A strong letter of protest has been sent to the European Parliament by Mark Demesmaeker, the Flemish MEP who was last week threatened by the number two of the Spanish far-right Vox party, Javier Ortega-Smith. On Wednesday, Ortega-Smith appeared at the European Parliament to deliver a lecture criticising the Catalan independence process and, after finishing, the Vox party secretary general made a comment to a colleague with regard to Demesmaeker: "Between the two of us, we'll hit him."
My letter to @EP_President after the VOX event. “I strongly condemn the unequal treatment where parties to one side of a political issue can express their opinion (...) whereas parties on the other side of the same political issue are withheld from expressing themselves” pic.twitter.com/MdM1uE34Qu— Mark Demesmaeker 🎗 (@markdemesmaeker) 8 de març de 2019
Now, Demesmaeker has written a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, severely critical not only of the "intimidating atmosphere" at the Vox conference but also of the European Parliament's use of a "dubious pretext" to deny one side of the Catalan debate from being expressed while permitting another point of view, that expounded by the far-right grouping.
New Flemish Alliance representative Demesmaeker explains that he took part in the conference to give a reminder of the foundations on which the European Union was based: "respect for democracy and for the diversity of political opinions." Principles for which, according to the MEP, Vox showed scant respect.
In fact, as Demesmaeker tells Tajani in his letter, Ortega-Smith "suggested that Carles Puigdemont had paid me money to make my speech." As well, the MEP mentioned the Vox secretary general's threatening comment, which was captured by the cameras:
Demesmaeker: "Those who deny that Catalonia has been a nation for many centuries, deny the light of the sun."
Ortega-Smith's reply: "When this conference has finished, you can go and collect the donation which undoubtedly you will receive from the 'right honourable' fugitive, traitor and coward Puigdemont."
Final comment at end of video, by a smiling Ortega-Smith: "Between you and I, we'll hit him".
The European house of democracy
Demesmaeker was left perplexed by this comment from the right-wing leader and reminds Tajani that the European Parliament is "the European house of democracy", emphasising the need to "uphold our European commitment to freedom of speech and pluralism."
The MEP says that during the conference he was "intimidated by the threatening atmosphere, language and conduct in response to his intervention." Along the same lines, he alleges that during the Vox secretary general's speech unsubstantiated accusations were made, for example, claiming "that the Catalan government, a democratically-elected institution, is an authoritarian regime that tries to brainwash children." Demesmaeker also denounces Ortega-Smith's depiction of Catalan pro-independence cultural group Òmnium Cultural as a "paramilitary organization."
As a consequence of all this, Demesmaeker's letter sharpens its tone and demands that Tajani put a stop to "the double standards that apply in this house." The MEP demands an explanation of why a ban was placed on an event in the European Parliament at which exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont along with current president Quim Torra were to speak, while a second event on the same subject, featuring Vox, was allowed.
Demesmaeker condemns what he considers "unequal" treatment and affirms that the Parliament has "the political and moral obligation to allow everybody to express their opinion."