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The Catalan Crisis Threatens to Reopen a Debate that the EU’s Power Brokers Thought They Had Long Ago Quashed.

By Professor Thomas Harrington.

Though it is  largely forgotten today, there was during the late 1980s and early 1990s a  vigorous  debate in numerous sectors of European life about whether  the EU would be best structured as a Union of Regions or as a Union of States. 

Adherents of the first posture hoped and believed that the goal the then still-emerging Union should be to greatly lessen the importance of existing  national boundaries and governments and to promote, or at least not stand in the way of, the emergence of new economic and social regions.  For example, since the Galician region of Spain shares much in the way of language culture and geography with neighbouring northern Portugal, it should, according to this outlook, be free to loosen existing bonds with far-away Madrid and direct more of its resources and infrastructural  aims  toward forging economic and social integration with nearby and traditionally dynamic Oporto.  

This, of course, frightened the proponents  of a Europe of States,  who quite rightly saw such developments as a threat to dramatically diminish the prerogatives of  existing governments.  

For reasons that are too numerous to examine fully here, but that include bureaucratic inertia, and the desire of an always meddling  US to have the ability to play states off against each other both within a dramatically-expanded NATO and the EU as a whole, the idea of the Europe of Regions was eventually bludgeoned  into insignificance by the proponents  of a Europe of the States.  

Yet, for all their success in neutering the practical day-to-day effects of a Europe of Regions, the proponents of the Europe of States were unable to fully disable certain institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice,  forged and/or strengthened in the early years of the EU,  and whose structure implicitly militated against the continuing weight and hegemony of state governments within the overall functioning of the confederation. 

For example, while a candidate for the European Parliament nominally “comes from” one or another member state, voters from any jurisdiction in the Union can select him or her on the ballot. He or she is thus not only a representative of, say, Spain and the Spanish citizens, but of the European people as a whole.   

And while almost all justice is still meted out  by state-based judicial systems, these state systems are, since the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, subsidiary to the European Court of justice in matters pertaining to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

And this last matter reality is why the long-dormant debate over  the underlying nature and structure  of Union is coming  to the fore once again.  The catalyzing factor in re-opening the debate was the decision was a decision handed down by the European Court of Justice late last year. 

The Junqueras Case

In the early hours of December 19th, 2019, the European Court of justice ruled that Oriol Junqueras, who on October 14 2019 was condemned to 13 years in prison for his role in promoting a peaceful referendum on independence in Catalonia, had, in fact, had possessed full legal immunity from the moment of the certification of his election to the European Parliament four  months earlier, and thus should have been released from detention at that time to take his seat in that body, and  quite probably should never been condemned  to the long sentence handed down in the autumn.  

A case on one lucky guy finally getting a little bit of justice? Far from it. 

The Long-Troubled Relationship Between Catalonia and Spain

Though Catalonia was incorporated into a centralized Spain three centuries ago, its fit within that State has never been without tensions owing, among other things, to differences of language, social structure, economic models (Catalonia has always been considerably more commercially and industrially oriented than the rest of Spain), and approaches to governance. Catalonia was, for example,  one of the first polities in Europe to see the many impose limits on the exercise of monarchical power by the few, accomplishing this feat  a number of years before  the signing  of the English Magna Carta in 1215.  

Spain, led by its central kingdom of Castile, has, on the other hand,  consistently tended much more to toward top-down and force-driven approaches  to resolving  conflicts over the apportionment of civic powers. It is thus not surprising that Catalan revolts (e.g 1700-1714, 1836-1843, 1906-1923, 1931-39) against central power have been a recurrent part of Spanish life during the era of the centralized state.  Nor is it surprising that Castilian-led government in Madrid has often used the full complement of  military and legal force at its disposal to quell these uprisings. 

The latest  such revolt  began in 2010 when the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal overturned a new more expansive Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia within the  constitutional  order established three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco’s 1975.  In keeping with the rules of the 1978 Constitution, the Catalan political leadership had, after writing the new Statute, submitted the text to both the Catalan Parliament and the Spanish parliament in Madrid for approval.  After passage through these legislative bodies, it was returned to the Catalan people, who approved it by a sizable margin in a popular referendum

The Judicialization of Politics, or the Resurfacing of the Spanish Deep State

But while this relatively insignificant rise in regional power pleased many in Catalonia, it alarmed many elements  of José María Aznar’s Popular Party (PP)—a configuration formed in no small measure by the sons and daughters of Francoist families—, as well as  the country’s judiciary whose Francoist  structures and Francoist sociology had remained largely intact during Spain’s then three decade-old democracy. Confident that their ideological allies in the judiciary would know how to “do the right thing” when called upon, the PP lodged a constitutional challenge to the new statute. Though it took them more than  three years  to do it, the Spanish courts delivered exactly what the PP had hoped and expected: the  nullification of key elements of the new law.  

