Toni Strubell, Núria Bassa – Catalonia: Exiled MEP Ponsatí returns defying Madrid

In a surprise move the Catalan EU parliamentarian Clara Ponsati returned home – and was arrested. This violates EU law, but then what does the EU care about laws? We shall see.

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Llegeix en català aqui


Photo of Clara Ponsatí showing judicial Police her MEP credential that should guarantee her immunity

After five years and five months of exile, Catalan MEP Clara Ponsatí today caused a major commotion by returning to Barcelona (March 28th) without any warning. At a press conference held at the Collegi de Periodistes de Barcelona, she announced that she had no intention of presenting herself before judge Llarena, the judge who investigates her case. In all this period, Llarena has strived in vain to get her extradited and tried at Madrid’s Supreme Court (where 7 of her fellow cabinet ministers were sentenced to up to 13 years prison in 2019 for having organized the October 1 2017 Catalan Independence Referendum). MEP Ponsatí also announced at the press conference that she had returned to “face up to the State” and continue the struggle for Catalan independence. A few hours after her return she was arrested in front of Barcelona’s cathedral, in central Barcelona, by a judiciary police unit, a controversial step that once again shows up the Spanish judiciary’s contempt for the immunity which all MEPs are entitled to and must see respected.

The return of MEP Ponsatí is especially significant because it comes in the wake of changes in the Spanish legislation that depenalize sedition as an offence. The new situation means that Clara Ponsatí cannot be sentenced to jail because her only offence -under current Spanish legislation- is disobedience for which only fines and suspension from office are applicable. But from the start of her press conference, MEP Ponsatí made it clear that her return has nothing to do with the return of other exiles such as ERC’s Meritxell Serret or CUP’s Anna Gabriel, both of whom negotiated their return with judge Llarena and went through all the steps of recognizing the authority of the Spanish judiciary. Ponsatí, on the other hand, has made it clear that she has negotiated nothing with judge Llarena, in line with her statement to the effect that she does not accept the right of Spain’s Supreme Court to try her.

Her return will almost certainly end up being greatly embarrassing not only for EU authorites but also for the Spanish and Catalan governments in the run-up to the May municipal and regional elections. What will the EU Parliament have to say about the arrest of one of its MEPs? Ponsatí’s move is also sure to put Sánchez’s government under pressure if it feels the temptation to overlook CJEU, UE, UN and Council of Europe calls to respect MEP immunity and reduce the wave of repression unleashed by Madrid against the Catalan independentists (over 4000 of whom have suffered some kind of prosecution or police investigation in recent years). In this sense Sánchez already has on his plate the #Catalangate and Pegasus scandals which his government is widely held to be responsible for. It will be especially difficult for him not to overreact driven by that thirst for vengeance that the Spanish unionists have not ceased to display since the Catalan Process began. Indeed, it will be difficult not to remember his November 2019 boast to the effect that he “controlled” the State Prosecutor, a blunder that showed to what extent he “respected” the division of powers in Spain.

But Ponsatí’s defiant return will surely prove embarrassing for Catalan president Aragonès too, especially as his policy of collaboration with Madrid has so far produced such meagre results. The fact that the two-year period his government (and the CUP) granted to Sánchez for the Dialogue Table to “solve” the Catalan issue should have exprired this week puts further pressure on him. ERC will certainly have very little to offer their electorate after two years of supporting Sánchez’s government in exchange for almost nothing. Indeed, in recent weeks, president Sánchez seems to have taken special relish in snubbing Aragonese’s demands and showing as little respect as possible for the Catalan government in various fields.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, ex President and fellow MEP Carles Puigdemont issued a statement this evening to denounce the arrest of Ponsatí as did almost all independentist parties. After Ponsatí’s provisional return –she will however continue to reside in Brussels and act as an MEP – Puigdemont’s own return is now the issue that commands maximum media attention although, unlike Ponsatí, he would still face a 12-year sentence under alleged embezzlement charges during the Referendum campaign. If he ever faces that trial, there is little doubt that Madrid courts will act in all severity against the man who is seen as Spain’s number one enemy.

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