Spain rejects European court’s ruling on Junqueras immunity

Jailed Catalan vice-president not allowed to take up MEP seat

Spain's supreme court has said that the jailed former Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, should not be allowed to take up his seat as an MEP, despite a European tribunal's ruling that he should have been granted immunity to do so.

Last month, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that Mr Junqueras should have received parliamentary immunity from the moment he won a seat in the EU chamber in last May’s election.

That came as a blow to the Spanish authorities, who had not allowed him to be sworn in as an MEP because he was on trial and in preventive custody at the time. He was later sentenced to 13 years in prison for sedition.

But the ECJ left the implementation of its decision to Spain’s judiciary, which on Thursday decided that Mr Junqueras should not be freed or granted permission to take up his seat in Strasbourg. The court justified its decision on the grounds that although the Catalan politician was in preventive custody when the EU election took place, he was eventually given a jail sentence. Any parliamentary immunity, it found, should not have protected him from prosecution for the serious crimes for which he was on trial.

"A Spanish court which does not obey the European judiciary," tweeted Catalan president Quim Torra, who criticised the ruling. "Worry grows across Europe at the Spanish state's democratic slide."

Separate ruling

In a separate ruling on Thursday, the supreme court rejected a request by Mr Junqueras that he should not be barred from public office, as the electoral board had ruled last week.

Although the new government of Socialist Pedro Sánchez, which took office earlier this week, avoided comment on the decisions, the opposition welcomed them.

"We will remain vigilant and will do everything possible to stop the government making concessions to its pro-independence partners," tweeted Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

The PP and other parties on the right have claimed that the Socialists sought preferential judicial treatment for Mr Junqueras in exchange for the help of Catalan nationalists in Tuesday’s investiture vote.

Mr Sánchez and Mr Torra spoke on the phone on Thursday as part of a recent thawing of relations between the two. Formal talks between the Catalan and Spanish governments aimed at resolving the long-standing territorial crisis are due to begin two weeks after the new cabinet takes office, which is expected to happen in the coming days.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain