Jailed Catalan Leader Oriol Junqueras Prepares an Appeal to the General Court of the European Union (EGC)

The defense of jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras is preparing an appeal in the General Court of the European Union (EGC) against the decision of the European Parliament to exclude him as Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Precautionary measures will be required for the EGC to suspend the decision of David Sassoli, President of the Euro-Chamber, and the court will have to determine whether to accept it within a few hours after the appeal is presented.

The General Court of the European Union (EGC) is a constituent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It hears cases against institutions of the European Union by individuals and member states.

According to article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), any citizen can file an appeal against the acts of European institutions that directly affect him/her. The procedure for this appeal may take several months, but the precautionary measures will be pronounced immediately, a few hours after the petition has been registered. The EGC could accept or reject them. If they are accepted, the European Parliament will be obliged to recognize Junqueras as an MEP again.

The parallel route to the ECJ

In parallel with the appeal to the EGC, Junqueras’ defense will file an appeal against the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to keep him in prison. If this move fails, Junqueras’ defense will appeal to the Spanish Constitutional Court for violation of his political and constitutional rights. The next and final step would be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The EU ParliamentDecision to Recognize Jailed and Exiled Catalan Leaders, Junqueras, Puigdemont and Comín, Causes Political Turmoil

On Monday, the news that the exiled and jailed Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Oriol Junqueras will be allowed to take up their seats as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) caused immediate political turmoil in Spain. The European Parliament officially announced that it will recognize the Catalan leaders as MEPs through a communique during the morning. This decision came after the European Court of Justice ruled on December 19 that the Catalans leaders have immunity.

While Catalan authorities celebrated the EU Parliament decision, the Spanish far-right and the right-wing, which had been attempting to prevent them from becoming MEPs, accused the EU Parliament of violating Spanish sovereignty and suggested that there had been an under the table agreement between the EU authorities and pro-independence forces, though no evidence was presented.

Regarding Spain’s Electoral Authority’s decision on barring Catalan President Torra from office and to veto Junqueras from becoming MEP despite the European Court of Justice immunity ruling, Torra said he was “proud that both the Catalan Parliament and the EU Parliament had disregarded Spain’s electoral Authority.”

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, first tweeted a prompt “mission accomplished.” Later he demanded also the annulment of the trial over the 2017 independence referendum because “the trial shouldn’t have taken place due to Junqueras’ immunity.”

Junqueras’ lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, called for his client’s release: “Junqueras is an MEP. He has parliamentary immunity. He must be released to be able to go to the European Parliament.”

Spanish far-right and right-wing reaction

The three main unionist parties, Ciutadans (C’s), People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox asked the EU Parliament to revoke its decision recognizing the Catalan leaders as MEPs.

The spokesperson of the PP in the EU Parliament, Dolors Montserrat, accused the EU Parliament President, Sassoli, of an under the table agreement with those seeking Catalan independence. In a letter, Montserrat also recalled that the Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC) ruled that Junqueras cannot be an MEP because he has been convicted by the Supreme Court. She also defended that the JEC is a “legitimate and competent” body in Spain.

The head of Cs’ delegation to the European Parliament, Luís Garicano, called on the chamber’s president, David Sassoli, to “revoke” and “reconsider” as well as to take into account the Spanish electoral authority veto. Garicano also announced that his party had already appealed the decision.

The head of the People’s Party in Spain, Pablo Casado, criticized the Socialist government’s “inaction” on the matter and called on Sassoli to “revoke his decision on Junqueras, who has been sentenced and barred from office for sedition and misuse of funds.” He also added that his party would “always defend Spanish institutions and respect for the law.”

The leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, accused Brussels of “trampling over Spanish sovereignty” and said that “the enemies of Spain in Europe want to take advantage of us having a treacherous prime minister to weaken our nation further.”

ERC to Facilitate Sánchez’s Investiture

On Thursday, the National Council of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) decided to facilitate Sánchez’s investiture and thus a PSOE-Podemos coalition government in Spain.

ERC emphasized that, in the party’s opinion, “recognition” of the existence of the Catalan conflict by PSOE has been achieved and, therefore, now is the time to take the “political path” through negotiations, not started by the Republican party, but “by the Government of Catalonia, as a country” and that, if the Spanish government of PSOE and Podemos deceives them once again, it will be the last time.

The agreement between ERC and PSOE includes a negotiating table during this legislature and a vote on the agreements.

Podemos and PSOE announced earlier this week that the negotiations would always take place within the Spanish Constitution, which would exclude the right to self-determination of the Catalans.

The investiture session of Pedro Sánchez is set to take place between this morning and Tuesday.

