Spain bans Catalonia's ex-leader Puigdemont from EU vote

Catalonia separatist Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain after a 2017 secession attempt, has been banned from standing in the EU elections. He and two colleagues had wanted to advance the case for Catalan independence.

Spanish election authorities have banned the Catalan former President Carles Puigdemont from running as a candidate for the European Parliament.

Puigdemont and two former colleagues in the regional government had wanted to highlight the cause of Catalan independence on an international stage, after secessionist efforts were swiftly quashed by Madrid in 2017.

Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin, who both served as ministers under Puigdemont and who also left Spain in 2017, were also prevented from standing.

Spain's central electoral commission, the JEC, ruled Monday that the three candidates were not eligible to run as candidates given that they were not registered as Spaniards living abroad, but that they were outside their own country "to escape the process of justice."

The three have denounced the ruling as a "flagrant violation of their rights," claiming that it was proof of collusion between the judiciary and "certain political interests."

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Rich ancient heritage

Catalonia has been settled by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Greeks, who were mainly in the coastal areas of Rosas and Empuries (above). Then came the Romans, who built more settlements and infrastructure. Catalonia remained a part of the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Visigoths in the fifth century.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Counties and independence

Catalonia was conquered by Arabs in 711 AD. The Frankish king Charlemagne stopped their advance at Tours on the Loire River and, by 759, the north of Catalonia was once again Christian. In 1137, the counties that made up Catalonia entered an alliance with the Crown of Aragon.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Autonomy and the war of succession

In the 13th century, the institutions of Catalan self-administration were created under the banner of the Generalitat de Catalunya. After the unification of the Crown of Aragon with that of Castile in 1476, Aragon was largely able to keep its autonomic institutions. However, the Catalan revolt — from 1640 to 1659 — saw parts of Catalonia ceded to present-day France.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Remembrance of defeat

After the conquest of Barcelona on September 11, 1714, by the Bourbon King Phillip V, Catalan instuitutions were dissolved and self-administration came to an end. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the end of their right to autonomy.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Federal ideas in wider republic

After the abdication of King Amadeo I of Spain, the first Spanish Republic was declared in February 1873. It lasted barely a year. The supporters of the Republic were split – one group supporting the idea of a centralized republic, the others wanting a federal system. Pictured here is Francisco Pi i Maragall, a supporter of federalism and one of five presidents of the short-lived republic.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Failed attempt

Catalonia sought to establish a new state within the Spanish republic, but this only served to exacerbate the differences between republicans, ultimately dividing and weakening them. In 1874, the monarchy and the House of Bourbon (led by King Alfonso XII, pictured here) took the helm.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Catalan Republic

Between 1923 — with the support of the monarchy, the army and the church — General Primo de Rivera declared a dictatorship. Catalonia became a center of opposition and resistance. After the end of the dictatorship, the politician Francesc Macia (pictured here) successfully pressed for important rights of autonomy for Catalonia.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

The end of freedom

In the Second Spanish Republic, Catalan lawmakers worked on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. This was approved by the Spanish parliament in 1932. Francesc Macia was elected president of the Generalitat of Catalonia by the Catalan parliament. However, the victory of Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) put an end to all that.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Loss of liberties

The Franco regime ruled with an iron rod. Political parties were banned and the Catalan language and culture were surpressed.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

New autonomy by statute

After the first parliamentary elections that followed the end of the Franco dictatorship, the Generalitat of Catalonia was provisionally restored. Under the democratic Spanish constitution of 1978, Catalonia was given a new Statute of Autonomy just a year later.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

New and different statute

The new Statute of Autonomy recognized the autonomy of Catalonia and the importance of the Catalan language. In comparison to the 1932 statute, it was enhanced in the fields of culture and education but curtailed when it came to the realm of justice. Pictured here is Jordi Pujol, the long-time head of the government of Catalonia after the dictatorship.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Stronger self-awareness

A desire for independence has grown stronger in recent years. In 2006, Catalonia was given a new statute that broadened the Catalan government's powers. However, it lost these after a complaint by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court of Spain.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

First referendum

A referendum on independence was already envisaged for November 9, 2014. The first question was "Do you want Catalonia to become a state?" In the case of an affirmative answer, the second question was posed: "Do you want this state to be independent?" However, the Constitutional Court suspended the vote.

