On October 14th the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg will hold a hearing on the conflict over the parliamentary immunity of Oriol Junqueras, the ERC MEP-elect who has not been allowed to take office. The court approached the European Parliament as to whether it had any details it wished to share on the case —or any observations to make— and this Tuesday a majority of MEPs sitting on the competent parliamentary committee has agreed to do so. Socialist, green and liberal representatives have voted in favour of urging the president of the European chamber, socialist MEP David Maria Sassoli, to forward the Parliament’s observations that are relevant to Junqueras’ legal case. In short, they have agreed that the European Parliament should get involved in the affair. As confirmed to this newspaper by a parliamentary spokesperson, Sassoli will heed the motion and ask the chamber’s legal service to draft any pertinent observations. The submission deadline is September 23rd.
On previous occasions when the Parliament was asked to state its position on the ban that prevents MEP-elect Oriol Junqueras from taking up his seat —as well as the other Catalan leaders who were also elected, but vetoed by Spain’s Central Election Board, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín—, the legislature chose not to get involved. Then-president Antonio Tajani and the chamber’s legal service insisted that it was not for the European Parliament to decide who may or may not take up their seat; instead, it was for the authorities of each member state to effectively make the appointments and send the European Parliament an official list with the names of the elected MEPs.
In the case of Puigdemont and Comín, Spain’s Central Election Board decided that both had to personally travel to Madrid and take an oath of allegiance to the Spanish Constitution in order to become MEPs, a ruling which the former Catalan president and health minister have appealed. However, in the case of Junqueras the Central Election Board prevented him from leaving the prison [where he has been held for nearly two years] to take the oath, something he had been allowed to do when he was elected to the Spanish parliament. For that reason the ERC leader decided to lodge a pre-trial question with the CJEU on the extent of the immunity granted to MEPs, which Spain’s Supreme Court accepted.
The decision by the Legal Affairs Committee
It is precisely as a result of this question that the European Parliament has been approached by the CJEU. Despite opposition from members of the European People’s Party and the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, the Legal Affairs Committee has passed a motion urging the chamber to get involved, as has been confirmed by several parliamentary sources. Spain’s Partido Popular MEPs argue that the European Parliament has no business with the court because Junqueras is not an MEP. In fact, the French MEP tasked with drafting the text, People’s Party Geoffroy Didier, insists that they do not intend “to interfere in Spain’s internal affairs, but to ensure that the legal principles set by the CJEU are being respected” and he emphasises that this is a debate on lawmakers’ rights and duties, not on Catalonia.
Eventually the socialist, green and liberal MEPs voted in favour, which means the president of the European Parliament will be asked in writing to instruct the legal service to draft the Parliament’s opinion on the matter. When approached by this newspaper, the vice president of the Legal Affairs Committee (PSOE MEP Ibán García Blanco) indicated that it is positive for the chamber to get involved in the case and contribute its legal opinion. Furthermore, he stated that “there are no fears” about the position that the chamber will adopt because there is jurisprudence on the matter and the issue of the extent of the immunity and privileges granted to MEPs is interesting and relevant. Actually, the document approved by the committee —which this newspaper has had access to— argues that the Parliament’s “intervention” is “appropriate” because the debate is about the privileges of the representatives.
In the past, when Tajani was president, the Parliament’s legal service concluded that Spain’s Central Election Board had the last say on the matter and parliamentary sources insist that the European chamber has no electoral legislation of its own. Tajani had said so himself, speaking to media after some of his vice president had asked him to explain why he had banned Puigdemont and Comín from entering the chamber following the European elections. As García Blanco points out, it is precisely this jurisprudence that the Parliament’s legal service will likely refer to again to submit its observations to the Luxembourg court.