Reaction of Pro-independence Organizations and Parties

President Torra told Vice-President Aragonès on Thursday morning that the ERC/PSOE agreement does not have the approval of the Catalan government and that the executive will not take responsibility for it. The President understands that this is an agreement between parties and that any agreement with PSOE should “include the right to self-determination of Catalonia.”

The far-left party CUP also rejected the agreement, assuring that “it is far from resolving the Catalan conflict.”

The ANC warned that the agreement could lead to a second failed transition. Its President, Elisenda Paluzie, also said that “it could make the Catalan conflict become an internal matter in the eyes of the international community.”

JxCat affirmed that “it is an agreement between two political parties: ERC-PSOE, not the Catalan and Spanish governments.”

Democràtes party rejected the agreement and announced that they will decide in assembly on January 13 whether to abandon the ERC parliamentary group.

Numerous CDRs also announced their rejection and discontent with the agreement on social media.

ERC risks big losses in the next Catalan election, which is likely to take place in the next few months, if the negotiating table with PSOE does not yield immediate results on a self-determination referendum and the release of jailed Catalan leaders.

Catalan Leaders: How Does the Mechanism to Withdraw MEPs’ Immunity Work?

The ruling of the EU Court of Justice on Junqueras’ immunity last week caused a political earthquake in Spain. The ruling, which is binding, stated that all candidates become members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and have immunity at the very same moment the results of the European elections are published by national authorities of each state member. This decision means Junqueras should be released immediately and his judgment on the 2017 independence referendum annulled and that exiled Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín can no longer be extradited nor detained in the euro-zone.

There is however a mechanism that the Spanish Supreme Court could activate if it still wants to prosecute the Catalan leaders, the supplicatory which is based in asking the European Parliament to withdraw the Catalan leaders’ immunity. This procedure, which lasts for several months, would internationalize the Catalan cause to levels never before seen. It would be like a trial on the Spanish Supreme Court, which would provide relevant evidence, clarification and information on the situation of Catalan exiles, as well as the Catalan conflict.

Supplicatory Mechanism

According to Article 9 of the EU Parliament regulations, the competent authority of a Member State, that is, the Supreme Court, can request the President of the European Parliament a petition to suspend a MEP’s immunity. If accepted it is transferred to the legal affairs committee of the Parliament.

There are no deadlines to resolve these sorts of cases, though EU regulation specifies it should be done “as soon as possible.” The legal affairs committee has to issue a recommendation after analyzing the specific case that will eventually be voted on by the plenary.

During this process, the EU Parliament could ask the Spanish Supreme Court “for all information and clarifications it deems necessary to form a criteria” as to whether or not immunity is needed. The MEPs affected, in this case, Junqueras, Comín and Puigdemont, could also take part in the commission to provide further information and defend themselves. The rest of the sessions would be behind closed doors.

Once the committee elevates a proposal to the plenary, it would be debated and voted on during the next EU Parliament plenary session. No amendments could be tabled, but the plenary would have to discuss publicly the reasons for and against the decision rendered on the petition. The Catalan cause and the judgment on the 2017 independence referendum would have extraordinary international visibility.

If the Plenary finally agrees on withdrawing the immunity of the Catalan leaders, the President of the Chamber would notify the Spanish Supreme Court. This, however, doesn’t mean that they would lose their credentials as MEPs, but that the EU chamber allows three of its members to be tried in a country that claims jurisdiction over them. The Spanish Supreme Court would then need to get their extradition; otherwise, the whole procedure to revoke the Catalan leaders’ immunity would have been useless. 

2020 Catalan Budget to Drop Taxes on Lowest Incomes and Raise them for Higher Earners

The Catalan government (JxCat-ERC) and Catalunya en Comú Podem have reached an agreement on the 2020 Catalan budget on the part of the spending plans relating to income. The agreement includes drop in income tax for people on the lowest wages, and an increase for those on higher incomes. The inheritance and wealth taxes will also be modified, and a new tax on energy companies will also be introduced.

Income Tax

The deal establishes that taxes on the lowest earners will drop significantly. Almost half of the salary of those earning less than 12,450 a year will be exempt from income tax.

Those on higher incomes, however, will pay more: those earning between €90,000 and €120,000 a year will pay 23.5%, while those earning between €120,001 and €175,000 will pay 24.5%.

These measures will provide an extra 543 million euros a year to the income for the Catalan government.

Inheritance tax

Except when it comes from a spouse and when the inherited amount doesn’t reach €500,000, the discounts in the tax will now be lowered progressively as the amount inherited increases. Thus the discount will be 60% for those inheriting up to €100,000, and no discounts will apply for those receiving more than €3 million. 

