Democracy is on trial in Spain
Municipal councillors, mayors and members of government dragged through the courts or under investigation in a politicised trial. No, this is not an account of contemporary Turkey, but of longtime EU Member State Spain, where advocating independence is taboo. I am abhorred by the attempts of the government in Madrid to infringe on its Catalan colleagues’ freedom of speech. Our party, the New Flemish Alliance, is an advocate of self-determination and the right of each nation to decide the scope of its autonomy. The right to debate at liberty within the confines of parliament or to consult the people should not only be self-evident, it is also quintessential in a democracy.
On 9 November 2014, as an international observer in Barcelona, I witnessed democracy at work. With hundreds of volunteers engaged and 2.3 million citizens casting their vote in an informal plebiscite, for the first time the Catalan people were being heard. They were given the right to decide on their future, as part of Spain or as an autonomous nation. That the man who promoted that independence vote, former President Artur Mas, is now on trial for civil disobedience is incomprehensible. And the 40,000 supporters protesting outside the courtroom seem to share my opinion.
The partition of two nations is never an easy process, emotions tend to run high. The least favourable approach for all partners involved is to try to evade the issue by denying dialogue. This includes the current strategy from Madrid to weaponise judicial measures against the separatists as it is unable to achieve its means elseways. It is a slippery slope politicising the court system or launching smear campaigns against pro-independence politicians for advocating self-rule.
Refusing their right to even debate it in their own parliament under the threat of prosecution is an even more severe violation. It is the right and duty of parliamentarians everywhere to debate on everything. A legally binding referendum will take place in Catalonia by the end of September this year. The Constitutional Court may have annulled the required resolutions passed by the Catalan parliament, but as the separatist leaders have decided to defy the ruling, the nation is still on track to become an independent nation. The best option for Madrid now is to open negotiations and not to evoke Art. 155 of the Constitution, as Spain’s Minister of Justice Rafael Catalá advocated, abruptly ending the system of self-government for the Catalan autonomous community. Let the people decide.
Member federal parliament in Belgium (New Flemish Alliance)
Member of the Foreign Affairs Commission