And when this occurred in the summer of 2010, Catalan citizens took to the streets in massive numbers to protest what they saw as a backhanded  and back-channel abridgement not only of their voting franchise, but also the democratic constitution upon it was based.

Over the next decade the number of Catalans endorsing secession from Spain grew exponentially. In 2014, the government of Artur Mas, a  man who had never been in favor of independence, responded to the popular clamor by organizing a non-binding straw vote on the matter over the objections of the central government. For his efforts  in promoting this non-binding test of public opinion Mas was condemned  by the Spanish  judiciary to a two-year ban on holding public office and large  fines designed  destroy  his personal finances. 

In the Fall of 2015, the combined independence forces gained a majority in the Catalan parliament. And  starting in early 2016, the new government, now under the leadership of Carles Puigdemont,  made clear its desire to promote a second, but this time binding,  vote on independence. Puigdemont hoped that such a vote could be staged, as had been done in Quebec and Scotland in recent  years, with the approval of the central government. But each time he broached he matter with Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy (PP) he was haughtily rebuffed. 

Knowing that the Spanish government would be keen to indict any member of his government who could be seen as using government funds or manpower to promote such a vote, Puigdemont left the organization of the vote on  October 1st, 2017 completely in the hands of Catalonia’s powerful and very widely subscribed civil society groups. Meanwhile, the Spanish government geared up,  as its  Vice President, and widely acknowledged holder of the Catalan portfolio, Soraya Sanz de Santamaría later crowed in December  2017, to “decapitate” the Catalan independence movement through a show of armed force and the use of lawfare. In the days leading to the vote,  several thousand members of the quasi-military national police forces were sent to Catalonia as a show of force. 

And when on the morning of the of October 1st  civil society volunteers placed the ballot boxes that  they had clandestinely distributed throughout the Catalan region in polling stations, the police went on the offensive,  frenetically clubbing, and in at least a thousand documented cases, seriously injuring unarmed voters and their supporters. 

Despite this brazen physical intimidation the turnout was 43%.  However, this number does not include the estimated 15% of the ballots that were carried off by police. When those are included we speak of  a turn-out of some 55%–58%  with an overwhelmingly plurality (80-90%)  of that cohort expressing their support for  independence. 

With this strong showing in hand, Puigdemont once again sent out feelers to the Spanish government regarding a negotiated settlement. When nothing was forthcoming,  the Catalan Parliament, following his lead,  declared independence from Spain  on October 27th, 2017. 

The Spanish government in Madrid responded by suspending Catalonia’s Statute of  Autonomy and indicting the members of a the Catalan government on charges of  rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Believing the Spanish government would never give them a fair trial, one faction of the cabinet, led by President Puigdemont,  fled into exile in Belgium. Another faction, led by Vice President Oriol Junqueras stayed in Spain and was quickly remanded into  pre-trial detention without bail. 

Under pressure, it has been suggested, from Angela Merkel’s  government in Berlin, Rajoy scheduled new Catalan elections for December 21st, 2017. He did so clearly believing that  after his government’s October show of force,  the Catalans would “come back to their senses” and elect a pro-Unionist legislature. To his enormous surprise, the pro-independence forces renewed their hold on the legislature. The exiled Carles Puigdemont  was now the president-elect of Catalonia. 

In the run-up to that December vote, the Spanish point man on the Catalan case Judge Pablo Llarena sought to have Puigdemont and his fellow cabinet members extradited back to Spain on the three charges mentioned above. However, during his own review of the case, the Belgian judge made quite clear  that, given the complete absence of violence on the part of the Catalan leadership during the October days, he saw no basis  for extradition on the charge of rebellion. And since antiquated crime of sedition was no longer on the books in his country, he also saw no basis for extradition on that charge either. He did, however signal  his openness to the idea of extradition on the charge of misuse of public funds. 

But before the Belgian  court could release his full formal decision, Llarena hastily pulled back his extradition request.  He and his fellow Spanish magistrates clearly had the promulgation of a harsh  “exemplary” sentence in  mind for Puigdemont. The prospect of a trial for the “mere” misuse of funds—a misuse of funds by the way that both Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro had publicly sworn before Parliament  had not occurred—would not do. 

