EU Elections: Jailed Catalan leaders face legal barrier to taking up MEP seats

Catalan leaders are facing legal action. Picture: Getty
Catalan leaders are facing legal action. Picture: Getty
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Three jailed or fugitive Catalan politicians hope to use their freshly won seats in the European Parliament as loudspeakers for their separatist cause in north-eastern Spain – but actually being sworn in will be the first obstacle they have to overcome.

Three jailed or fugitive Catalan politicians hope to use their freshly won seats in the European Parliament as loudspeakers for their separatist cause in north-eastern Spain – but actually being sworn in will be the first obstacle they have to overcome.

The European careers of Catalonia’s former regional president Carles Puigdemont, his former number two Oriol Junqueras and ex-Cabinet member Toni Comin depend on electoral rules and judicial decisions.

Ironically, those give more chances to the jailed Mr Junqueras than to his two colleagues, who fled to Belgium following an unprecedented push for Catalan independence in 2017.

Mr Puigdemont’s and Mr Comin’s attempts to continue internationalising their cause from the European Parliament could be thwarted unless they expose themselves to arrest by travelling to Madrid to pick up their credentials and taking an oath before Spain’s Central Electoral Board, an internal regional chamber report has said.

Asked during a press briefing how he plans to claim his seat, Mr Puigdemont said he believes the Spanish government “wants to win in [legal] chambers what they have lost in the ballots”.

“We are ready for that battle,” he said.

Mr Junqueras took a different strategy when he was indicted following the staging of a banned referendum and a short-lived independence declaration at the end of October 2017.

He stayed put in Catalonia, showed up in court in Madrid when his summons arrived and has been in preventive custody on preliminary rebellion charges for most of the past two years.

The 50-year-old has also turned an ongoing televised Supreme Court trial against separatists into a campaign platform, widening support for his left-wing republican party in regional, national and the recent European elections.

The conundrum now is whether he will be allowed to take his seat and, if denied, as happened last week after he obtained a seat in the Spanish Congress of Deputies, who will take on the politically sensitive task of removing an elected politician, further enraging his base of supporters.

The European Parliament says that it’s up to Spain’s electoral board to decide whether Mr Junqueras is on the final list of elected politicians that Spanish authorities need to submit to Strasbourg.

That leaves the decision in the hands of Supreme Court judges, who need to grant Mr Junqueras temporary permission to leave jail and obtain his credentials.

The same panel of judges did allow him to be sworn in as a national lawmaker last week, although he was immediately suspended by the parliament, citing a Spanish criminal law article that bans those in jail due to a rebellion indictment from holding public office.

It was unclear if the same article would apply to the European plans of Mr Junqueras, who calls himself a “political prisoner”, or if he will manage to be sworn in at least as a symbolic voice in the heart of Europe, assuming that he will not be able to vote from jail.

All votes in the European Parliament need to be cast from the plenary chamber.

One way or another, Mr Junqueras said he plans to defend his rights “in all levels and before all possible judicial institutions”.