Ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont hits out at lack of EU intervention

A Catalan MEP has criticised the 'deafening silence' of the bloc

Ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont hits out at lack of EU intervention

Deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont speaking in Brussels, 31-10-2017. Image: Riccardo Pareggiani/Zuma Press/PA Images

The deposed president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont has told a crowd of 200 mayors from the region that he will "defeat at the ballot box the Spanish government’s repression" of the region's wish for independence.

In his first public appearance since he was called before a Belgian judge at the weekend to answer an arrest warrant issue by Spain, the ousted leader said: "Thank you for your commitment to democracy... people are wondering why Europe doesn't intervene in the face of a coup d'etat in Catalonia".

Defending the disputed referendum on October 1st which sparked the crisis, he said Catalonia "has one path to becoming a republic via democracy."

The mayors, who represent towns across Catalonia, came to Brussels to give their support to the exiled Catalan government, to denounce the current political and judicial situation in Catalonia and to ask for the EU's support.

The event was organised with the help of three Catalan Members of the European Parliament Jordi Solé, Josep-Maria Terricabras and Ramon Tremosa.

"The silence of the European institutions in our hour of need was deafening." said Jordi Solé, a Catalan member of the European Parliament.

"Mr Juncker you are getting it wrong"

Speaking in English, and to loud applause, the MEPs and mayors criticised European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for his lack of support for their independence bid.

"Mr Juncker you are getting it wrong. It is not an internal Spanish matter. It is an EU matter," Mr Solé said.

"We want to express our astonishment that some of the institutions don't yet condemn the violence we suffer. How is that? Is that the Europe we want to construct with power and with money but not with citizens? It's not at all clear. We hope very much that Europe will give us a place." MEP Josep-Maria Terricabras said.

Earlier, the mayors had gathered for a symbolic photo opportunity in the heart of the city's EU quarter, outside the headquarters of the European Council and European Commission.

The European Union has consistently said that the Catalan issue is a domestic matter for Spain. In one of his few comments on the issue, in September, before the referendum, Mr Juncker said: "We don't like to have a Europe in 15 years with hundreds of different states. It's hard enough with 27."

None of the European nations have recognised the region's unilateral Declaration of Independence, including Ireland.

The crisis puts the European Union in a particularly awkward position, compounded by the presence of Mr Puigdemont and four of his ministers in Brussels; all subject to European Arrest Warrants issued by Spain.

They are wanted in Madrid on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for organising the referendum. The charges carry maximum jail sentences of 30 years each.

They believe they will not receive a fair trial in Spain and through lawyers are fighting their extradition to Madrid.

Other Catalan ministers, who appeared in court in Madrid last week, have been denied bail and jailed pending their trial.

After the referendum the Spanish government triggered Article 155 of its constitution, removing Catalonia's autonomy and dissolving the parliament.

Fresh elections were called by Madrid for December 21st in an attempt to diffuse the situation and settle the matter. The gamble by Madrid is that anti-independence parties will get the most votes.