An explosive issue - unfolding simultaneously with the recording and publishing of this interview: Spain's Central Electoral Commission decided last Monday to exclude Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí from the candidatures for the European Parliament arguing that they did not meet the eligibility requirements. On Thursday, while Puigdemont was responding to El Nacional's interview questions in Waterloo, the JxCat party appealed the decision; on Friday, the public prosecutor's office came out in opposition to the Electoral Commission; and on Sunday, the Spanish Supreme Court is meeting urgently to rule on the question. Following yesterday's first part, here's the second half of our interview with the exiled Catalan president:
The decision of the Electoral Commission to bar the way to your candidacy for the European elections has opened a new conflict with the Spanish state. In a matter of hours, the response to the appeals will be given...
It's very clumsy. The State has committed prevarication, it has flagrantly violated the law, even embarrassing some of those taking part in the strategy directed against us. The dissenting vote on the Commission, which includes its president and vice president, is not an anecdote. It is very significant. The argument itself is, too. The lengths they have gone to, to force, violate, or breach their own legislation. Those who say that the law is above even democracy, that without law there is no democracy. Well, they’ve destroyed their law.
Because they knew, as we already said, that if this game were played on neutral ground, that being Europe, where they had no advantage, where unionist political parties don’t nominate judges, ... the result would not be fruit of political pressure. And therefore they’ve used the Spanish section of this European itinerary, where they can exert influence politically. Whatever the result of the European elections, in Spain they are already contaminated.
The State has prevaricated. Those who say that the law is above even democracy have destroyed their law.
Do you still trust in the possibilities of revoking the decision of the Commission?
Yes, the possibilities are there. We are defending them, fighting them. To be able to fight them, we had to present the candidature. If we hadn’t done so, we couldn’t be fighting it now. If we hadn’t published the list in the state gazette, with the [substitute] names we put in, we couldn’t be fighting that. We hope that this disgrace does not continue and we trust that the Supreme Court will revoke a clearly unfair decision.
But didn’t you expect them to try and eliminate your candidacy...?
Yes. We always think that they force the legal regime. They go to the limits and beyond. We see it every day of the trial. We've seen it for a year and a half. I was sacked illegally and illegitimately. The Catalan Parliament was dissolved illegally and illegitimately. So of course we expect this. The thing is, it has been shown that we are clear on the map. We said: if people vote for me, I will be able to be an MEP, and that is true.
We’re the only ones who can’t compete on equal terms with the rest in Europe. We’ve been criminalized
And why hadn’t you already created a list to anticipate this possibility?
For a start, it’s outrageous that we are the only ones who have to compete in the elections with our hands tied behind our backs. It's an indecency, a disgrace. We’re the only ones who can’t compete on equal terms with the rest. We’ve been criminalized, we’ve been forced to make changes in the list that no other party has had to do. We are harmed by this operation, which is what the Spanish state wants. Why should we have to plan for the fact that the law will not be applied to us?
These European elections will be a plebiscite on democracy. And it will not be the same to vote JxCat as to vote for anything else
In fact, Puigdemont already stood for the Catalan elections on 21st December 2017, without obstacles, and Clara Ponsatí herself appears on a municipal list for the 26th May, but she has been removed from the European elections...
Well, our duty is to defend democracy. Our duty is to denounce this and fight it and win at the polls. These elections will be a plebiscite on democracy. And it will not be the same to vote JxCat as to vote for anything else. Because in the vote for JxCat there is clearly a message of struggle and defence of democracy. And that has now become very clear. So, votes that are cast with the idea of defending democracy and defending Catalonia as the spearhead of the democratic defence of Europe now have a clear reference.
The only ones they’ve prevented from standing for election are us. Not anybody else. And they’ve done it in a very botched way.
Is this a message aimed at ERC people?
No, it’s a message directed at the people of Catalonia. Even to Spanish voters, because we are present throughout Spain. And it's obvious. We didn’t decide that. Who is it that irritates Spain? The only ones they’ve tried to prevent from standing for election are us. They haven’t done it to anybody else. And they’ve done it in a very botched way.
And what hope do you have that Europe, which hasn’t listened much to Catalonia throughout history, will do so now, precisely when the extreme right is growing in Europe?
I don’t go along with the idea that somebody else will have to solve this someday, be it Madrid or Europe. We have to solve it. If we solve it, we maintain our position, we don’t retreat, if we continue defending the victory we had on 1st October 2017, it is much more possible that the international community will have its own discourse on this crisis.
On 1st October we won and we didn’t need an army to win
If, as you say, nothing deters Spain, not even the rules and democracy, and they also have police and there were even PP leaders who said they had the army ready... Then how should this be done?
On 1st October we did it. We won and we didn’t need an army to win.
Yes, but now there are quite a few politicians and civic leaders in prison, quite a few in exile, quite a few have been fined...
Yes and repression that is continuing.
There is the other reading, made by, among others, Felipe González, that now, instead of being independent, [Catalonia] has less autonomy...
This has always been the threat that the Spanish state has tried to use to demobilize, to deter, to mitigate ... it worked for several decades. But it reached a point, which is the Constitutional Court ruling against Catalonia’s Autonomy Statute in 2010, when this strategy no longer worked for them because they blew autonomy apart. We weren’t asking for independence. They destroyed the constitutional pact itself. So what are they going to say? That we should be content with a downsized Statute? We ourselves had already cut it. Will they threaten to take over our powers? That the Catalan president can’t take a security bodyguard on a trip abroad? Ban the colour yellow? Penalize TV3 because it screened a programme they didn’t like? All this has already been done. The only alternative we have for national survival and social progress is to exercise the right to self-determination, which is what we did on 1st October.
And now in the European elections, what strategy will Puigdemont and JxCat follow?
If we ourselves can stand, the ministers Comín and Ponsatí and I, it’s not the same as if we can’t. But in any case, whether we ourselves stand or not, we will campaign. We have asked people to substitute us and they are doing so with conditions, that it is provisional and at a great personal sacrifice for them, and I would like to thank them. But we are aware that that is purely provisional. Therefore, we must continue to act as candidates. It makes more sense than ever that we ask for people’s votes to reject an attack on basic rights, which not only prevent us from being candidates, but prevents Catalans from being able to vote. This is what is serious. Violating active suffrage and passive suffrage. It is quite directly a torpedo against the fundamental rights of the EU. We won’t let it go by.
As part of the protest strategy, you’ve presented an initiative to suspend Spain’s voting rights on the European Commission...
The European playing field has different rules. For months we’ve been preparing this initiative. It's not easy. Constructing it from a legal and technical point of view is not easy. It is in the line of the work we said we would do from exile. We can do it. We can take it all the way. And we are doing it with the resources that we mobilize ourselves.
Does this initiative have to be accepted by the European Commission beforehand?
Indeed it does.
Do you see it as viable?
Absolutely viable, because there is a precedent.
But later it needs the support of all the Member States. There is a veto right...
Yes, but anyone who vetoes it, is shown up. It also serves that purpose. Is it or isn’t it in accordance with the fundamental rights of the EU? When there are a million European citizens who say they are worried and ask for a Member State not complying with the rules of the game to be confronted, this has an objective, which is to improve the rules of the game.