Two Catalan MEPs take their seats - with a third in jail

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Catalan separatist leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín arrived at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to take their seats as MEPs on Monday, pledging "the Catalan crisis is not an internal matter, it is a European one".

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The former head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, and one member of his government, Toni Comín, officially took their seats as MEPs on Monday (13 January) - in a key moment for the Catalan separatist movement which saw nine of its leaders jailed last year.

Puigdemont and Comín, who both fled to Belgium from Spain in late 2017 to avoid charges over the referendum on Catalan independence in October that year, have started their career in the European Parliament unassigned to any party grouping, as so-called 'Non-Iscrits' (NI) - but they have already requested to join the Greens/EFA group.

"It is not possible that the European Union any longer ignores Catalonia," said Puigdemont, who believes that "the Catalan crisis has already had an impact on the foundations of the EU".

"We are here to remind people that the Catalan crisis is not an internal matter, it is a European one," he added.

The regional premier of Catalonia, Quim Torra, together with other representatives of the Catalan government, accompanied the two Catalan politicians to the opening session of the year in Strasbourg and urged the Spanish government for "dialogue" and the "de-judicialisation" of the Catalan conflict.

According to the European Parliament, the Catalan leaders Puigdemont, Comín and Oriol Junqueras enjoy immunity as MEPs as of 2 July 2019, when their mandate started on the basis of the official declaration of the results of the elections by the competent Spanish authorities - and in line with the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

However, this is no longer the case for Junqueras, the former leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and 'Spitzenkandidat' of the European Free Alliance (EFA), who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the October's independence bid in 2017.

Junqueras missing

The European Parliament announced on Friday that Junqueras was no longer considered an MEP, endorsing the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court to block the jailed Catalan leader's bid to take his seat in EU Parliament.

According to the Spanish Supreme Court, Junqueras's conviction "implies the suspension of his status as a European parliamentarian".

"Taking into account the decision of the National Electoral Commission and in accordance with the decision by the [Spanish] Supreme Court, Junqueras's mandate expired on 3 January 2020," the president of the EU parliament, David Sassoli, said on Friday in a statement.

However, Junqueras's defence team is expected to appeal the decision at the General Court of the European Union.

"It is extremely serious that the Spanish judiciary is interfering in the composition of this chamber without requesting the European Parliament to waive MEP Junqueras' immunity," Catalan MEP Diana Riba from the Greens/EFA wrote to all MEPs.

"The European Parliament now faces a choice between complying with the EUCJ ruling and the democratic principles enshrined in EU law or allowing for the arbitrariness and disobedience of the Spanish Supreme Court to prevail, which would set a dangerous precedent," she added.

Additionally, the European Parliament is expected to pay almost €80,000 to each of the MEPs for the six months of unpaid salary, covering July to December 2019.

Since Junqueras is recognised as an MEP for the first six months of the current political term, he could be eligible to receive his salary for that period too - despite being in jail.

Immunity lifted

The president of the Spanish Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes, on Monday officially sent a request to Sassoli to suspend the parliamentary immunity of MEPs Puigdemont and Comín, saying their cases "are focused on their actions in years that far pre-date their acquisition of condition as deputies in the European Parliament".

Once the request is evaluated by the parliament's legal affairs committee (JURI) in a closed session, the resulting report would be then voted by MEPs in plenary session by a simple majority.

The Spanish court has also maintained European arrest warrants issued against both politicians, after a Belgian court suspended a third extradition procedure issued by Spain. Two previous such attempts failed, in 2017 and 2018.

  • Two Catalan MEPs take their seats - with a third in jail photo


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