Court bans Catalan president from public office for 18 months

Quim Torra, wearing a yellow ribbon pin on Thursday.
Quim Torra, wearing a yellow ribbon pin on Thursday. / EFE
  • The blow to the stability of the regional government was offset by separate news that the EU has said that Oriol Junqueras, in jail for sedition, could be an MEP with immunity

Quim Torra, the separatist president of Catalonia's regional government, has his days in charge numbered. On Thursday, a court in Barcelona handed Torra a year-and-a-half ban from public office for disobeying the Spanish electoral commission's order to remove pro-independence yellow ribbons from public buildings during the lead-up to campaigning in the national general election held in April.

The yellow ribbon is the widely displayed symbol of the independence movement. Regional governments are partly responsible for overseeing voting in national polls and electoral law requires political symbols to be withdrawn during an election campaign.

The decision by the highest regional court in Catalonia isn't definitive and Quim Torra can appeal to the national Supreme Court in Madrid.

The sentence, if upheld, means that the president would be forced to give up running the Catalan government, which he controls thanks to a coalition between his Junts per Catalunya regional MPs and ERC, the Catalan republican party. It is expected that the coalition partners wouldn't be able to agree on a new president, meaning the separatist-run regional government would fall and Catalan elections would be called next year.

Jail and MEPs

While Thursday's ruling was possibly good news for the Spanish government, it was tempered by a decision by the EU's top court that Spain should have let imprisoned independence politician and leader of ERC, Oriol Junqueras, out of jail to take up his MEP seat in Brussels, and so giving him immunity. The decision is only for guidance and the Spanish Supreme Court must now make its ruling.

This could clear the way for other pro-independence MEPs who were refused their Euro seats by Spain to possibly sit in the EU parliament. This includes Carles Puigdemont, former president of Catalonia, who has been in self-imposed exile to avoid trial since the banned independence referendum in 2017. He tweeted on Thursday that he hopes to be allowed to return to Spain soon.

The EU court's view is that MEPs are official as soon as the election result is announced, adding that that the Spanish courts should have allowed Junqueras out to be sworn in as an MEP, as at the time he was only on remand and not sentenced, and then should have requested special dispensation from the EU parliament to put him back in jail again.

Junqueras was eventually sentenced for sedition.