Will jailed and exiled Catalan MEPs ever get to sit in EU chamber?

With inaugural session in Strasbourg approaching, issue of pro-independence officials prevented from taking seats moves closer to European courts 


MEP-elect Carles Puigdemont in a press conference where he announces he will take his case to the European Court of Justice. (Photo: Natàlia Segura)
MEP-elect Carles Puigdemont in a press conference where he announces he will take his case to the European Court of Justice. (Photo: Natàlia Segura) / Neil Stokes

Neil Stokes | Barcelona

June 30, 2019 01:10 PM

With the inaugural session of the new European Parliament due to take place on July 2 in Strasbourg, the status of imprisoned and exiled Catalan pro-independence leaders who won seats in May's EU election remains unresolved.

On Thursday, Spain's state prosecutor wrote to the Supreme Court opposing its decision to refer to the EU Court of Justice about whether Oriol Junqueras, the jailed Catalan leader awaiting a verdict in the independence trial, should be allowed to take up his seat.

The prosecutor says the appeal is unnecessary because the legislation leaves "no doubt" that Junqueras can only enjoy the immunity afforded MEPs if he has completed the procedures for taking up his seat, which the court denied him permission to do.

What's more, the prosecutor insists that Spanish law trumps EU legislation when it means preserving such things as public order or territorial integrity, or when preventing a crime from being committed or the infringement of other people's rights.

Exiled leaders in Belgium

As for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former minister Toni Comín, who are both in exile in Belgium, they have also been unable to take up their seats as MEPs, as they could not complete the official accreditation procedure in Madrid without being arrested.

Last week, Puigdemont and Comín took the EU parliament president Antonio Tajani to task for blocking their access to the chamber and for failing to recognize them as elected MEPs. They also revealed they had sent four letters to Tajani without receiving a response.

In a joint public statement, Puigdemont and Comín, who were elected to the EU chamber with over a million votes, warned Tajani that ignoring their letters "will not avoid a formal response from the European judicial authorities to this serious violation of fundamental rights."

Puigdemont backed up his criticisms of Tajani from Geneva, where he was attending a conference. "If an issue that affects elected European representatives does not deserve the attention and interest of the president of those MEPs, what is the presidency for?" he asked.

Supreme Court making "grievous error," says expert

In an interview with Catalan News in collaboration with Euractiv, Barcelona University law professor, Jordi Nieva, downplayed the accreditation issue, saying that "people voted for that person, so what's important in democratic terms is that he or she gets their seat in the EU parliament."

Nieva also said that Spain's Supreme Court was making a "very grievous error" by setting a dangerous precedent: "If the EU parliament accepts what the Supreme Court is doing in Spain, how can it then tell another supreme court that it can't do the same thing?"

Despite admitting that politics has influenced Spain's handling of the issue, Nieva rejected criticism that Spain cannot be considered a proper democracy: "I think Spain is a full democracy, but some people in all democracies don't always act democratically," he said.