With Puigdemont’s poised to be sworn-in by videoconference as president of Catalonia late January 2018, Llarena  simply  invented  two  “principles”  with no basis  in Spanish Constitutional law to prevent it from happening. The first was to prevent all the elected parliamentarian in pre-trial detention or exile from taking their seats in parliament, a clear  violation of  the principle created by the  Yoldi case in 1987.  When the pro-independence majority rejiggered their parliamentary  lists to sidestep that ruling, he then ruled that a candidate for investiture must be physically present in the chamber to take his or her oath. He would go on to scuttle two further presidential candidacies  in the coming months on through similarly questionable means. It would take until May of 2018 and a fourth presidential  candidate with no pending judicial  charges against him, Joaquim Torra, for  the pro-independence government to be seated again in the Catalan Parliament. 

In the meantime, Llarena sought redemption for his initial defeat at the hands of the Belgian judiciary.  On March 25th2018,  Puigdemont was detained in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein while being driven back to Belgium from a speaking engagement in Finland. Unbeknownst to him, Spanish intelligence agents had, acting without authorization of Belgian authorities and thus in apparent violation of Belgian law, had placed a geo-locator on his vehicle. When he entered Germany from Denmark he was stopped and detained by German authorities working on a tip from the Spanish intelligence agents and imprisoned in the town of Neumünster. 

After 12 days behind bars, however, the German court, like the Belgian court before it said that extradition on the basis of the charge of rebellion was inadmissible and released him from detention. Like the Belgian court before it left  open the possibility of an extradition for misuse of public  funds. But with the possibility of the much-desired “exemplary sentence”  once again out of his grasp, Llarena declined to further pursue a transfer on the basis of the lesser charge.   

Catalonia: For the Socialists , Simply a Matter of Better Public Relations

Rather than heed these warnings about the  hysterical nature of the Spanish judiciary’s vision of the Catalan question, the Spanish media and opinion-making establishment simply demonized the German judiciary,  and doubled down on its ridicule of the Catalan nationalists.  

Those know-nothings from Germany, they argued from the pages of both left and right-leaning “prestige” outlets,  simply did not understand what was going on in their very special nation. The key to turning the situation around, according to these establishment thinkers, lay in improving the country’s public relations apparatus in other countries. 

This is what led to the creation to what might be called the hasbara  phase of the crisis. When, in a surprising turn of events, the Socialist party came  to power in Spain on the basis of a no-confidence vote in the summer of 2018,  Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez quickly established  Global Spain, a government funded propaganda agency designed specifically  to a) portray the Catalan independence movement as wholly illegitimate and authoritarian b) endlessly repeat the mantra that Spain was a “consolidated democracy” on a par with any other in the Western world.   

That using government funds to demonize several million of your own citizens—citizens you constantly claim you are simply Spaniards like yourself with whom you want to live in peace forever—might not be advisable, or that truly “consolidated” democracies rarely have to run around the world insistently proclaiming to be such a thing, never appears to have occurred  to the organization’s mastermind, the acting Spanish Foreign minister Josep Borrell.  The fact that the spots produced by the agency turned out to be laughably amateurish  and that Borrell proved, with his heedless comments about the European genocide of indigenous Americans and in his petulant behavior in an interview with Deutsche Welle’sTim Sebastian, to be much more of a pyromaniac than a firefighter, simply added further touches of grotesquerie to the desperate efforts of the Spanish establishment on the Catalan question.  

But again, thanks  to the highly evolved symbiotic relationship between Spanish government officials and the Madrid-based press that follows them, very little of this reality  was evident to most Spaniards outside of Catalonia. 

Indeed, the general tenor of the Spanish establishment’s view  on the Catalan question during  last months of  2018 would be best described as one of considerable optimism. As they saw it,  the most charismatic figure of the movement, Puigdemont, representing the more conservative Together for Catalonia  faction was on the defensive and increasingly forgotten  in exile, while Junqueras, the leader of the movement’s increasingly  more popular faction, the left-leaning Catalan left Republicans, was safely tucked away in prison awaiting trial.  Moreover, the second and third-line leadership cadres who had been forced into positions of prime responsibility in the Catalan coalition government were engaging in bitter and quite public accusations disloyalty against one another. 

