Spain’s Supreme Court rejects freeze on decision to strip Catalan premier of lawmaker credentials

Quim Torra is expected to continue serving as regional premier while magistrates consider his appeal against a ruling that bans him from public office for 18 months

Catalan premier Quim Torra.
Catalan premier Quim Torra.David Zorrakino (Europa Press)

The Spanish Supreme Court on Friday decided against temporarily freezing a decision by electoral officials to strip Catalan premier Quim Torra of his seat in the regional parliament.

The Catalan charter of rights does not specify that the premier needs to retain his seat in parliament throughout his term in office

Magistrates are considering an appeal by Torra against a ruling by the Catalan regional High Court, which in December found him guilty of disobedience for refusing to remove pro-independence banners from public buildings during an election campaign, which violated regulations on political neutrality. The ruling, however, is not definitive until the Supreme Court issues a decision on Torra’s appeal.

Based on the regional court’s decision, which bars Torra from office for a period of 18 months, Spain’s Central Electoral Board (JEC) agreed to strip the separatist premier of his lawmaker credentials in the Catalan parliament. The Supreme Court feels there is no need to put the JEC’s decision on hold while it considers the merits of the case.

The JEC was divided over its decision to strip Torra of his lawmaker credentials

The Supreme Court justices believe that Catalan parliamentary officials will allow Torra to continue serving as the regional premier despite losing his seat in the chamber. Catalonia’s charter of rights, the Estatut, says that the head of government is “elected by parliament from among its own members,” but it does not specify that this seat has to be retained throughout the premier’s term in office.

Torra on Friday insisted that he will not obey the JEC, and called the Supreme Court’s decision “a new, serious and unacceptable violation of the sovereignty of the Catalan parliament.” He also recalled that the regional chamber, which is controlled by a pro-independence majority, last week approved a motion calling the JEC’s decision “a coup.” On Friday, the Catalan premier used this expression again.

The JEC – a body made up of eight randomly selected Supreme Court judges and five university professors named by political parties with congressional representation – was divided over its decision. Six members entered dissenting opinions, arguing that the JEC lacks the powers to deprive Torra of his seat, and that this privilege falls to the Catalan parliament, once the regional court’s ruling has become final.

Puigdemont and Comín

Fernando J. Pérez

Supreme Court Justice Pablo Llarena, in charge of the investigation into the 2017 secession attempt, on Friday requested permission from the European Parliament to bring criminal proceedings against Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín.

The former Catalan premier and his regional minister fled Spain in late 2017 to avoid prosecution for their role in holding an outlawed referendum and making a unilateral declaration of independence.

Both successfully ran in the European elections of May 2019, but their eligibility to take up their seats was the subject of a prolonged legal wrangle as they are still wanted in Spain, where other leaders of the breakaway attempt were tried and sentenced to prison last year.

Puigdemont and Comín have benefited from a recent decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stating that a third Catalan separatist politician who was elected as a MEP, Oriol Junqueras, enjoyed parliamentary immunity from May 26. Both men collected their permanent credentials at the European Parliament earlier this week (not Junqueras, who is serving his sentence in Spain).

Justice Llarena is now asking the EU Parliament to suspend this immunity, and maintaining the European and Spanish arrest warrants against Puigdemont and Comín.

English version by Susana Urra.

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