Case

Catalan elected MEPs, banned from taking seats at the European Parliament

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who led a failed attempt to break Catalonia from Spain in 2017, will present himself for the European Parliament elections in May 2019 in order to “bring the voice of Catalonia which wants to be independent” to European institutions. (10-04-2019)

Description

On July the 2nd, 2019, the constitution of the 9th legislature of the European Parliament took place in the absence of the three democratically elected Catalan leaders: Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and Toni Comín. While the plenary session was being held, more than 10,000 people were protesting around the European Parliament in Strasbourg to denounce their exclusion and the denial of their rights of political representation. Catalonia’s foreign affairs minister argued that such circumstances go “straight to the heart of what the European project is”.

Despite attempts by the Spanish right-wing to stop them, a number of Catalan leaders living in exile following the 2017 Catalonian independence referendum will be allowed to run in European Parliament elections. TeleSUR (07-05-2019)

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín debuted as MEPs denouncing the imprisonment of Oriol Junqueras / Carles Puigdemont 13-01-2020

Before

Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and Toni Comín were elected to the European Parliament, gathering 1,720,550 votes and representing 49.75% of the suffrage in Catalonia. Currently, Puigdemont and Comín are in a self-imposed exile in Belgium and Junqueras is imprisoned in Spain, condemned to 13 years in jail for sedition and misappropriation of public funds. Nonetheless when he was banned from taking a seat as an MEP his situation was that of pre-trial detention (which lasted more than 650 days), not conviction.

Prior to the elections, the Spanish Election Commission banned Puigdemont and Comín from running; a decision that was later struck down by the Supreme Court. After winning their seats in the elections, they were proclaimed as elected MEP on the Official State Gazzette (BOE-A-2019-8953).  

However, their names were not included in the list that was sent by the Spanish authorities to the European Parliament after the elections. This is because they were unable to appear in Madrid’s national parliament to declare allegiance to the constitution —a requisite not needed in the majority of EU countries—  and the Spanish authorities rejected their attempt to do it in absentia

Commenting on the issue, President Antonio Tajani claimed that “Parliament shall take note of the results declared officially by the member states and it is for the national courts on the first hand to rule on the lawfulness of the national electoral provisions and procedures.”

Catalonia’s Puigdemont risks arrest if he returns to Madrid to stand in EU Elections. EuroNews (24-05-2019)

Carles Puigdemont declared independence from Catalonia and came to Belgium, where he was elected as an MEP. Now, he is being denied temporary EU accredidation. EuroNews (06-06-2019)

Spain’s Supreme Court blocked jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras from leaving prison to collect credentials to join the EU parliament. EuroNews (14-06-2019)

Former Catalan President must visit Madrid, and risk arrest, to activate MEP status. EuroNews (17-06-2019)

The outcome

On the same date of the constitution of European Parliament, Ska Keller (the candidate for the Greens/EFA group for the EP presidency) qualified the situation as “problematic” and urged the next president of the Parliament to study the issue in detail in order to “defend the rights of the elected representatives”. 

Previously, 76 MEPs had appealed to the European Parliament to protect the rights of the three democratically elected representatives, claiming that “It is clear that the intention of these decisions is to prevent the concerned MEPs being granted all the rights and freedoms as European representatives and, at the same time, to avoid any debate in the European Parliament that might put into question the judicial trial against the Catalan political and social leaders”. 

In reaction to what they consider a fundamental rights violation, the Catalan leaders have decided to take the issue to the Luxembourg Court of Justice, who admitted their appeal. However, the court refused to take action in preliminary ruling and is to study and come to a decision on the overall case in the following months. 

On December 12, the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union said that Spain had no legal right to block Mr. Junqueras from taking his seat as a member of the European Parliament by setting additional bureaucratic requirements and that he should have enjoyed parliamentary immunity as an MEP from the moment the new Parliament formally convened in early July. This opinion also applies to Mr. Puigdemont and Comín.

After this, the President of the European Parliament, Mr. David Sassoli, admited that the EU chamber is willing to review its opinion on barred Catalan MEPs after court rules. EU chamber Vice President, Mrs. Heidi Hautala, stated that a favorable court decision for elected Catalan MEP would also provide a “lesson” for states that “try to condition and restrict the adoption of an elected member’s mandate.”

On 19 December 2019, EU top judges from the European Court of Justice stablished that the politician had immunity from the moment he was announced as a MEP-elect in the May 26 vote and thus, he should have been freed as soon as he got his seat following the election in order to attend to the European Parliament.

