Catalan separatist politicians win new EU legal victory

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Catalonia's former regional president Carles Puigdemont speaks during a news conference in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. In a potentially stinging reversal for Spanish justice authorities, the European Union's top court ruled Thursday that former Catalan regional Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, serving a prison sentence for his role in a banned independence referendum two years ago, had the right to parliamentary immunity when he was on trial. The case is likely to set an important precedent for Puigdemont, who is living in exile in Belgium. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s top court on Friday overturned a decision preventing fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont from taking a seat in the European Parliament, in a fresh legal victory for secessionist politicians from the Spanish region.

In July, Puigdemont and former Catalan health minister Toni Comin appealed to the EU’s General Court after the Spanish justice authorities effectively disqualified them from sitting in the assembly despite winning seats in the May European elections.

But the court rejected their request. It found that because the Spanish authorities didn't include their names on a list of lawmakers sent to the EU assembly, “the applicants were not officially declared as elected.”

However, the higher European Court of Justice said Friday that the decision “is annulled and the matter referred back to the General Court to be re-examined.”

Puigdemont and Comin have been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since they fled Spain in 2017 as some of their associates were jailed over a banned independence referendum in Catalonia. Spain has issued warrants for their arrest, but they have launched a legal appeal against the move.

In a symbolic move after the decision was made public, Puigdemont and Comin entered the European Parliament in Brussels and toured the vast room where sessions are held. The assembly was closed and lawmakers had already returned to their home countries as this week's plenary session took place in Strasbourg, France and ended on Thursday.

“It is important for this situation to be resolved before the holidays,” Puigdemont told reporters. He said he wants the parliament to explain “what mechanisms it has to compensate the European citizens that have been without representation for the past six months.”

“Each minute counts because they are violating our rights," he said.