New ‘green’ tax

This tax will affect power companies producing, distributing and storing energy, but those operating with renewable energies will be exempt.

Other taxes will be payable by owners of empty flats and producing canned sugary drinks to reduce the consumption of such soft drinks.

The Catalan government-Catalunya en Comú Podem agreement is only for the part of the budget relating to income. Both sides will continue to hold talks in the coming days and weeks, in order to try to find consensus on the budget’s section on spending.

The New Governing Body of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) Becomes More Conservative

The new governing body of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) has become more conservative. This happened when the Conservative Professional Association of the Magistracy (APM) won the November 26th elections to the High Court by obtaining six of the seven positions at stake.

The conservative association achieved the control of the Government Chamber with a total of 524 votes cast, the APM celebrated it with a message which emphasized that its “commitment is firm in the defense of the professional interests of peers and the rule of law.”

The new magistrates that enter the plenary of the TSJC and took office on Tuesday are Maria Eugènia Alegret Burgués, Patricia Brotons Carrasco, Juan Francisco Garnica Martín, Elena Campos Martín, Patricia Batlle Ferrando, Joaquín Elias Gadea Francés and Montserrat Comas de Argemir Cendra. Their mandate will last for 5 years.

The new composition makes the TSJC more conservative. Only one progressive magistrate, Montserrat Comas, of Judges for Democracy was elected. The rest of the magistrates are part of the APM.

The body is formed of 15 members: the president of the TSJC, the presidents of the social section and the contentious administrative section of the TSJC, the presidents of the four provincial gatherings and the jury dean of Barcelona. The other 7 members are elected, directly by judges and magistrates, and renewed every 5 years.

In this regard, the President of the TSJC, Jesús Maria Barrientos, admitted that “the system of assignment of positions can suggest the need for some correction that provides for a better reflection of the plurality of the race,” referring to the members that are not voted, but designated by law.

In a speech almost entirely in Spanish, Barrientos criticized the pro-independence movement for what he considers “a criminal” process executed by leaders seeking independence. Barrientos also thanked all the judges and magistrates in Catalonia for their commitment to being responsible for the management of an adverse environment at various levels, and also at the constitutional level overcoming difficulties with great generosity and a high institutional sense of worth.” 

The Spanish National Police Followed and Spied on Catalan President Torra During Election Day on November 10

Catalan President Quim Torra was followed by Spanish police officers during the election day on November 10. In an exclusive interview at eldiario.es earlier this week, it is explained how presidential security members found that several vehicles followed the President during the election day.

The officers of the Mossos (Catalan police) detected that a Citroën C4 with three men followed the President when he was on his way to vote. When they approached the car, the three men claimed to be officers of the Spanish National Police, showed their identifying badges and said: “We are here for the same thing.” This was confirmed by sources of Mossos (Catalan police) at eldiario.es.

Upon returning from voting, the president’s escorts took an unusual itinerary because Torra had a personal visit to make; when suddenly, a Peugeot 308 which had ignored a traffic light was detected and stopped. The occupants identified themselves as Spanish police officers. When the presidential escorts asked them if they were following the president, they responded: “Oh, no. We, aren’t!” The escorts estimate that this Peugeot 308 followed them for 10 minutes over a stretch of 1.7 kilometers. The rest of the day no other suspect vehicles were detected.

The presidential security team reported these incidents through the channels of internal communication to the Barcelona-based Security Coordination Center (CECOR), the Coordination Center integrated by Mossos, the National Police and the Civil Guard.

The Interior Ministry Version

Sources from the Ministry of Interior deny any trailing of Torra. “No national police followed Torra, either that day or any other.”

The detection of police officers watching Torra has surprised his security team as it does not appear that the President has opened any other investigation against him, beyond the two already known for disobedience, which does not require surveillance or any other type of proceedings from the judicial police.

The Spanish Chamber’s Permanent Deputation Approves a Controversial Digital Decree

On Wednesday, the Spanish chamber’s Permanent Deputation approved the controversial digital decree, which grants the Spanish government the possibility of “shutting down” the Internet and intervening on servers and social media platforms without a court order in the case of exceptional circumstances: “public order, public safety and national security.” The decree was approved with the favorable votes of the Spanish “Socialist” party (PSOE), Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos (C’s) and the abstention of Unidas Podemos (UP).

Spanish acting PM Pedro Sánchez promoted the decree as a response to coordinated actions by the civil disobedience platform Tsunami Democràtic in the aftermath of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of the Catalan leaders jailed over the 2017 independence referendum. The decree; however, will also affect the rest of the Spanish state.

