Oriol Junqueras is a name that will surely go down in history as being a leader of the Catalan quest for independence from Spain. More than two years ago, he was the legal, legitimate and elected vice president of Catalonia, contributing decisively to calling a referendum of self-determination. Now, he could also be remembered as a key shaper of Europe.
On 19 December, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that he was entitled to become a member of the European Parliament and, as such, enjoy full rights, including immunity. Following this ruling, the parliament officially acknowledged Junqueras as a member of the chamber, despite recent moves by the Spanish Electoral Board to interfere with and counter this firm assessment. He should, therefore, be able to take his seat at the next plenary sitting on Monday 13 January. Or at least that would be the norm in a democracy.
Nevertheless, the Spanish Supreme Court just decided not to obey European law. On Thursday, Spain’s highest Court publically announced that they will not let MEP Oriol Junqueras out of prison to take his seat in Strasbourg, going directly against the European Court of Justice’s ruling. While Europe openly sides with democracy, Spain continues to turn to repression.
So far, Junqueras has been in prison for 26 months.The Spanish authorities, despite allowing him to run and be elected (while still in preventive detention), thereafter banned him from taking up his seat in Brussels and sentenced him to 13 years’ imprisonment. The so-called ‘Junqueras Doctrine’ is challenging Spanish procedures and, in doing so, has strengthened some fundamentals that might set the scene for a firmer concept of Europe. Just not in Spain.
To start with, please note that the Junqueras Doctrine is vital in promoting a European rule of law. According to the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, which is the constitutional framework for the Union, the rules are clear and they apply to all. The European Parliament should not be intercepted by other authorities, however important these authorities might be in member states. And those who defend the rule of law in Spain cannot skip the rule of law in Europe.
In addition, the ECJ has primacy over other courts, and its rulings must be considered supreme and binding by lower tribunals. In this particular case, the Spanish Supreme Court is not supreme any more. It has taken a wrong course and has been amended by a higher court. It need not even consult prosecutors and other actors about the ECJ sentence, as it has done; it should proceed with no delay, obey and comply. Failing to do so implies a flouting of the rule of law in Europe. And this disobedience should obviously have consequences.
Furthermore, the idea that democracy must prevail is paramount. In arguing the verdict, the ECJ has clearly stated that it is not up to member states and their authorities to decide who should represent voters; it is up to the voters themselves. If Junqueras was chosen by more than one million citizens, then he should be acknowledged as a full Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Mr Sassoli, the current Speaker of the European Parliament, made it very clear; this all-important decision of the ECJ has to be applied. No excuses are valid for ignoring universal suffrage.
Most importantly, political and civil rights must be respected. Citizens have the right to be represented by whomever they choose. Elected MEPs have the right of representing citizens, of immunity, of attending sessions, of expressing their views and ideas uncensored, and of moving around freely in a free Europe. This also applies to MEPs Carles Puigdemont and Antoni Comín, ex-president and ex-minister of Catalonia respectively, who are in exile and should take office.
The concept of European citizenship has to be protected. Whatever their origin, creed, sex or ideas, all citizens in the EU are equal. They cannot be discriminated against, regardless of the member state’s position. The idea in some countries that “we have the risk of another Catalonia in our land” does not justify trampling on millions of citizens. Let us state clearly that Catalans are overwhelmingly pro-European and tend to be firm Remainers (to use the Brexit vernacular). Denying them full citizenship while bowing down to Eurosceptics is most unwise politically.
For EU supporters, the European Parliament is sovereign, as no other authority can prevent elected MEPs from enjoying their condition. It is the single body that can request or execute a waiver for parliamentary immunity. MEPs can only be suspended, as has been done in the past, following a vote by their fellow MEPs. In denying the capacity of member states to meddle with the most democratic of EU institutions, European sovereignty is strengthened.
Finally, the case proves in a very poignant way that this is not a domestic affair within the Kingdom of Spain. A major European institution has shown that Spanish authorities exceeded their power in striking against a pro-independence Catalan leader. We can suspect that this was part of an effort to punish and take revenge on political ideas and actions some would rather supress.
But no matter how one likes or dislikes the idea of a Catalan Republic, Europe has now spoken with a loud voice. Member states are accountable; they must answer for any abuse, and fundamental values of democracy, as human rights and European togetherness, must be restored.
Mr Junqueras has already done more for a free, fair, strong and united Europe than many so-called Europeanists. Now dare to call him a separatist.
- Raul Romeva was Catalonia’s Minister for External Affairs when Madrid imposed direct rule in 2017. He is now serving a 12-year jail term. Alfred Bosch is the current Minister for External Affairs of Catalonia.
Are you a recognised expert in your field? At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at email@example.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.