Top European Lawyer Argues in Favor of Catalan Politicians

Spain has prevented three former Catalan ministers from taking their seats in the European Parliament.

Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1, 2017
Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1, 2017 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Rubén Moreno)

Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, has argued in favor of Catalan politicians who were elected to the European Parliament in May but have been prevented by the Spanish government from taking their seats.

Former regional president Carles Puigdemont and former regional health minister Toni Comín, both of the center-right Together for Catalonia party, have been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2017 to avoid arrest for leading a failed independence bid that year.

Oriol Junqueras, the former leader of the Republican Left, stayed in Spain and was sentenced to thirteen years in prison last month for misuse of public funds and sedition against the Spanish state.

Oath

Spanish lawyers argued that, because the three did not swear an oath on the Spanish Constitution, as the Spanish law requires, they never became members of the European Parliament.

Spanish authorities have refused to accept evidence that the oath was sworn elsewhere.

Szpunar rejects this argument altogether:

The parliamentary mandate may be acquired solely from the electorate and may not be conditional on the completion of any subsequent formality.

Immunity

There is a separate question of immunity, which European lawmakers enjoy.

On this, Szpunar defers to the European Parliament, which has so far deferred to national rules.

It will have to make up its own mind if the European court decides that the three Catalans were properly elected. Szpunar’s opinion is advisory, but court watchers say it is now more likely judges will agree. They are expected to rule early next year.

Before that happens, a Belgian judge will need to decide whether to grant Spain’s request to extradite Puigdemont, which it renewed after the conviction of Junqueras.