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Jailed Catalan MEP could have sought immunity from European Parliament, ECJ adviser says

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

A jailed Catalan separatist leader elected to the European Parliament while in detention had the right to ask MEPs to decide whether to uphold his immunity, an adviser to the European Court of Justice said on Tuesday.

In a non-binding opinion to the EU’s highest court, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said that Oriol Junqueras Vies, the former Vice-President of the Catalan regional government, was covered by judicial immunity from the moment he was elected as an MEP.

The Advocate General said it is for the European Parliament to decide whether the MEP’s immunity should be waived or upheld, not Spain.

The implication of his opinion, should it be upheld by the court, is that Spain was wrong to prevent Mr Junqueras Vies from taking up his seat in the European Parliament.

Mr Junqueras Vies was elected as an MEP earlier this year despite being held on remand since 2017 over his part in the botched independence bid.

He was not allowed to leave prison to take an oath on the Spanish constitution, as is required under Spanish law.

Mr Junqueras Vies brought an action against the decision to prevent him from swearing the oath and to exercise the mandate given to him by voters, citing his rights to immunity.

In his opinion, which was published yesterday, Mr Szpunar said an MEPs’ Parliamentary mandate is acquired solely from the electorate and this cannot be conditional on the completion of any “subsequent formality”.

But he said Mr Junqueras ceased to be an MEP last month when Spain’s Supreme court found him and eight other pro-independence leaders guilty of sedition for their roles in the 2017 independence bid.

The Spanish court sentenced Mr Junqueras to 13 years in prison and disqualified him from public office.

Mr Szpunar said the European Parliament should be able to decide whether it is appropriate to waive or defend the immunity of one of its Members.

The Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice. It is the role of the Advocates General to propose to the Court, in complete independence, a legal solution to the cases for which they are responsible.

The Judges of the Court are now beginning their deliberations in this case.

The opinion is aldo likely to give a boost to former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

Mr Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium, and a third pro-independence politician, Toni Comín, were elected to the European Parliament alongside Mr Junqueras in May and have also not been able to take up their seats.

Mr Puigdemont has launched his own challenge before the European Court of Justice, demanding his right to take up his seat in the European Parliament.

Should he and Mr Comín be granted the status of MEPs by the court the European parliament would have to decide whether they qualify for immunity.

Additionally, Spain has reactivated a European Arrest Warrant requesting Mr Puigdemont’s extradition following last month’s verdict on Mr Junqueras and the other separatist leaders.