Junts leader Carles Puigdemont has grilled the European Commission on the so-called "sexist speech" of the body's top diplomat, Josep Borrell. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

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Spain’s Puigdemont locks horns with EU’s Borrell again, this time over ‘sexist speech’

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Spanish Junts leader Carles Puigdemont has grilled the European Commission on “sexist speech” by Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat.

Writing to the EC, Puigdemont referenced comments made by Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, regarding the Spanish women’s football team, which some on the Left have alleged were sexist.

In the wake of the team’s World Cup win earlier this year, Borrell said that Spain’s “women are learning to play football as well as men and that in itself is already very good news”.

The pro-Catalan independence politician wrote: “Does the Commission approve of Mr Borrell’s … opinion comparing women’s and men’s football teams?”

Puigdemont also quizzed the EC on what “internal training and measures on sexist speech” it had in place and whether the body would “investigate and suspend anyone who is guilty of sexist speech”.

The EC responded on December 5, with Borrell being handed the responsibility of dealing with the query.

Replying on behalf of the executive, he said he had expressed his “utmost appreciation for Spain’s women’s football team after winning the World Cup”.

He added that the EC also “organises training for members of staff on equality and equality mainstreaming, including on gender equality”.

“Any breach of the Staff Regulations, including misconduct, may be subject to disciplinary measures,” Borrell added.

“The suspension of a staff member could be decided in cases of allegations of serious misconduct or other infringements of the law.”

While Puigdemont may have been concerned with the issue of possible sexism within the EC, his strained history with Borrell goes deeper.

Both men herald from Catalonia, although the two politicians come from opposite sides of its political spectrum, with Borrell being a vehement defender of the region’s status as part of Spain.

The pair have come to political blows in the past. Puigdemont threatened legal action against Borrell in 2019 after the EC heavyweight questioned the independence of the Belgian judiciary ruling on the Junts leader’s extradition case.

In 2022, Borrell appeared to use the war in Ukraine to take a jab at his pro-independence rival, saying that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would not flee his country “hiding in a car“.

The line enraged pro-independence activists who saw it as a reference to Puigdemont’s decision to leave Spain after declaring Catalonia’s independence in 2017.