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26th Sep 2021

Catalan party: release leader after MEP 'immunity' verdict

  • 'Justice has arrived from Europe,' jailed Catalan MEP Oriol Junqueras tweeted right after the CJEU’s decision was made public (Photo: Jordi Bedmar/ Government of Catalonia)

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled on Thursday (19 December) that imprisoned Catalan leader, Oriol Junqueras, enjoys parliamentarian immunity as MEP, in a legal victory for the separatist movement which saw nine of its leaders jailed earlier this year.

Junqueras, the head of the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana party (ERC) and 'Spitzenkandidat' of European Free Alliance (EFA) was elected in the European elections in May this year.

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"Justice has arrived from Europe. The rights of more than two million of [Catalan] citizens who vote for us have been violated," Junqueras tweeted immediately after the CJEU's decision was made public.

With the ruling, the CJEU supports the opinion of the advocate general of the CJEU, Maciej Szpunar, who said in an advisory opinion earlier this year that the jailed politician was indeed an elected MEP, and that it was "up to the voters" who became an MEP.

But Junqueras had not been 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.

Junqueras has been in custody since November 2017. In October, he was sentenced by the Spanish Supreme Court to 13 years in prison for his role in an illegal 2017 Catalan independence referendum - under charges of sedition and misuse of public funds.

However, according to the court, the immunity of Junqueras as "elected" MEP should have allowed him to travel this summer to take part in the inaugural session of the newly-elected European parliament.

"The immunity entails lifting any measure of provisional detention imposed prior to the declaration of that MEP's election," said the CJEU.

If the Spanish Supreme Court believes that Junqueras should remain in custody, it should have already requested the European Parliament to waive the immunity of Junqueras, the decision of the EU's top court states.

Problem for coalition?

Following the final decision of the court, Junqueras has asked for the annulment of the sentence, and freedom "for all" Catalan politicians.

The ERC, the party on which the investiture of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez might rely, is demanding the immediate release of Junqueras.

However, it is still unclear how this decision will affect the current negotiations between ECR and the Socialists (PSOE) - Sanchez's party.

"There are still judges in Europe. The EU Court of Justice defended the same criteria that we have defended against the European Parliament and the Spanish authorities, who have tried to alter the functioning of the European democracy," the exiled Catalan former president Carles Puigdemont tweeted, demanding the immediate release of his colleague.

Meanwhile, Spain's far-right party Vox has questioned the EU top court's decision saying that its decision is an "insult" for the Spanish judiciary system.

Earlier this year, the representative of the Catalonian government to the EU, Meritxell Serret, said that 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 [in Catalonia] has consequences at the European level," she said then.

The ruling of the CJEU is likely to set a precedent for the other Catalan leaders living in self-imposed exile in Belgium and elected in May as MEPs, Puigdemont and Toni Comín, who have also launched legal challenges against the European parliament.

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