Spain seeks temporary release for jailed Catalan MEP

Decision comes as Spain’s ruling Socialist Party attempts to coax Catalan party ERC into coalition.

Oriol Junqueras was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in an illegal 2017 independence referendum [File: Pablo Blazquez/Reuters]
Oriol Junqueras was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in an illegal 2017 independence referendum [File: Pablo Blazquez/Reuters]

Spain‘s state attorney has called for the temporary release of a Catalan separatist politician, in what was widely seen as a gesture of political goodwill as the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) seeks support to form a government.

The state attorney’s office asked the Spanish Supreme Court on Monday to allow Oriol Junqueras to travel to Brussels to take his seat as a European MP.

In October, Junqueras was sentenced to 13 years in prison over his role in a failed 2017 bid for Catalan independence. 

He was elected to the European Parliament in May while he was in jail awaiting the verdict of his case.

Last month, the European Union‘s top court said that Junqueras was entitled to immunity as an EU lawmaker.

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While the Spanish state attorney’s office said Junqueras should be allowed to take his seat, it also recommended that any requests to strip his immunity should be made soon so the politically sensitive case against him could be pursued. 

The Supreme Court is expected to give a ruling in the coming weeks.

Coalition building

Junqueras, 50, was convicted of sedition and misusing public funds earlier this year for his role in promoting the illegal secession bid of the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia.

To strip him of his immunity would require an almost-impossible consensus among the European Parliament’s 751 MEPs. 

The state attorney’s opinion was widely anticipated amid a campaign by the PSOE to court Junqueras’s party – the Republican Left of Catalonia (the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya or ERC) – to back a Socialist-led government.

The PSOE and ERC have met regularly since a November 10 election that saw the Socialists win but fall short of a majority.

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A rapid coalition deal with the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party brought their total seat count to 155, still short of the 176 seats needed for a majority.

The 13 seats held by ERC members are therefore crucial in coalition talks.

“Having Junqueras allowed out of prison can be viewed as a confidence-building gesture for [the Socialists], at the same time as keeping up the impression that Spain is a rules-based country going through the legal loopholes that are set by the European Union,” said Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from London.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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