Belgium police estimated about 45,000 people marched through the heart of Brussels earlier today with many questioning the refusal by the leaders of the EU to get involved with the issue of Catalan independence, as well as showing their support for the ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
Some carried placards criticising the Europen Union for not pressuring Madrid.
One sign showed the face of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the question: “Democracy? Some defend it when it suits them. Shame on them.”
Mr Puigdemont, who like many in the crowd wore yellow in support of jailed separatist to attack Mr Juncker.
He said: “Today you are also writing another page in the history of Europe, a magnificent page.
“Fundamental rights have no borders, they have to be valid for everyone, we want a Europe of free citizens.
“Europe not only has to listen to the states, but also to its citizens.
“From this mobilised Catalonia we want and can build opportunities for European reform and progress.
He added: ”Is there any place in the world that holds demonstrations like this to support criminals?
“So maybe we are not criminals. Maybe we are democrats.”
Separatist and sociologist Joan Coma also attacked the EU for its “passivity”.
He said: “We are here to denounce the passivity of the European institutions.”
Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday withdrew an international arrest warrant for Mr Puigdemont in order to bring his case back solely under Spanish jurisdiction, leaving him without an international legal stage to pursue his independence campaign.
Mr Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members fled to Belgium when prime minister Mariano Rahoy’s Madrid administration imposed direct rule on Catalonia and sacked his government after a declaration of independence by the regional government on October 27.
He is likely to be detained if he returns to Spain, pending investigation on charges of sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust.
Mr Puigdemont said on Wednesday he would remain in Belgium for the time being.
Gloria Cot, a clerk from Barcelona at Thursday’s march who had just arrived by coach, said: “Brussels is a kind of a loudspeaker for us.
“It is a loudspeaker so that people can know that we really don’t have a 100 percent democracy in Spain and that Catalonia has always been subjected to problems with Spain.”
Mr Juncker’s deputy Frans Timmermans said he welcomed the “very positive atmosphere” of the demonstration, which took place as campaigning gets under way for a Catalan election on December 21.
Mr Rajoy hopes pro-independence parties will lose their majority in the Catalan parliament in the election and end the deadlock created by his government’s refusal to recognise a banned independence vote Mr Puigdemont held in October.
Mr Timmermans said there was no change to Commission policy that the dispute with Catalan authorities remains an internal one in which the EU has no need to intervene because Spain’s democratic constitution is functioning in line with EU values.
He accused Mr Puigdemont and his allies of undermining the rule of law by choosing to ignore a Spanish constitutional ban on secession rather than trying to change the constitution.
Mr Timmermans said: ”If you do not agree with the law, you can organise yourselves to change the law or the constitution,” he said. “What is not permissible under the rule of law is to just ignore the law.”
MEP Jill Evans, part of the European Free Alliance, spoke at the event, saying: “Many people in my country, Wales, support you and want to show solidarity with the people of Catalonia.
“We stand with you. Yesterday, our National Assembly, our Parliament in Wales passed a resolution expressing that solidarity from Wales. Catalonia will change Europe, even if Europe resists that change.”