The Spanish MEPs from the Socialist Party (PSOE), People's Party (PP), Ciudadanos (Cs) and Vox have had a difficult afternoon in today's timely debate on Pegasus spyware in the European Parliament. The PP chose to bluntly justify the so-called Catalangate espionage against dozens of people connected with the Catalan independence movement, and far-right Vox did the same, while Cs vented its criticism of the pro-independence parties and the PSOE, leader of the governing coalition in Spain, centred on general criticisms of the use of Pegasus technology, also noting that it is not clear that the spyware is in only in the hands of governments - as the company producing it asserts. Meanwhile, the five pro-independence Catalan MEPs, several of whom have been directly attacked by Pegasus, denounced the espionage and demanded explanations. The Basque parties Bildu and PNB, and left-wing groups Podemos and IU expressed themselves in similar terms. In fact, the denunciation of espionage was the common thread of most of the numerous speeches made. However, the European Commission has made it clear that it is up to the member states themselves to investigate these incidents.
Former Spanish interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido (PP) made one of the speeches which most clarified matters for the listening MEPs. Zoido asserted that a technology is not essentially good or bad, but rather that this depends on its use, as evidenced by nuclear energy, which can be used to cure cancer. "It's the same with Pegasus," he said, adding that "this type of software has prevented terror attacks and dismantled mafia networks."
Zoido defends the hacking in Spain
Zoido put it even more clearly and did not hesitate to defend the use of this software against the Catalan independence movement. "No one should be surprised that there might have been phone tapping of people convicted of sedition, who have repeated on numerous occasions that they 'would do it again', or who have gone so far as to claim that a hypothetical independence would be worth human lives", he argued.
However, the former minister rejected the actions of states that go outside the law, and assured that "in Spain the maximum commitment to the rule of law is maintained" and that the technology is used with judicial supervision, for which Spaniards have reason to be proud of their democracy, their security forces and the intelligence services.
He was by no means the only one to make such a discourse. The PP's Dolors Montserrat denounced that the Catalan independence movement was using the Pegasus scandal to "play the victim" and argued that "the least that can be expected from the intelligence services of a country, always under judicial protection, is that they defend the rule of law". The conservative MEP, who spoke just after Carles Puigdemont, declared that she would not accept being told "a single lesson on legality" from the parliamentarian who had preceded her, whom she did not cite by name, "because he is a fugitive from justice".
Similarly, Spanish People's Party MEP Javier Zarzalejos accused the independence movement of wanting to use the debate on Pegasus "as a loudspeaker" and, after insisting that spying must be carried out within the margins established by law, defended the right of a democratic state to legitimately defend itself.
Cañas and Putin's Trojan Horse
Speaking on behalf of Spain's Ciudadanos party, MEP Jordi Cañas spoke ironically about the Catalan independence movement's complaints about the espionage after they had - according to him - staged a coup d'etat and "persecuted the constitutionalists". "It is paradoxical that confessed criminals fleeing from justice, who threaten to re-commit the crimes for which they were being tried, act as judges accusing others without evidence. Well, it is not paradoxical because Catalan separatists are specialists in propaganda and lies," he denounced after describing Catalan independence as "Putin's Trojan horse in Europe" and accusing the pro-independence parties of using the controversy over the Pegasus case to attack Spain and weaken the EU.
Jorge Buxadé from the Spanish far-right Vox party commented on "the absurdity of seeing separatists, coup plotters, fugitives and convicted terrorists saying in this chamber that they have been spied on." "They have been spied on too little, and pursued too little", he concluded, in addition to demanding that the European Parliament speak about the security issues that interest citizens, such as those related to the massive influx of immigrants.
The PSOE and Pegasus
A more moderate line was taken by the Spanish Socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who admitted that Pegasus is not only an aggressive, expansive and invasive technology that threatens European democracy and its rights, but is also prohibitively expensive. However, he tried to discharge the Spanish government from any responsibility, without explicitly referring to the Catalangate affair at any time, pointing out that "it remains to be seen whether the software is only accessible to states." After noting that countries such as Hungary and Poland have acknowledged that they have this technology, he warned that the commission of inquiry set up in the European Parliament could conclude that Pegasus is incompatible with the EU's guaranteeing of citizens' rights.
The reference to Poland caused a reply from the Polish MEP Bogdan Rzonca, from the Conservatives and Reformists group, who railed against Aguilar for talking about his country while not saying anything about Spain, "about what is happening in his own country."
López Aguilar's speech was followed almost immediately by the Socialist Ibai Garcia del Blanco, who warned that not only should explanations be sought from governments but also from the company responsible for Pegasus. "We are taking it for granted that it is only sold to the states. We need to know that as well," he said.
