Thousands of Catalans are on the move: some are already on the road, others are packing their bags. From Sunday until Tuesday, more than 6,000 will be taking cars, coaches and planes to the city of Strasbourg, around a thousand kilometres north of Catalonia. They are doing so to take part in the demonstration against the veto of the elected Catalan MEPs Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, and to give visibility to the Catalan conflict and the repression that is being applied. The goal, in short, is to make the voice of the independence movement heard during the European Parliament's constitutive plenary session, scheduled for Tuesday July 2nd, and where, barring last minute changes, none of the three elected representatives will be present, having been excluded by Spain's Electorial Commission, despite obtaining more than 2 million votes in the European elections on May 26th.
According to the Council of the Republic, the Catalan exile body which has organized the demonstration, around 80 coaches and two charter flights are confirmed to be making the journey, carrying around 6,000 people. Some of the buses have already left this Sunday for France, while others will do so on Monday. But all those on board, along with those who are flying and those who are making their own way, are due to come together outside the European Parliament building in the Alsacian capital on Tuesday.
The rally itself starts on Tuesday morning at 9 am - the time when the MEPs are set to arrive - and protesters are called to meet at the Pont Josep Bech (bridge) where it meets Rue Lucien Febvre, just in front of the EU Parliament building. However, the central event will not be until 12 noon, when the main speeches will be given and the "Let's Fill Strasbourg" manifesto, signed by 30,000 people so far, will be read.
The manifesto, to be presented to the EU parliament
The text states that Junqueras, Puigdemont and Comín represent more than 1.7 million votes in Catalonia - almost 2.3 million across the whole of the Spanish state - and warns that "Spain is passing on to the European Union its repressive solution to the peaceful, civic and democratic demand of the Catalans ". Given this, the manifesto calls on the EU institutions "to take the initiative to promote and mediate in the dialogue and negotiation between Catalonia and Spain on the right to self-determination."
At the end of the demonstration, the principle signatories of the manifesto, who are also supported by over thirty different platforms and organizations, will present it to the parliament's registry along with a letter addressed to the EU parliament's president.
Spain's Central Electoral Commission decided to leave the seats of the three MEPs vacant, since the three politicians had not attended the act at which they were to collect their formal papers and swear allegiance to the Constitution, on June 17th at Spain's Congress of Deputies. Junqueras, in jail, could not be present because the Supreme Court denied him permission, although it had granted him exactly the same right to carry out the same formality with respect to his earlier election as a Spanish parliamentary deputy after the general election on April 28th. In the case of the exiled Puigdemont and Comín, they were denied the possibility of taking the oath and collecting the papers anywhere except in Spanish territory, where they face an arrest warrant, and nor were they given permission to grant powers of attorney for the purpose.
However, the lawyers of all three politicians have announced their intention to take the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg and denounce that their clients' right to passive suffrage - that is, to stand for public office in the EU - is being violated. Several experts recognize that it is an "unprecedented" case, but one with a "clear" European dimension and see the possibility that it could prosper.
The resolution of the UN Working Group, present in Strasbourg
The demonstration, in addition to denouncing the Spanish Electoral Commission’s veto and calling for the three pro-independence MEPs to be able to take up their roles, is also aimed at more broadly raising international awareness of the Catalan conflict. With regard to this, the protest also voices the demand for Spain to comply with the resolution issued in May by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, concluding that the three jailed Catalan leaders it was asked to consider (Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sànchez and Oriol Junqueras) are being detained for political reasons and should therefore be released immediately.
The Strasbourg event will be attended by Catalan president Quim Torra and some ministers of his government, including foreign minister Alfred Bosch. There will also be other representatives of political parties and pro-independence organizations. Carles Puigdemont has stated he won’t confirm whether he will be present until the last moment, given the possibility of Spain issuing a new European arrest warrant for him, which French authorities could act on.
Tuesday’s rally will be the third major demonstration that the Catalan independence movement has held outside Catalan territory, after the protest in Brussels in December 2017 and the rally in Madrid in March this year.