Catalonia's independence movement — a brief history

Clash of the titans

Since January 2016, Carles Puigdemont has been president of the Catalan government. He proceeded with the separatist course of his predecessor Artur Mas and called the new referendum for October 1, 2017. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed this as unconstitutional.

Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya party (Together for Catalonia) accused electoral bosses of wanting to "silence and push aside" Puigdemont "so that he can't explain what he represents at the heart of European institutions."

Read more: How fair are the trials of Catalan pro-independence politicians?

The decision by Spain's central electoral commission, the JEC, was not unanimous. The commission president, vice president and two other members together issued a separate decision that the three banned politicians should not necessarily be ineligible on the grounds of "criminal rebellion."

Independence push

All three of the banned politicians were part of the push to hold an independence referendum in October 2017, which Spain declared invalid. The referendum in the wealthy northeastern region — which the secessionists won with a small margin — was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.

After then-Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by imposing direct rule on Catalonia from Madrid, Puigdemont fled to Belgium. He faces arrest if he returns to Spain, with numerous other colleagues who stayed in Spain currently in prison.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

A Roman province

The Romans had several provinces with Hispania in their names on the Iberian Peninsula. Modern Spain also encompasses such wide cultural diversity that the Spanish themselves speak of Las Espanas (The Spains). The country in its present form was never united under a single ruler until after the 1702-14 War of the Spanish Succession.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

A nation of regions

Spanish nationalism is strong in many regions, with former kingdoms such as Aragon largely content to be recognized as part of the Spanish nation-state. Asturias has its own language, but takes pride in its role as the birthplace of the Reconquista, or the taking back of Iberia from the Moors. Spanish nationalism was evident in recent protests in Madrid in response to Catalonia's referendum.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

Bloodied fingers

Catalonia has long battled for independence. Its flag, the Senyera, is very similar to that of Aragon, to which it once belonged. The design is fabled to represent four bloodied fingers of Count Wilfred the Hairy being passed over a gold shield. Catalans were fairly happy with their situation until a court struck down the region's statute of autonomy in 2006 and support for independence grew.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

No great appetite

Valencianismo, or Valencian nationalism, sprang out of the Renaixenca, an early-19th-century rebirth of the Catalan language, of which Valencian is just one variant. However, nationalist sentiment is not widespread in the region, which is home to Spain's Tomatina tomato-throwing festival. The Valencian Nationalist Bloc usually gets about 4 percent of the vote for the autonomous parliament.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

Other Catalan territories

The Balearic Islands — Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera — all speak variants of Catalan. Though there is a greater nationalist feeling on the islands than in Valencia, it is still more subdued than in Catalonia. Meanwhile, La Franja, a strip of Catalan-speaking land in Aragon, was split by the independence referendum, though most residents do not advocate self-determination for themselves.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

The Basque Country

Because of terror attacks by the ETA militant group, Basque separatists used to make the headlines far more often than Catalonia's independence movement. Separatists consider the Basque Country in France and Spain and the region of Navarre to be one nation. About a third of people want full independence, but most want more autonomy. A referendum proposed in 2008 was ruled illegal.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

The Galician cause

Although it was the birthplace of the centralist dictator Francisco Franco, Galicia has the strongest tradition of separatism after Catalonia and the Basque Country. Even Spain's mainstream national parties display a streak of Galicianism in the region. Perhaps as a result, starkly nationalist parties receive a lower share of the regional vote.

Catalans, Galicians, Basques and more: Spain's many nationalities

From caliphate to community

The Arabic name al-Andalus originally refers to the areas of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Moorish rule for 760 years. As Christians reconquered territories, the area known as Andalusia shrank southwards. Most Andalusians voted for autonomy after Franco died in 1975, but there is little appetite for full independence.

Moderate Catalan separatists were big regional winners in Spain's general election on Sunday, which saw the Socialist PSOE emerge as the biggest single party.

Related Subjects

Banned from Canada

It also emerged on Monday that Puigdemont had been barred from entering Canada a month earlier, after he was invited to visit by a Quebec separatist group.

The move to ban him from Canada was denounced as "shameful" by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, a group that promotes Quebec independence. It had invited him to tour the largely French-speaking province.

Read more: Far-right gains in Spanish polls are not Franco nostalgia: analyst

Puigdemont had been due to land in Montreal on April 2, but he was told by email several days earlier that his electronic authorization to enter had been revoked.

A Canadian government official said politics played no part in the decision and declined to comment on the individual case, citing privacy laws.

rc/cmk (AFP, EFE, dpa)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.