And best of all from their point of view the trial of the imprisoned Catalan government ministers and civil  society leaders was scheduled to start at the beginning of 2019 on home turf in Madrid,  far away from those  pesky and clueless Belgian and German judges with their  strange concern for the appropriate matches between criminal accusations and the facts at their disposal   

The Exemplary Punishment Begins 

The trial, which ran from February to May of 2019 did not disappoint. In it, Spanish and Catalan TV audiences saw a prosecution that played fast and loose with the facts, and that was legitimated in its dishonestly at every turn by the presiding judge Manuel Marchena. His many demonstrations of partiality—which were clearly and unambiguously noted by international observers and will no doubt redound quite negatively upon him and the judicial pyramid he sits atop when, as is inevitable,  the case as is brought to the European Court of Justice in the future—were often breathtaking in scope.

One of the key goals of the prosecution was to prove, in keeping with existing requirements for the crime of rebellion in Spain,  that the wholly peaceful demonstrations that took place in Catalonia on October 1st and the days immediately preceding it, constituted a “tumultuous uprising”  against the state.  In order to prove this fact, the judge allowed Spanish official after Spanish official (including many the very people who planned and executed the widespread assault on unarmed voters) to speak at length about the personal sense of fear and dread they had experienced during this period.  

When, however,  the well-known Catalan philosopher Marina Garcés took the stand and began to speak of the sense of fear she felt in the face of the long-planned police assaults in her neighborhood on October 1st he abruptly cut her off saying,  “none your personal appraisals or evaluations are of interest to the court. Therefore you should eliminate them, even though you’d like to expand upon them and all the fine points  related to them.  All those fetishizations that are not about the facts, but rather about your personal assessment of them,  are of no  interest  to this tribunal and we are not going to waste our time with them”. 

And this is just one of many such breaches of  blatant unfairness  that could be adduced in regard to the trial!

It is also worth mentioning that owing to the very antiquated legal mechanism known as  the “People’s Accusation” the neo-Fascist Vox party was granted a full prosecutorial role in the proceedings beside the state’s attorneys!  And though they made no secret of their complete and gruff disdain for the defendants and their cause in their interventions, they were seldom, if ever,  reprimanded by the presiding judge. 

The Spanish political establishment and its attendant press, led in many cases by the “liberal” El País, cheered Marchena for his wonderful probity under difficult circumstances, while  simultaneously  expressing  its belief that the with the end of the trial  the Catalan “challenge” as they like to refer to it, would soon be a distant memory. 

European Justice: The Uninvited Guest at Marchena’s Show

Meanwhile, however,  President Puigdemont’s legal team, led by the cocky and irrepressible Chilean,  Gonzalo Boye, known around the world for an extraordinary ability to find and exploit the cracks in elite-dominated legal systems on behalf of those deprived of fundamental  rights and protections, remained hard at work. 

Elections to the European Parliament were scheduled for May of 2019. Knowing that anyone elected to that body acquires complete legal immunity from the moment their victory at the polls is certified, Boye suggested that Puigdemont put forward his candidacy. He did so, and was joined by two other members of his exiled cabinet, Toni Comín, living not far from him in Belgium and Clara Ponsatí, living in Scotland where she is a professor at St. Andrews University.  Seeing the advantages that this approach might also hold for him, Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras soon followed suit from his jail cell in Spain.

Aware that that having Puigdemont and Junqueras and the two other ministers gain platforms in the European Parliament would constitute a serious threat to their ability to continue to control the narrative (Catalonia bad, Spain a “consolidated democracy”), the Spanish judiciary sprang into action.  And they did so in  their typically “creative” manner, banking  that a  legally baseless show of force, elevated to the status of a self-evident constitutional doctrine by  the Madrid-based press, would scare Boye and his clients into submission. 


Mere days before the April filing deadline for candidates  European election candidates, the Central Electoral Board of Spain, an administrative body staffed, in part,  with magistrates from the Supreme Court, but lacking judicial or policy making powers of its own, “ruled”  that the exiled candidates were ineligible for to run. This, despite the non-existence of any such law regarding people the exclusion of indicted and/or exiled people in such matters.  Boye, however, swiftly filed a legal challenge to the decision which was upheld by the real courts.  So, on Monday May 6th 2019,  the exiles successfully filed their  candidacy papers.  

In the late May 2019 European elections, the exiled Puigdemont and Comín along with the imprisoned Junqueras won seats in the EU Parliament. Ponsatí fell just short. When, however,  Brexit is consummated and British deputies are removed  the European calculus she too will have a seat in Brussels.  In short three  (with a fourth soon on board) of Spain’s most important official enemies, people  wanted for the deadly crime of putting out ballot boxes,  now  had full parliamentary immunity. 