ERC and JxCat accused PSOE of promoting a “totalitarian” measure such as those implemented in countries like China, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

MP Montse Bassa (ERC) warned that her group will bring this measure to European Courts and criticized “the repressive strategy of the PSOE.” Bassa also accused the Spanish State of chasing “political dissidence” and freedom of expression with an “arbitrary system that allows censorship and coercion of rights and freedoms.”

MP Laura Borràs (JxCat) denounced that the decree is a “digital coup” and accused the State of being “technophobic […] the Spanish State will have nothing to envy authoritarian states in the matter of the Internet.” Borràs also warned that the Catalan government would take the decree-law to the Spanish Constitutional Court due to the fact that the initiative “is a serious misuse of power.”

The pro-independence party CUP also denounced the approval of the decree. The anticapitalists criticized Unidas Podemos and Catalunya en Comú Podem for negotiating the coalition government with PSOE without any democratic conditions, such as abolishing the Mordassa law or modifying the digital decree. “It is nothing more than a continuation of the repressive actions of the Spanish state against dissidence.”

The approval and enforcement of the digital decree comes at a moment when Pedro Sánchez is negotiating his investiture with the pro-independence parties ERC and JxCat.

49.3% of Catalans Are in Favor of Independence; 41.2% Against

The latest CEO poll, “Perception of the Territorial Debate in Spain 2019,” carried out throughout the Spanish State at the request of the Catalan Government and published on Thursday, shows that 49.3% of Catalans support independence, 41.2% are against it, and the rest either do not know or have not responded. Throughout the remainder of the Spanish State though, 75.8% reject independence and just 13.6% support it.

The poll also shows that 70% of Catalans support a self-determination referendum, while 21.6% oppose it. In the rest of the Spanish State, 57.3% are against it and 29.8% are in favor.

Despite the Spanish government’s opposition to a self-determination referendum taking place in Catalonia, 48.2% of (non-Catalan) Spaniards would accept Catalonia’s independence after such a vote, a figure that rises to 81.3% among Catalans.

Imprisonment of Jailed Catalan Leaders Regarding the 2017 Referendum

Some 75.2% of Catalans believe that the imprisonment of the Catalan leaders is unfair; in the rest of the Spanish State, 60.1% believe it is justified.

The poll also tackled the issue of how people think the current conflict between Spain and Catalonia should be resolved.

Solution to the Conflict

Some 75% of Catalans support a political solution; in the rest of the Spanish State, 45.2% do so.

Dialogue Without Limits

Some 42.4% of Catalans demand dialogue and negotiation “without limits,” and 38.1% want it within the limits of the existing Spanish Constitution. In contrast, 48.4% of respondents from the rest of the Spanish State want the dialogue to be limited to the framework of the Constitution, and only 17.2% want negotiation without limits, which is below the 26.9% that demands a hard response from the State.

Democracy

This is one of the issues that unites Catalan voters from all parties: both unionists and independents. Some 87.5% of those surveyed in Catalonia were either little or not-at-all satisfied with the Spanish democratic system.

Monarchy

The monarchy gets the support of 22% of Catalans, and 45% of the rest of Spaniards.

The CEO poll published on Thursday was based on a survey of 3,600 people across Spain, in the period between September 9 and October 7 2019.

The Spanish State Can Shut Down Websites Without a Court Order in Cases of “Threats to Public Order”

Since Wednesday, the Spanish government has the authority to shut down websites without a court order in cases of urgent threats to “public order, public security and national security.” This is reflected in the decree promoted by the executive led by Pedro Sánchez, which was published in the Official Spanish Gazette (BOE) on Tuesday and became effective on Wednesday.

The Spanish government is now authorized to intervene or stop servers that host social networks or websites in cases of “public disorder.” This could already be done earlier, but only with a court order. With this modification, no “prior hearing” will be necessary, and there is a risk that the government will apply it to curtail basic fundamental rights, especially in cases of political dissidents and peaceful demonstrations.

These are cases enshrined in the decree where the Spanish government is authorized to shut down websites:

a) When there is an immediate and serious threat to public order, public safety or national security.

b) When there is an immediate and serious threat to public health.

c) When the alleged infringing activity could result in serious damage to the operation of the services of emergencies, public security and civil protection.

d) When it seriously interferes with the electronic communication of other services or networks.

e) When it might be used to provoke a serious economic or operational problem for other providers or users of electronic communications networks or services or other users of the radio spectrum.

According to the text the government can also intervene in elements that necessarily accompany “the installation or deployment of a network” or “a communications service.”

In this way it opens the door to interrupt any “infrastructure for public networks of electronic communications, its associated resources or any element or level of the network or the service in order to preserve or restore public order, public security and national security.”