Puigdemont and Comín take up seats 7 months after being elected MEPs

Former president and former minister finally able to attend European chamber, with notable absence of jailed leader Junqueras


Newly accepted MEPs Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont, in the EU parliament holding a banner calling for the release of jailed leader Oriol Junqueras in Strasbourg, on January 13, 2020 (by Natàlia Segura)
Newly accepted MEPs Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont, in the EU parliament holding a banner calling for the release of jailed leader Oriol Junqueras in Strasbourg, on January 13, 2020 (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Strasbourg

January 13, 2020 06:54 PM

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín were finally recognized as MEPs in the European Parliament on Monday, seven months after winning their seats in May's EU election.

As the plenary session got underway, EU speaker David Sassoli formally told the rest of the members of the exiled pro-independence leaders' inclusion in the chamber.

Sassoli said that due to the December 19 ruling by the European Court of Justice on the immunity of jailed leader, Oriol Junqueras, they had been MEPs since July 2.

Yet, the speaker added that Junqueras has since had his mandate as an MEP terminated after his conviction meant that he was barred from office by the Spanish authorities.

Puigdemont and Comín, who were assigned to the parliament's group of non-attached members, carried signs into the chamber calling for Junqueras to be released.

Puigdemont talks about overcoming obstacles

Former president Puigdemont arrived along with his former minister Comín a few hours before the beginning of the EU plenary session amid great media interest

Speaking before entering the chamber, Puigdemont talked to the press about the more than two years he has spent in exile after being ousted from the Catalan presidency.

"We've overcome two years of obstacles aimed at preventing us from doing politics," he said, adding: "A lot of resources have been spent in order to prevent us from being here."

Puigdemont and Comín were among a number of former Catalan ministers who went into exile in Belgium after the Spanish authorities imposed direct rule on Catalonia in 2017.

On Monday, Puigdemont had a message for Brussels: "Today we can say that the Catalan crisis has impacted the EU's pillars. The EU can't continue to look elsewhere," he said.

Jailed leader Junqueras barred from becoming MEP

The former president also mentioned Junqueras, who was stripped of his MEP status on Friday, saying his former vice president should have been allowed to attend Strasbourg.

Junqueras was among those ministers who stayed in 2017, and who were arrested, tried for the independence bid, and sentenced to hefty prison sentences by the Supreme Court.

Junqueras also gained election as an MEP in the May 2019 election, but was prevented from taking up his seat by Spain's judiciary while in provisional detention.

In December, the EU court ruled that he should have been allowed to attend the European chamber as an MEP-elect and confirmed his parliamentary immunity.

Yet, Spain's Supreme Court argued that his conviction in October meant he had no right to freedom or immunity, and so the EU chamber stripped him of his MEP status on Friday.

Leading pro-independence figures in Strasbourg

A few hundred pro-independence supporters joined president Quim Torra, Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent, and foreign minister Alfred Bosch in Strasbourg on Monday to give their support to the two Catalan MEPs.

Torra called it "a day of celebration," adding that "we are Europeans and we want to be here, where the important issues of Europe are decided." The president also made reference to Junqueras, saying "we will do everything necessary for him also to be here."

"We have come to demand justice," said Torrent, who warned that denying Junqueras his MEP seat puts "the foundational principles of the union at risk." He also accused the EU authorities of "allowing a court to interfere in the composition of the European chamber."

Meetings between parliament speaker and EU chamber VPs

Torrent held some meetings with EU parliament vice presidents, including Dimitrios Papadimoulis, who told Torrent that Junqueras' status "is the main element under discussion in the EU parliament bureau" right now. 

Bosch also spoke about Junqueras, saying he could not be in Strasbourg for the plenary session because "he has been kidnapped by the Spanish courts." Bosch added that "this is not over" and said they would appeal the decision to strip Junqueras of his seat.

EU chamber gets Spanish court request to lift immunity 

Meanwhile, the European Parliament said on Monday afternoon that it had received an appeal from Spain's Supreme Court requesting that the chamber waive the parliamentary immunity of Puigdemont and Comín.

The EU chamber spokesman, Jaume Duch, told the press that the court's request arrived soon after the two former Catalan government members had entered the chamber, and included with it was the court's verdict on the referendum trial.

While Duch confirmed that the request had arrived, he said it would not be officially announced during the current plenary session, as it must first be studied in detail. "We will take the time necessary to do things well," said Duch.