European Court of Justice gives a boost for Catalan secessionists

According to the European Court of Justice, the detained Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras had the right to take up his seat in the European Parliament last June. The former vice-president of the Catalonia region was elected on 26 May 2019, but the Spanish Supreme Court did not want to release him to take his seat in Brussels. The EU Court now determines that he should have been allowed to do this on the basis of his immunity.

The European ruling is a boost for the Catalan separatist movement and possibly also for the fugitive ex-president Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium.

Junqueras was detained in the fall of 2017 with eight other Catalan supporters for their role in the illegal separation referendum of October 1, 2017 and its aftermath. On October 14 this year, Junqueras was imprisoned for thirteen years for incitement and malpractice with community money. Also, the politician of the left-republican party ERC is not allowed to perform public functions for thirteen years.

Junqueras appealed against the Supreme Court’s refusal to take his EP seat, after which the case went to the European Court. He agreed with him on Thursday. In practice, however, the ruling does not mean that Junqueras is released from his Spanish cell: because he was convicted this fall, immunity is no longer valid. The Spanish government did not want to give a substantive response to the ruling on Thursday morning.

The statement was followed very closely by Carles Puigdemont. The former regional president of Catalonia has been fleeing the Spanish justice since the end of October 2017. He was the head of the government that organized the forbidden referendum and on that basis briefly proclaimed the Republic of Catalonia. Like Junqueras, Puigdemont was elected to the European Parliament in May this year, but could not take his place because he first had to go to an electoral commission in Spain.

The Spanish judiciary also suspects Puigdemont of incitement and malpractice, but was unable to convict him by default on the basis of the law. Spain has asked Belgium for its extradition. A decision on this has recently been postponed because the Belgian courts first want clarity from the European Court in Luxembourg or whether Puigdemont enjoys immunity. The European Court will examine this early next year.

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