On the same day, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, called on the competent Spanish authorities to “align with” the European Court of Justice ruling. Far from freeing Junqueras, later on the day, Spain’s prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to send its guilty verdict to the European Parliament, so that the Catalan pro-independence politician loses his seat as MEP.

Moreover, EU Court decision implied that the EU Parliament lifted former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former Catalan minister Toni Comín‘s ban on entering the chamber. On 20 December, both politicians were granted temporary accreditation as MEPs and visited the European Parliament. 

After the Belgian judiciary suspended the European Arrest Warrant on Puigdemont and Comín due to their MEP immunity, the European Parliament fully recognized Mr. Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras with this statement:

“Following the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union dated 19 December 2019, at the plenary sitting of 13 January 2020, the European Parliament will take note of [their election as MEPs],” the document reads, going on to state their status is “with effect from 2 July 2019” – the date of the parliament’s constitution.

Despite this resolution, on 9 January, 2020, the Spanish Supreme Court did not released Junqueras from prison, arguing that his immunity is no longer applicable as he has already been convicted and disqualified from public office when he was elected. The day after, and avoiding to defend its elected MEP, the European Parliament endorsed the Spanish judiciary decision and striped Junqueras of MEP status. Junqueras is expected to appeat to the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, on 13 January 2020, Puigdemont and Comin debuted as MEP seven months after being elected by voters in the May 2019 EU election. Both denounced Junqueras imprisonment and claimed that he must be released in order to become a MEP. 

 

EuroParl opening session – July 2 2019 – Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy stands up for democracy in Europe, protesting against unfair exclusion of three Catalan elected members. Junqueras, Comin and Puigdemont are jailed or exiled, instead of sitting in the Parliament

10.000 Catalan independentists mobilize in streets of Strasbourg. The demonstrators were protesting the fact that three of their elected MEPs were not allowed to take their seat.. EuroNews (02-07-2019)

Violated rights

The exclusion of the three democratically elected MEPs -who have been proclamed as such- violates the right to political participation of the  2.282.895 European citizens who voted for them. It also violates the right to passive suffrage and representation of Puigdemont, Junqueras and Comín, who were allowed to run in the elections and have not been convicted by any court at the moment of being elected. Moreover, these tree potential MEPs are from a national minority, which vulnerates their rights.

 

On the other side, this exclusions entails an alteration of the parliamentary majorities that questions the legitimacy of the European Parliament.

 

The right to passive suffrage is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes that everyone has the right of equal access to public service. The Spanish Constitution also protects this right.

 

The core of this vulneration of rights lays in a biased interpretation of the EU law, since declaring allegiance to a national constitution is not necessary in the EU law, which rules the EU parliament. Moreover, as the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union points out, the parliamentary immunity is acquired at the moment that the MEPs are elected, something that has not been respected by the Spanish judiciary system.

Last but not least, declaring allegiance to a national constitution prior becoming MEP is a procedure that does not exist in the majority of EU countries. In any case, if this procedure is needed in Spain, it can be done from abroad, something that has not been permited to Catalan MEPs.

MEPs call for Catalan separatist MEPs to have access to Parliament.

Belgium: Puigdemont demonstrates for MEP seat on Catalan referendum anniversary (01-10-2019)

Europe’s top court ruled that a leading Catalan separatist should have been allowed to leave prison to take up his seat in the European Parliament.

Oriol Junqueras, former Vice President of Catalonia, became a Member of the European Parliament as soon as he was elected – so says the EU’s top court in Luxembourg. That means he enjoyed parliamentary immunity from that moment on, even if he was in pre-trial detention. EuroNews (20-12-2019)

The European Parliament has recognised the Catalan independentist leader, Oriol Junqueras, as an MEP. EuroNews 7-1-2020

‘EU parliament must protect its members,’ says UB professor Jordi Nieva-Fenoll. Catalan News 10-01-2020

References

Spanish electoral body blocks Puigdemont from running in EU election, POLITICO (in English).

