CATALAN INDEPENDENCE BID

Supreme Court blocks jailed Catalan leader’s bid to take seat in European Parliament

Magistrates have ruled that the 13-year jail sentence handed down to Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left means he is barred from serving as an MEP

Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras.
Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras.

Catalan politician Oriol Junqueras will not be released from prison to take up his seat as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), after the criminal bench of the Spanish Supreme Court today informed the legislative body of the European Union that he is barred from office after being jailed.

Junqueras is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence after being convicted of sedition and misuse of funds by Spain’s Supreme Court for his role in the 2017 secessionist drive in the northeastern Spanish region, which saw an illegal referendum on independence held on October 1 of that year and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence passed in the regional parliament. At the time of the events in 2017, Junqueras was deputy regional premier.

Catalan premier Quim Torra

Despite being in pre-trial custody at the time, Junqueras ran as a candidate in last year’s European elections, and was successfully elected as an MEP. Since then, however, he has been subject to a legal wrangle as to whether or not he can take his seat.

In December of last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) appeared to offer the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party a lifeline, when it ruled that he became an MEP as soon as he was elected on May 26, and should have enjoyed parliamentary immunity from that moment on.

In fact, in line with the CJEU ruling, the European Parliament on Monday issued an internal communication stating that at its first debate of the year, on January 13, it will “take note” of the election of Junqueras as well as fellow Catalan politicians Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín – who fled Spain to avoid arrest in the wake of the 2017 Catalan independence drive – as MEPs, beginning the administrative processes to welcome them in Brussels.

The Supreme Court said Junqueras is serving a sentence based on a definitive ruling whose validity has not been neutralized

The move was made despite the fact that Spain’s National Electoral Commission (JEC) had sent notification to the European Parliament stating that Junqueras could not be sworn in as an MEP given his Supreme Court conviction. The European Parliament had said that it will not change its position, and would treat Junqueras as just another MEP until the Spanish justice system rules on the matter.

Today’s ruling, however, resolves the issue of the CJEU ruling from the Spanish side. The seven magistrates from the criminal bench of the Supreme Court decided that the prison sentence means that, under Spanish law, Junqueras is barred from serving as an MEP, and as such he will not be released from custody, and nor will a request be filed with the European Union for his immunity to be lifted.

Although it found that Junqueras had immunity from the moment he was elected as an MEP, the CJEU left the question of the scope of that immunity in the present moment up to the Spanish courts. The Supreme Court has ruled that Junqueras is not currently subject to provisional custodial arrangements, but rather is “serving a sentence based on a definitive ruling, the validity of which has not been neutralized.”

Earlier in the day the administrative bench of the Spanish Supreme Court announced that it had rejected Junqueras’ appeal against the JEC ruling that found that he could not serve as an MEP, ahead of the final decision from the criminal bench.

One of the first public figures to react to today’s ruling was the Catalan regional premier, Quim Torra. “A Spanish court is not complying with the European justice system,” the hardline separatist wrote on Twitter.

With reporting by Fernando J. Pérez. English version by Simon Hunter.

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