A significant proportion of the speeches came from Spanish MEPs. This did not, however, prevent, that one after another, that representatives from different political groups and different states, with the exception of some Polish or Hungarian MEPs, denounced Pegasus and the attack carried out against European institutions, in reference to the MEPs and members of the European Commission affected.
Puigdemont: Fundamental rights, at risk
However, the most direct rebuttals over the Catalangate issue were made by pro-independence MEPs. Carles Puigdemont recalled that the Pegasus espionage system was used by Saudi Arabia against journalist Jamal Kashoggi shortly before his assassination. "Pegasus is being used without control by authoritarian regimes," he warned before warning that "fundamental rights are in jeopardy and Europe cannot look the other way."
His Junts party colleague Toni Comín explained that he himself was spied on before the major pro-independence demonstration in Perpignan in 2020, and his calls were being listened to while they were negotiating with the French authorities on the security operation to ensure the smooth running of the demonstration. "For France, this was about exercising the right to protest, but for the Spanish state it was a possible crime," said Comín, who asked the PP, PSOE and Cs representatives directly why, in the European Parliament, they say yes to the commission of inquiry on this subject while in Spain they have said no.
Junts MEP Clara Ponsatí criticized the EU Council and the Commission for observing "with a complacent eye" the violation that the Catalangate actions represented. "We are not asking them to solve our problem or sympathize with our hopes. Just to fulfill their duty to defend us against an authoritarian state," she said.
Solé, against those who justify it
Jordi Solé, member for the pro-independence ERC party, and who had also been spied on by Pegasus, asserted that "there are governments in the EU that like to practice political espionage and some democrats of circumstances even dare to justify it." After denouncing that he was most likely to have been spied on by the Spanish intelligence services, he demanded before the chamber to know who gave the order to violate his right to privacy and that of his family, if there was judicial authorization and how that was possible; where the stolen data is and how much public money was squandered for this espionage. Solé criticized the Spanish government for announcing that prime minister Pedro Sánchez and defence minister Margarita Robles were also spied on, and wondered if it had done so to "normalize or dilute" the Catalangate issue.
Similar points were made by ERC's Diana Riba. She explained that in Spain it was even insinuated that those targeted had deserved to be spied on and she warned that the Spanish government has "ultimate and sole responsibility", whether it is in effect behind the espionage case or not.
Bildu and Podemos
Basque pro-independence politician Pernando Barrena, of EH Bildu, called on the European institutions to investigate which states have investigated political opponents. "We now know that the Spanish intelligence services have also used Pegasus," he said. Idoia Villanueva of Podemos also denounced that Pegasus is being used against democracy and the rights of all and demanded that it be investigated, and that those responsible be made accountable, with the guarantee that it will not be repeated, while Sira Rego of United Left (IU) affirmed that Pegasus is an unprecedented scandal. From the Basque Nationalists of PNB, Izaskum Bilbao warned that the questions on the integrity of the state must be solved with politics, and commented that then when governments resort to the imprisonment of ideas and political brigades are created, and when many more than just the far right applaud this, and there is no prosecutor to act: that is when "these things happen".
Responsibility of the states
On behalf of the European Commission, commissioner Johannes Hahn spoke, stressing the need to implement European legislation in this area and the obligation of member states to monitor their security services. However, he warned that the investigation is the responsibility of each state, and he urged them to investigate thoroughly in such cases. "The Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Convention on Human Rights protect freedom of expression and the use of Pegasus is a very serious interference with freedom of expression; it is only allowed if it is justified and proportionate," he said.
Hahn was one of the targets of criticism from MEPs in the chamber, who criticized the Commission for not acting forcefully in the face of scandals caused by the cyberespionage, of which the Commission itself has even fallen victim.
The debate had been opened by Saskia Bricmont of the Greens, who recalled that the issue of Pegasus had already led to the creation of a commission of inquiry and called for a strong condemnation of this type of espionage, warning that the persecution of parliamentarians, defenders of political rights, journalists and lawyers is not a matter of national security. "This kind of espionage cannot be a new reality. We must legislate in this regard. The reaction must be forceful," she said.
On behalf of the EPP group, Jeroen Lenaers demanded that Pegasus be investigated in full detail. "We cannot underestimate the severity of the scandal. This kind of program is a horrible experience for the victim but a threat to the rule of law and democracy in Europe," he warned, also expressing his disappointment that the affected states took refuge in national security.
From the Socialist group Hannes Heide spoke of the need to defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of the EU. "The commission of inquiry is crucial," he said. Sophia In 'T Veld of the Renew Europe group also warned of the importance of this debate and referred with particular concern to the attempted attacks on the European Commission, which she compared to Watergate.