Madrid court allows exiled Catalans to run in EU election, POLITICO (in English)

Catalan ex-leader Puigdemont denied access to European Parliament, POLITICO (in English)

Spanish court blocks jailed Catalan leader from joining EU parliament, The Guardian (in English)

76 MEPs back Catalan separatists blocked from collecting European Parliament credentials: letter, Reuters (in English)

Exiled Catalan politicians snubbed by Spain for MEP list, The National. (in English)

EU court rejects Puigdemont’s request to claim MEP seat Tuesday, POLITICO (in English)

Catalonia: More than 10,000 protest at European Parliament, The National (in English)

New EU chamber head under pressure to let jailed Junqueras take up seat. Catalan News (in English)

Oriol Junqueras immunity hearing set for October 14 in EU court. Catalan News (in English)

European parliament gets involved in jailed Junqueras immunity case. Catalan News (in English)

Spain was wrong to impede Catalan candidate from taking MEP seat, says top lawyer. POLITICO (in English)

EU chamber head willing to ‘review’ opinion on barred Catalan MEPs after court rules. Catalan News (in English)

Council of Europe denounces lack of Spanish compliance in judicial independence. Catalan News (in English)

European Court decision on jailed leader’s immunity case to be released December 19. Catalan News (in English)

EU court: Spain wrong to stop Catalan separatist taking up MEP seat. POLITICO

EU Parliament president calls on Spain to ‘align with’ EU ruling on Junqueras’ immunity. Catalan News

Spain’s prosecutor asks top court to make Junqueras lose his MEP seat. Catalan News

Court ruling a ‘victory with a sting in the tail’ for Junqueras, say legal experts. Catalan News

Carles Puigdemont allowed to enter EU Parliament after court ruling. POLITICO

EU court annuls decision preventing Puigdemont from becoming MEP. Catalan News

Puigdemont obtains temporary MEP accreditation. Catalan News

Puigdemont picks up MEP badge after court boost. POLITICO

Trio of Catalan Leaders to Be Recognized as EU Lawmakers. The New York Times

Brussels court suspends extradition of ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont. Reuters

Catalan separatist MEPs to receive €80,000 back pay. POLITICO

Jailed Catalan MEP Junqueras elected head of regionalist group in Parliament. POLITICO

Jailed Catalan leader Junqueras barred from taking European Parliament seat. POLITICO

Spain’s top court asks EU parliament to strip Catalan separatist leaders of immunity. Reuters

EU parliament strips Junqueras of MEP status. Catalan News

‘EU parliament should protect its members,’ says professor on Junqueras case. Catalan News

Puigdemont and Comín in EU parliament for MEP debut. Catalan News

Puigdemont’s immunity under threat as he takes up seat as MEP. POLITICO

 

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT | Puigdemont’s “Free Junqueras” poster as Sassoli announces their seats. 13-01-2020

Carles Puigdemont’s debut speech in the European Parliament. 14-01-2020

Now fully accredited MEPS, they are here to attend the first plenary of the year. After expressing his joy, Carles Puigdemont told the press the Catalan independence question was a European issue. EuroNews 14-01-2020

Documents

Concerning Junqueras Imprisonment:

Junqueras’ Prosecution Report of Public Prosecutor (in English)

Junqueras’ Bill of Indictment (in English)

Statement of defence of Mr. Oriol Junqueras (in English)

Official Sentence: Spanish Supreme Court Judgement 459/2019 

Amnesty International Report: Spain: Analysis of the Supreme Court’s rulings in the case of Catalan leaders (in English)

REPORT: UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls on Spain to compensate officials and considers detentions violation of fundamental rights (in English)

International Trial Watch Report of the Judgement Condemning Catalan Authorities and Social Leaders (SCJ 459/2019)

UN expert urges Spain not to pursue criminal charges of rebellion against political figures in Catalonia. OHCHR (in English)

 

Concerning the rights of the Catalan Elected MEPs:

Spain’s Electoral Commission declares Puigdemont and Junqueras’ MEP seats vacant.

Request for a preliminary ruling from the Tribunal Supremo (Spain) lodged on 1 July 2019 — Criminal proceedings against Oriol Junqueras Vies (Case C-502/19)

EU Advocate General’s Opinion in Case C-502/19 – Mr. Oriol Junqueras MEP Immunity. European Court of Justice (in English)

CVRIA EU Court: Judgment in Case C-502/19 Junqueras Vies A person elected to the European Parliament acquires the status of Member of that institution at the time of the official declaration of the results and enjoys, from that time, the immunities attached to that status. (in English)

CVRIA EU court annuls decision preventing Puigdemont from becoming MEP. 

DOCUMENT: European Parliament goes against Spain and recognises Catalan politicians as MEPs. 06-01-2020

Ourvotes.eu: Voters campaigning against the exclusion of Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras from the European Parliament (in English)

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