The EU, a Lion with Poland and Hungary on Social Issues, Is a Lamb When it Comes Spain’s Violations of More Fundamental Rights

You’ve probably heard something about the growing impasse between Hungary and Poland, and the EU over the latter’s insistence that they sign on to woke values in matters relating to the shape of the family and sexual identities.

You’ve probably also heard something during the last few weeks about exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s arrest and subsequent quick release from detention in Sardinia.

What you probably have not heard or read about is the fact that that arrest was just the latest of several attempts by Spain to blatantly violate core principles and rulings of the EU’s judicial system in a way that is arguably much more significant than similar breaches of process in the formerly communist East.

Spain has tried repeatedly to get Puigdemont extradited to Madrid on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, first from Belgium, then Germany and now Italy. In each case, the foreign judges looked at the facts and said "there’s no there there."

But this has not stopped the Spanish judiciary – with a sociology and an ideological ethos quite purposefully left untouched since the death of Franco – from continuing to issue arrest orders against him.

The battle has gone to another level since Puigdemont’s election to the European Parliament in June of 2019. This occurred after Spain crudely and ultimately unsuccessfully, invented laws out of whole cloth to prevent him from ever getting on the ballot.

Since all members of the European Parliament have full immunity from prosecution, Puigdemont’s election only further enraged a Spanish judiciary still smarting from his clear victories over them in Belgium and Germany.

So what did they do as supposedly loyal and respectful members of the EU, fully cognizant of the fact that their courts are subsidiary to the European ones?

They simply continued to act as if the European laws were invisible and had no claim upon them. According to European law, Puigdemont should be able to travel and live freely in any part of the EU, including his home country of Spain.

But from the beginning Spain has said that it would simply ignore this binding requirement and arrest him the moment he stepped into the country. Indeed, it has become a recurring sport among Spanish politicians from across the political spectrum (including the supposedly "progressive" Socialists) to see who can brag more fervently about their desire to break European laws and have him arrested.

Moreover, after he was sworn into his seat in the EU parliament, the Spanish government called in all the chips it had with members of that body to initiate a process aimed at having his immunity lifted. This "supplicatory" process is now underway.

Realizing the danger this posed to him and the two other exiled Catalan members of the EU parliament (Ponsatí and Comin), Puigdemont appealed to the European justice system to have his immunity preserved throughout the course of what is expected to be a long back and forth on the matter within the EU parliament. This request was granted. As part of the deal, Spain agreed to drop any pending arrest orders it had against him.

The other day in Sardinia, however, Spain brazenly reneged on this pledge when it issued the order to Italian authorities to have him arrested. Owing to its own incomplete efforts to root out fascist thinking in the police forces and the judiciary, Italy was arguably one of Spain’s best bets to get some EU-disdaining cooperation on the Puigdemont matter. But it was not to be. Even the often authoritarian Italians quickly sided with the EU court system.

So where are the threats from the EU against Spain for its repeated aberrant behavior?

Apparently, being part of the Western European club of nations as well as a very long-term and strategically-positioned NATO partner absolves the country of all the opprobrium that is regularly heaped upon the poorer newcomers from the East.

And apparently the EU now cares more about policing thought crimes relating to new sexual "norms" than it does about enforcing respect across continent for its judiciary’s most basic edicts and procedures.

This does not bode well for the future of the union.

Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014) and A Citizen’s Democracy in Authoritarian Times: An American View on the Catalan Drive for Independence (University of Valencia Press, 2018).