CATALAN INDEPENDENCE DRIVE

EU court: Jailed Catalan politician had immunity as soon as he was elected MEP

According to the ruling, Oriol Junqueras should have been considered a Member of the European Parliament from the moment he won his seat at the May 26 election

Oriol Junqueras after being sworn in as a deputy in Congress.
Oriol Junqueras after being sworn in as a deputy in Congress.BERNAT ARMANGUE / (AP)

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Oriol Junqueras, became a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) as soon as he was elected, and enjoyed parliamentary immunity from that moment on.

Junqueras won a seat in the European Parliament in the May 26 vote, but was unable to be sworn in because he was in preventive custody in Soto del Real prison in Madrid for his role in the 2017 Catalan independence drive. In October, the Spanish Supreme Court found the ERC leader guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds, and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

Junqueras won a seat in the European Parliament in the May 26 vote, but was unable to be sworn in

But according to the CJEU, Junqueras was protected by parliamentary immunity the moment he was elected in May. In its ruling, the CJEU said that if the Spanish courts “consider it necessary to maintain the measure of provisional prison” against Junqueras it must request “at the earliest opportunity” that the European Parliament suspend his immunity.

In June, the Supreme Court denied Junqueras permission to leave prison to attend a ceremony at the National Electoral Commission (JEC), where he was meant to be sworn in as an MEP. Given that he was unable to attend the ceremony, Junqueras was not able to take up his seat in the European Parliament.

Junqueras appealed the decision, and before issuing a verdict, the Supreme Court decided to ask the CJEU for its position on the matter – a move Spain’s public prosecutor and the state attorney considered unnecessary.

According to the EU advocate general, Junqueras should be considered an MEP the moment he was declared so by the JEC on June 13

In the case before the CJEU, both the European Parliament and the European Commission backed Spain’s argument that the duty to swear to the Constitution is a stage of the electoral process, meaning an MEP-elect cannot take up their seat until this is done, and as such cannot enjoy parliamentary immunity.

But on November 12, the advocate general of the European Union, Maciej Szpunar, wrote that he did not “share this reasoning,” arguing that Junqueras should be considered an MEP the moment he was declared so by the JEC on June 13 regardless of whether he swore to the Constitution. According to Szpunar, all MEPs enjoy immunity for the entire five-year period of their mandate, and even before the opening session of parliament to allow the necessary steps to be completed.

The ruling by the CJEU also affects ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and regional health minister Toni Comín, who were elected as MEPs in May despite living in self-imposed exile in Brussels after fleeing Spain following the unilateral independence declaration of October 2017.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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