Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Catalan MEP is 'elected', court advisor says

  • 'Now it is obvious that the political conflict has consequences at the European level,' said the representative of the Catalonian government to the EU, Meritxell Serret (Photo: European Parliament)

The advocate general of the EU Court of Justice(CJEU) said on Tuesday (12 November) that the jailed former Catalan politician Oriol Junqueras is indeed an elected MEP - in a boost to the cause of several such jailed pro-independence MEPs.

In an advisory opinion, Maciej Szpunar said it was "up to the voters" who became an MEP, but that was now up to the parliament itself to decide whether the MEPs should enjoy parliamentary immunity.

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The European parliament states that "the mandate of an MEP is a national mandate" and "MEPs are elected under national electoral law".

But after Junqueras was elected in the European elections in May this year, he was not allowed to leave custody to pledge his signing-in oath by the Spanish Supreme Court - a requirement to take office as an elected MEP in Spain.

According to Szpunar's judgment, Junqueras is "capable of benefiting from immunity" from the moment he takes up his mandate from the EU parliament.

Once a member of the EU parliament is elected, MEPs have a mandate governed by European law, which does "not allow any member state to suspend the mandate of a member of the European parliament or their prerogatives for any reason," Szpunar stated.

As a result, Spain "cannot revoke or limit without an express authorisation" of European institutions, the court adviser said.

Under the rules of the European parliament's protocol on immunity, the parliament can decide whether to uphold or waive the immunity of an MEP.

However, the parliament will now wait for the final decision of the CJEU to decide on this matter, according to a spokesperson of the institution.

This assessment might not change the situation of Junqueras, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over his role in the region's 2017 failed bid for independence.

However, this assessment might set a precedent for the other Catalan leaders living in self-imposed exile in Belgium and elected in May as MEPs, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, who have also launched legal challenges against the European parliament.

"This shows another very serious injustice in which Junqueras is a victim. They have violated their rights and those of their voters. Oriol should be sitting at the EU parliament, like Toni Comín and myself, because more than two million people voted for that," tweeted former Catalan president Puigdemont.

The vice-president of the Greens/EFA, MEP Alyn Smith, welcomed the opinion of the CJUE's legal adviser, adding that "dialogue is the only solution, not locking up democrats".

"[The CJEU's opinion] does move us a step closer to getting Junqueras his rights and privileges as MEP," he said.

The CJEU will make a final ruling in the coming months.

According to the representative of the Catalonian government to the EU, Meritxell Serret, the situation of Junqueras and the other elected MEPs has brought the Catalan conflict to the European stage.

"Now it is obvious that the political conflict has consequences at the European level," she said.

New coalition government in Madrid

Meanwhile, Spain's socialist caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the leader of the leftist party Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, reached an agreement to form a coalition government on Tuesday, after they lost together a total of ten deputies in Sunday's elections.

The agreement between both parties states that "dialogue in Catalonia will be encouraged, looking for formulas of understanding and rallying point," adding that these activities will "always [take place] within the constitution".

The Socialists and Unidas Podemos will need the support of smaller parties, as they only have 155 seats in the congress - but not an absolute majority (176 seats).

However, the abstention of the pro-independence party the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) might be also fundamental for this coalition to succeed.

Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority

Although the governing Socialists Party (PSOE) won the most seats at Sunday's elections, the political deadlock continues with a deeply-fragmented scenario, in which the far-right Vox party is in a strong position while the centre has become irrelevant.

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