I used to think the problem was that I had got lost amid the various court cases, jurisdictions, possible appeals and the judicial hierarchy until eventually —and in a private conversation— one of the key figures in Catalan politics defined the current state of affairs as “a bloody shambles”. Under no pressure to try to see the way out and anticipate what will occur, I have chosen instead to provide a bird’s eye view in an attempt to describe the various scenarios that we are faced with today.
The European Parliament convenes
In keeping with the precedents set by a politically tainted justice system, Spain’s Supreme Court has unjustly barred Oriol Junqueras from taking up his seat in the European Parliament, even though the chamber acknowledges that the ERC leader was an elected representative until January 3 and the Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that he acquired MEP status the minute the election result was announced. Today the European Parliament has abided by the ruling of Spain’s Supreme Court and it will be held to account when an appeal is filed with the General Court (EGC). As expected when you consider the precedents —but without any precise knowledge of the gambit that the Spanish court would use to keep Junqueras behind bars— the judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will initially benefit Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, who will be taking their seats in the European chamber on Monday. Until a decision is made about the European arrest warrants (EAW) issued against them and Justice Llarena’s request to lift their immunity, both Catalan leaders will be members of the European Parliament. The most surreal aspect of it —a genuine outrage— is that Justice Marchena (who failed to respect Junqueras’ rights) has now stated that, in future, he will comply with the court’s ruling “to resolve the same or similar situations that might arise”. Can you imagine a similar line of reasoning in any other context?
So Puigdemont and Comín are the only MEPs who will get to sit in the European chamber, pending a decision about Spain’s request and the EAWs against them. Presumably the process will end in a vote in the European Parliament, where the Spanish state will not be spared a public display of the Catalan feud as a deeply entrenched political problem. Sneaking into the EU’s political and media agenda is the victory they were after.
The president or the presidency
Following in the footsteps of Spain’s Central Electoral Board —an administrative body that had never claimed such powers— Barcelona’s Provincial Electoral Board has heeded the Supreme Court’s judgement and it has ruled that Quim Torra is no longer a member of the Catalan Parliament. Torra’s disqualification opens up a new avenue of uncertainty in the Catalan chamber, pending the Supreme Court’s final say on the matter. President Torra, the Speaker of the House and the majority in the chamber have all refused to abide by the Board’s order and a fresh clash with the unionist groups is expected in the upcoming parliamentary sessions scheduled at the end of January.
The reaction to Quim Torra’s disqualification as an MP has had the same effect —uniting the pro-independence camp— as typically any move by the administration of the State. Shortly before his trial in Catalonia’s High Court (where he was convicted of disobedience), Quim Torra stated in an interview with this newspaper that the political situation is “in limbo” and he called for a strategic agreement by the secessionist forces. Not only has there been no such agreement, but the chasm that separates JxCat and ERC is even wider following the latter’s support to Pedro Sánchez’s government. They have also failed to agree on how they will participate in the negotiating table that ERC and the PSOE have jointly set up. In contrast, little tussles [between both parties] are a regular occurrence out in the open. Torra’s partners support him in order to protect the institution, but they have not been able to settle on a common objective ahead of the Catalan elections that are visible in the horizon. An alliance shift is in the air, but this will require time and a narrative. The next few steps will concern the budget in Spain, Catalonia and the City of Barcelona. An agreement with the Comuns [Podemos’ Catalan chapter] is well underway and the Catalan president will have to carefully consider whether to pass the budget or call a snap election. At the moment the decision will depend on any hypothetical stunts surrounding Carles Puigdemont and the reordering of the pro-sovereignty centre-right space in Catalonia.
However, it looks as if Quim Torra might be looking to extend his situation for as long as possible to capitalise on the opportunity that being the victim of a democratic outrage presents him with: an administrative body intends to disqualify the president of Catalonia. Torra still believes that “no battle is too small” and the tactic is to keep beating the drum to fuel the judicial chaos which the Spanish State is plunging into, with its justice system falling into disrepute and its democracy eroded. To what extent are the PSOE and its Podemos partner willing to tolerate the decay of the rule of law in Spain? It remains to be seen whether the new Justice minister, Juan Carlos Campo, will honour his pledge to “take politics out of the courts of law”, but restraint is very much in order. Whether he will actually succeed is a different matter altogether: he must bear in mind that the Spanish right will oppose any attempt to turn things around with all its might and using every resource of the State’s apparatus.