EU parliament has stripped former Catalan VP, Oriol Junqueras, of his MEP status. Junqueras, currently serving a 13 years sentence in prison for allowing a referendum in October 2017, has been denied is parliamentary immunity, despite being elected MEP in May. Thus, the authorities in the European Parliament have endorsed the decision of Spain’s Tribunal Supremo, saying they were “no grounds to grant Junqueras freedom” and allow him to take up his seat in the chamber.
Spain overturns an ECJ’s decision
A month ago, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) granted immunity to Junqueras from the moment he was announced a winner in the May 26 vote and elected as an MEP. The court agreed that he should therefore have been freed as soon as he got his seat. At that time, the leader of ERC was in provisional jail – and the ECJ says that if Spain’s judiciary wanted to keep him behind bars, they should have asked the European Parliament for permission, which did not happen. Yet, the EU court ruling came with Junqueras already serving a prison sentence and with him barred from public office.
The former Catalan VP was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sedition by Spain’s Supreme Court in October for his role in the failed 2017 independence bid, when he was vice president of the Catalan government.
However, Spain’s Supreme Court argued that since Junqueras had been sentenced – albeit five months after he was elected – he no longer parliamentary immunity. Therefore, the body refused to free him. The European Parliament endorsed Spain’s Supreme Court ruling and announced that jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras was no longer an MEP. In a statement this week, the EU chamber said Junqueras’ mandate as an MEP “terminated with effect on 3 January 2020,” when Spain’s electoral board vetoed the jailed leader.
Outrage in pro-independence camp
Leading figures in Catalonia’s pro-independence camp reacted with outrage to the decision of Spain’s Supreme Court to deny Junqueras permission to take up his seat as an MEP.
Catalan president Quim Torra was among the first to react, calling for the “immediate release”of Junqueras, adding that the previous decision by the ECJ was clear: “Junqueras is an MEP and on Monday should be in the European Parliament.”
Torra’s predecessor now in exile, Carles Puigdemont, also expressed his condemnation of the Supreme Court’s decision, calling it a “very serious error,” and also insisting that Junqueras is an MEP and “will end up acting as such.”
Along with Junqueras, Puigdemont also won a seat in the European Parliament in May’s election, but as he remains free in Belgium, where he is facing extradition, he was able to attend the chamber’s plenary session. In fact, he promised “to fight for Junqueras’ rights and freedom”.
Meanwhile, Junqueras’ party colleague and vice president, Pere Aragonès, called the court’s decision “shameful” and a “scandal,” claiming that Spain’s judiciary “once again has infringed the rights of Junqueras and thousands of citizens who voted for him.”
As for the Catalan parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, who also belongs to Junqueras’ party, he said that “by contradicting the European Court of Justice, the Supreme Court has chosen the most restrictive path and continues to violate MEP Junqueras’ rights.”
European Parliament members react
The Supreme Court’s decision also drew plenty of criticism from foreign figures in the European Parliament, such Social Democrat MEP and former Slovenian parliament speaker, Milan Brglez, who said the ruling made it an “issue of the EP vs the Spanish judiciary.”
José Bové, MEP and a historic figure of the French green left, said he was “shocked” by the Supreme Court’s decision and called it “a serious attack on democracy,” while Catalan Greens’ MEP, Ernest Urtasun, described it as a “serious mistake.”
For Czech MEP, Kateřina Konečná, she said that she was “glad Spain has a new left government,” and suggested that it is time to free Junqueras “not only because of the European law, but mainly because it’s the right thing to do.”