But as we have seen,  assimilating and adjusting to changing realities is not exactly a strong suit of the organs of the Spanish judiciary.  So, rather than accept the clear verdict of the voters along with the rules of the EU, they invented yet another legal doctrine, one  which held that no winning candidate to the European parliament could take his or her seat without first swearing loyalty to the Spanish constitution in Madrid, something which would, of course, nullify the indicted exiled candidates from taking their seats and gaining immunity.

They did so despite the act that a) that the membership European 
Parliament was designed precisely to be transcendent of such national impediments b) Elected Spanish members of the body have regularly complied with this national “requirement” by proxy, something that the exiles immediately sought to do. However, when Puigdemont sent Boye to do this on his behalf,  government officials at both the Spanish Parliament and the Central Electoral Commission in Madrid refused register the documents he brought with him. 

When it came time to sell this legal legerdemain to its partner states in the EU, Spain enlisted the services of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani,  who first gained prominence in public life as the spokesman  for Silvio Berlusconi’s  Forza Italia party. In his role as head of the chamber, Tajani—without consulting his  fellow members of the Parliament’s executive—commissioned the legal office of the European Parliament to generate a report which upheld the novel Spanish position.   

When Puigdemont and Comin protested the findings of the report in writing, Tajani responded as if its contents were binding when, in all probability,   knew  quite well it was not the case.  And when, on May 29th, 2019, Puigdemont and Comin—surrounded  by busloads of Catalans who had made long the trip north to support their exiled politicians—tried  pick up their accreditation as  elected deputies  at the Parliament in Brussels, Tajani, ordered  security to prevent them from entering the building.   

Meanwhile, the exemplary lesson  in justice for those Catalan politicians who had stayed in Spain was coming to a close.  A number of the politician being tried, including Junqueras,  had stood as candidates for the Spain’s general elections—the third in three years—which had taken place at the end of April, roughly a month before the European polls referenced above,  Oddly, and in apparent contradiction to what would  occur a month later in relation to the winning candidacies for the European Parliament, all of the prisoners  who won seats were allowed to leave jail and take their oaths of office in the Parliament in Madrid, after which time they were promptly returned to prison and ordered to  find substitutes to occupy their places in that body. 

The contradiction was not lost on Junqueras or his lawyers. If they could allow him to take his oath in Madrid, why could he not also take his oath in Brussels? It was even bigger than this. If,  as Puigdemont, Comín and their counsel Boye  had long alleged, legal immunity for members of the European Parliament goes into effect the moment their home country certifies their victory at the polls, then Junqueras should have also have been immediately freed from detention to take his seat Brussels, with full immunity from any ongoing or  future prosecution

When Junqueras challenged the Spanish courts on this matter they, unsurprisingly,  did not find in his favor.  When, however,  he asked that they consult the European Court of Justice on the matter, the judge,  for some reason probably linked to the overconfidence that can accrue to those who work in controlled environments for many years,  agreed to do so.  One has to believe that he will regret that moment of fair-minded legal rigor for a long time to come. 

Within days  of the decision in favor of Junqueras on December 19th, Puigdemont and Comín received their credentials as fully immunized European parliamentarians. Clara Ponsatí awaits the completion of Brexit to claim her place in the chamber. For the next four years, at least, they will be free to speak directly to the European press and citizenry without filters. And should Spain engage in more  of the organized intimidation tactics they have used over the last few years to silence Catalan voices— like threatening retribution against  third party organizations that host a pro-independence speakers outside of Spain  and/or sending  embassy officials to insult and shout down such speakers when the people organizing the event did not cede to the pressure to cancel—they will have an official perch form which to denounce it before their fellow EU citizens. 

For many establishment figures in Spain the late December decision marked the first time that they had to face the possibility that the Spanish state might not be on the side of the angels in the Catalan matter, and that being  part of Europe might involve a bit more than spending  German monies on better highways and airports, in other words,  that  it might actually involve  respecting the legal norms it is strictly obligated to follow as part of their membership in the EU.   

And when we speak of that establishment—and this is very important for progressives outside of  Spain to hear—we are talking about a category that very much includes the Socialist party of Pedro Sánchez who, during the campaign for the fourth general election in four years, which took place this past November 10th, bragged like a sheriff in a fifties western about how he would bring the dastardly Puigdemont to trial and prison in Spain were he to be elected Prime  Minister. 

