Exiled and jailed leaders' obstacles to become MEPs: where we are now

Cases set to go to EU Court of Justice as Spain prevents lawyers' latest attempts to have their clients sworn in

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (center) and former minister Antoni Comín in front of the European Parliament in Brussels (by Natàlia Segura)
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (center) and former minister Antoni Comín in front of the European Parliament in Brussels (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

June 18, 2019 10:25 AM

Updated on June 18, 2019 at 10.30am 

The 54 MEPs-elect in Spain were summoned to take the constitutional oath on Monday in the Spanish congress in Madrid, a step made compulsory by the electoral authority in order to take up their seats in the EU parliament on July 2 in Strasbourg.

While 50 of them completed this step, with one to do so shortly (Josep Borrell, acting Spanish minister, who argued agenda conflicts), three were unable to attend despite wanting to, and so won't be able to become Members of the European Parliament – in principle.

Yet while 50 of them fulfilled this step, one will do it shortly (Josep Borrell, acting Spanish minister, who argued agenda problems) and three of them did not attend either, although they would have liked to, and therefore won't be able to become Members of the European Parliament – in principle.

They are the Catalan pro-independence exiled leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, and the jailed politician Oriol Junqueras who, unlike the other 8 new Catalan MEPs, could not take up their seats.

All three were officially declared MEPs-elect last week, and made efforts to be in Spain's congress on Monday but the courts denied them. They will continue making moves to take up the seats they won in the election, but from now on looking towards Europe's courts rather than Spain's.

So far, Spain's electoral authority has declared their seats vacant, as they did not appear on Monday, while the European Parliament president Antonio Tajani called "it’s Spain’s problem" if the member state does not 'use' all of its seats.

Meanwhile, 76 outgoing and incoming MEPs called on the institution's bureau to "recognize and protect" the rights of the independence leaders.

Puigdemont and Comín to take case to EU Court of Justice

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, former Catalan cabinet members, are free citizens in the entire world except for Spain, where they face an arrest warrant.

This means if they had tried to travel to Madrid to take the oath, they would have been arrested, and likely imprisoned and tried.

Both requested to Spain's Supreme Court to lift the arrest warrant to give them the chance to attend the Madrid event and become MEPs – but this was rejected by the judges this weekend.

Puigdemont and Comín's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, said soon afterwards that both the electoral authority and the Supreme Court have so far reacted as expected.

He also confirmed that they will take the case to the European Court of Justice, in Luxembourg, which he expects to be "fast" to take a decision.

"Luxembourg has fairly clear criteria on what comes first between the national law and the European one, especially if the national one opposes the European and not only the interests of three MEPs, but those of the 2 million people who voted for them," he stated.

On Monday, Boye tried to take the constitutional oath on behalf of his clients with the power of attorney so that both officials can take up their seats - but Congress prevented it. 

He then said that he would present the power of attorney before Spain's electoral authority

Junqueras calls on Supreme Court to ask EU justice on issue

Meanwhile, Oriol Junqueras requested a permit to leave jail from the Supreme Court, so that he could take up his seat on Monday in Madrid.

The same permit was granted by the same court one month ago, when he swore in as an MP in Congress, but this time the judges refused it.

They argue that this would pose an "irreversible danger" for the proceedings against him, with a verdict still pending.

The judges also pointed out that this would mean "losing jurisdictional control" over the defendant.

On Sunday, Junqueras' lawyers urged the Supreme Court to ask the European Court of Justice to rule on the issue.

The following day, one of his group colleagues also elected as MEP, Diana Riba, swore in "for the right to self-determination, for the release of the political prisoners and the return of the exiled." 

Criticism of European Parliament leadership

Meanwhile, the European Parliament avoided commenting on Spain's judicial veto of Junqueras on Friday, amid complaints of senior MEPs such as Ska Keller.

Some days earlier, Puigdemont and Comín intended to get started with the procedure to become MEPs in the chamber building in Brussels, but were denied access to the chamber with no clear reason.

Both officials filed an official complaint against the institution, and five of the parliament's vice presidents distanced themselves from the decision.

At request of Spain's main parties, the chamber heads decided not to grant entry to any Spanish MEP-elect until they had taken the constitutional oath in Madrid.