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Fourteen French parliamentary representatives from a wide range of ideologies and political parties are calling on the European Union to stop the persecution of imprisoned and exiled Catalan pro-independence leaders by Spain. They ask: "Is the European Union willing to look at its reflection in the democratic mirror that Catalonia is holding out?" The question forms the title of an article signed by the 14 MPs in the newspaper Le Monde, which notes that "France fully recognizes and respects the sovereignty of Spain, but the Catalan exiles have internationalized the issue."

In particular, the article notes how European justice has repeatedly ruled in favour of the arguments made by the Catalan exiles and prisoners, but on the other hand, "the EU and its head of state have preferred up till now to look the other way, under the pretext that positioning themselves on the Catalonia issue could risk fracturing Spain." 

However, the French deputies consider that the contradictions exposed by the Catalan case could damage the credibility of the EU institutions themselves if the Union doesn't respond: "Beyond the independence question, the Catalan issue must now be considered as part of a broader reflection, French but above all European, with the election - challenged by the Spanish authorities - of the European deputies Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí and Oriol Junqueras". The addition of the name of Junqueras is significant, since the jailed ERC leader was elected with the other three and indeed the first to have his status as an MEP confirmed by the European Court of Justice, but subsequently the European Parliament withdrew his seat in response to pressure from the Spanish Supreme Court.

The 14 deputies also explain how there is scarcely a pro-independence Catalan leader who held some sort of post in 2017 who has not since suffered legal action from Spanish justice, even though readers in northern Europe might consider the dispute is not important to them: "In the same way, the recent removal of Catalan president Quim Torra by the Spanish Supreme Court for disobedience, which led to [the current] early elections in the Catalan Parliament, could make people think of parochial conflicts beyond the Pyrenees which do not concern us." 

Who are the 14 French MPs?

The 14 members of the Assemblée Nationale are Clémentine Autain and Bénédicte Taurine (La France Insoumise), Marie-George Buffet and Moetai Brotherson (Democratic and Republican Left), Jean-Félix Acquaviva, Michel Castellani, Paul-André Colombani, Frédérique Dumas and Paul Molac (Libertés et territories), Régis Juanico (Socialists), Yannick Kerlogot (LRM), Annie Chapelier (Agir ensemble), Richard Ramos (MoDem) and Sébastien Nadot (Independent).

The last named, Sébastien Nadot, also spoke up about the issue in this month's meeting of the French Parliament's Committee for European Affairs: "Spain has sentenced numerous Catalan activists and elected officials to long terms of imprisonment for sedition, such as the former speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell. In violation of EU rights and a decision of the EU Court of Justice, Spain has imprisoned the MEP Oriol Junqueras, and is prosecuting three other MEPs who have sought refuge in Belgium."

Catalan MEP Toni Comín celebrated the initiative as an expression of the best of Europe: "Another example of the EU which is democratic, truly committed to the rule of law, not wanting to continue to close its eyes to what Spain is doing to the Catalan independence activists. On this occasion, French deputies from all parts of the ideological spectrum. We are celebrating your commitment intensely!"