During a meeting in Brussels Tuesday the pro-secessionist leader told European Union officials that he hopes Spain will give the nod to the poll, but that if this is not the case, Catalunya will cast its ballot ‘by September at the latest’ with or without the go-ahead from Madrid.
This could lead to Puigdemont’s being found guilty of sedition, which can even carry a prison sentence, so is not a decision to be taken lightly.
“I wish to make it clear that we do want the referendum to be approved by the Spanish government; this would be the most acceptable option for everyone – but if they maintain their current position, Catalunya will call a binding independence referendum in any case,” Puigdemont stated, speaking in the European Parliamentary l hall.
The conference, attended by Puigdemont’s deputy president Oriol Junqueras, and regional minister for foreign affairs Raúl Romeva, was an extraordinary meeting not included in the official Parliamentary agenda but nevertheless attracted a roomful of politicians from all over the continent.
In fact, it was practically standing-room only with more than 400 people present, all of whom applauded the speakers.
The three MEPs who organised the session – Catalunya Left Republicans Josep Maria Terricabras and Jordi Solé, and Convergència’s Ramón Tremosa – were joined by their colleagues in Brussels, ICV’s Ernest Urtasun, for the Basque Country; Josu Juaristi from the Basque separatist party EH-Bildu; Xabi Benito from left-wing Podemos; Francesc Gambús from Catalunya’s pro-independence party Unió; Lidia Senra from the Galicia-based Alternativa Galega; and – given the northern European region’s shared interest with Catalunya’s planned move in light of the Brexit vote, Alyn Smith from the Scottish National Party (SNP), currently in power in the UK territory under its leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The speeches were given in catalán, French and English – pointedly not in Spanish – but interpreted simultaneously into German, English, French, Spanish, Slovenian, Czech and Lithuanian.
During these, Puigdemont defended the ‘legitimacy’ of the Catalunya referendum as ‘a European, pro-European and democratic solution’.
“Our suggestion of two-way talks and the search for consensus will be open right up to the very last minute, but we want to make it clear that we will not give way if the Spanish government continues, obstinately, to maintain its stance, and to reject our invitation to negotiate,” Catalunya’s leader announced.
Any independence process would require ‘a democratic mandate’ from the region’s public, but that this and the referendum itself are ‘legally viable’, Puigdemont argued.
“The only problem we have is lack of political will – for the moment, a group of experts has proposed five possible legal pathways which would enable a consultation Spain’s government would agree to,” Puigdemont explained.
Criticising the attitude of Spain’s right-wing president, Mariano Rajoy (PP), Puigdemont called for the EU ‘not to turn the other cheek’ and to be aware that his regional government’s intentions are ‘serious’.
“The only decisions taken so far by Spain’s government are to try to prosecute us, thus turning politics into a legal issue – a clear attack on the separation of powers enshrined in law and a long way from EU standards of governing – especially as 80% of Catalunya’s residents and citizens are in favour of a referendum, whichever way they plan to vote.
“I should also like to congratulate the new European Parliamentary president, Antonio Tajani, on his new role, and urge him to fulfil his commitment acquired via Charter for catalán to be an official language here in the Hemicycle,” Puigdemont declared.
Tajani had originally said, in response to a letter written in catalán to the MEPs, that he would only give the green light to its being declared an official European Parliamentary language if Spain’s central government requested it.
Puigdemont was not met by any Hemicycle official on his visit and, during the conference Tajani presided a reception of another diplomatic body in a different Parliamentary hall.
Following Puigdemont’s session, MEP for the PP Santiago Fisas argued that the Catalunya regional leader had ‘attempted to justify something illegal, knowing perfectly well that it is illegal’.
“This is why he has not had any kind of support from European institutions, and the conference has been little more than a political rally,” Fisas concluded.