does not respect the right to self-determination”
As for which parliamentary group JxCat MEPs would join in the chamber, if any were to be elected, Puigdemont said that they would look to join a group “that respects the right to self-determination and human rights”. He went on to rule out joining the liberal group, ALDE, due to its stance on self-determination ever since Ciudadanos joined it. In fact, ALDE expelled the PDECat MEPs earlier this term in the wake of the so-called “3 per cent” graft scheme in Catalonia.
Puigdemont stated that his role in Europe will be to denounce “the crackdown”, to work for the release of the political prisoners and the safe return of the exiles, as well as to put forward proposals for a political solution to the conflict where the EU could play a role. Another priority as an MEP will be to work with other representatives to fight “xenophobia” and the democratic “regression” in the EU.
Dialogue and “Europe’s pressure”
On the subject of the independence road map, the former Catalan president stressed that dialogue has always been a priority for him. He complained that this “has never been reciprocated by the Spanish state” and he assured that he would like to see “a negotiation” with the Spanish authorities to find a Scottish-style solution. Nevertheless, although he said he would always be open to dialogue, Puigdemont also stated that Catalonia’s independence process “will not be frozen indefinitely, hoping for a majority in Spain” that favours self-determination. However, he didn’t give details as to how this alternative path might work out.
Puigdemont believes that the “European” path might be useful to “put pressure and keep watch on” the Spanish state so that it will sit down for talks with Catalonia “as equals”.