Strasbourg: The European Union’s new lawmakers convened for their first session in Strasbourg on Tuesday after EU elections held at the end of May, but the constituent session could not hide some of the deep divisions facing the 28-nation bloc.
Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the parliament in support of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who failed to convince an EU court to let him take up his seat in the legislative chamber.
Inside the chamber, members of the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage turned their backs as the EU anthem — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy — was played to open the session.
“The Brexit Party has already made its presence felt,” Farage tweeted above a picture of his party’s lawmakers with their backs turned. The lawmakers “have arrived in Strasbourg to be cheerfully defiant,” he said in another tweet.
The protest drew a sharp rebuke from the outgoing European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.
“Rising to your feet is a matter of respect — it does not mean that you necessarily share the views of the European Union,” he said. “If you listen to the anthem of another country, you rise to your feet.”
Farage’s new party, which has demanded that Britain exit the European Union immediately without a deal, won the most votes in May’s elections and sent 29 lawmakers to Strasbourg. The protesters outside, who travelled mostly from Catalonia in Spain, stood waving flags on two bridges leading to the parliament building. The demonstration was organised by a group called Together for Catalonia.
Catalan citizens were protesting “in order to defend their rights, their vote for elected MEPs,” tweeted Umberto Gambini, an organizer of the protests who headed the office of former Catalan lawmaker Ramon Tremosa. He called on Tajani to address the protesters. The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg issued a preliminary ruling Monday evening, dismissing the urgent complaint brought by Puigdemont and party colleague Antoni Comin, a former Catalan health minister.
The two politicians were elected to the European Parliament at the end of May and had hoped to take up their mandates in the new session. They are wanted by Spain on an arrest warrant and live in exile in Belgium.
The Spanish National Electoral Commission had insisted that all new Spanish lawmakers initially swear on the constitution in Madrid. Since they did not attend, the commission did not include them in a national list of elected representatives.
The question of whether or not lawmakers should personally come for the oath on the constitution is the subject of a Spanish court case that has not yet been decided.
But the EU General Court president agreed that the European Parliament could not verify their mandate if lawmakers did not appear on the national list.
If they travel to Spain, Puigdemont and Comin face imminent arrest in connection with the independence referendum in autumn 2017 thatMadrid deemed illegal. — dpa