Still, the fog of denial and induced ignorance remains thick for many in Spain.  For example, shortly after Toni Comín received his provisional accreditation as European parliamentarian on December 20th, a reporter from the Sexta , a network that passes for more sophisticated and liberal than most in the country,  said to  him: 

It is still not totally clear as to whether you will receive your final accreditation,  and there are those that are saying that in order to receive that final accreditation you still must still go to Madrid and take care of the unfinished formalities awaiting you in order actually become European parliamentarians.  

To which an astonished Comín responded with all the good-natured containment he could muster:  

Is there really anyone who after having read the decision is actually saying this? That the first I’ve heard of it. Is there really someone who having read the sentence, is saying that we need to go to Madrid and swear our loyalty  to the constitution? If that the case, they should use the upcoming Christmas vacation to take an intensive reading course. In this sense the decision is extremely clear. It de facto annuls the section of Spanish law that says that elected European parliamentarians must, in order to accede to their office, go to Madrid pledge loyalty to the constitution.

But, of course, not all such cases of denial are  so comical or so inconsequential. In announcing its decision on the Junqueras’ appeal, the European Court of Justice returned the specific matter of whether Junqueras should be released from jail at this time  in order to take his seat in Brussels  to the Spanish courts.  Since he was convicted in October after being improperly deprived of his seat—and with it his four year run of parliamentary immunity—in May, there are very solid grounds  for releasing him from jail immediately and vacating  his sentence. 

That, however, would deeply tarnish the value  of Judge Marchena’s  exemplary trial and sentence. 

So, what did the Spanish judiciary do? In a vain attempt to help Marchena save face, they kicked the matter over to that trustiest and most malleable of judicial playthings, the Central Electoral Commission, who, as if on cue, reaffirmed that Junqueras cannot be allowed to leave prison and take his place in Brussels.  

Knowing, however, that the Commission has no judicial standing in the matter,  and that European Court of Justice has specifically requested a response from the Supreme Court which had tried Junqueras, the leadership of the European Parliament declined to respond to the letter on the matter sent to it by the Commission. But in a symbolic move surely aimed at Madrid it updated its website to include Junqueras as a full member of the body. And in a symbolic act of solidarity taken the same day, the  Green Party’s parliamentary caucus in the chamber  named him its Vice-President. 

Having thus struck out in its attempt to have the Central Electoral  Commission  do its dirty work vis a vis Europe,  the Supreme Court was forced to show its cards. 

On January 9th, 2020  it told the highest court in Europe, a court whose decisions it is required by  both Spanish and European law to accept, that it was not going to release Junqueras from prison to take his seat in the European Parliament. 

And to the  surprise of many, the President of that body, David Sassoli, who only weeks before had said in the clearest and sternest possible terms that Spain was obliged to accept the European court’s ruling, now accepted Spain’s defiance and ordered Junqueras’s name to be struck  from the official list  of European parliamentarians. 

In its rejection of the Junqueras decision, the Spanish Supreme Court indicated, as is apparently its right under European law, that it would ask  to the full body of the European Parliament  to overturn the ruling of the Union’s highest court.  In doing so, it is clearly banking on the fact that  the many parliamentarians from large countries with real or potential regional problems of their own—the same majority who stood by silently while Antonio Tajani blatantly and illegally disenfranchised all those who had voted for the Catalan parliamentarians in the Spring of 2019—will vote in their favor. 

And there is good reason to believe that this gamble will pay off in the short term. 

In the longer term, however, the fallout could be enormous. 

During the last half of last year  Tajani and his parliamentary collaborators, acting with the tacit backing of the larger states,  were able to shut down  all discussion of the larger practical and philosophical implications of the case of the Catalan parliamentarians  for the future of the European project.  

Doing so now, however, will be much more difficult. Puigdemont, Comin and their small, but passionate  group  of sympathizers in the body have pledged that in the debate over the Spanish request for an annulment  of the high court ruling, they  will be anything but silent about both Spanish and large-state strong-arm tactics against their movement, and  the enormous implications of such an annulment for the future of truly united Europe. 

In short, even if  Spain and the large states “win” this time around, they may lose in the long run because they will have completely and quite graphically robbed  the EU’s smaller constituencies and its millions of  already skeptical citizens of the illusion that  the Union’s institutions are at all willing,  or able to safeguard  their full slate of political  and  human rights.