Catalan president faces being removed from office

Spain’s electoral commission bans Quim Torra from serving as regional lawmaker.


1/3/20, 8:51 PM CET

BARCELONA — Catalonia’s President Quim Torra is on the verge of being removed from office after Spain’s electoral commission ruled he could no longer sit as a member of the regional parliament.

The electoral commission — made up of eight Supreme Court judges, selected at random, and five academics appointed by political parties — took the controversial decision on Friday, and it will come into effect as soon as Torra is officially notified. The move is linked to Torra’s decision not to remove pro-independence symbols and banners from public buildings during an election campaign.

According to Catalan law, being a member of the regional parliament is a precondition for taking up the role of president of Catalonia. However, Torra argues that the law does not specify whether the president must remain as a regional lawmaker for the length of his term.

Diego López Garrido, a former EU minister in a Socialist Spanish government and now professor of constitutional law at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, said the “law is very clear,” and “the president must be a lawmaker, he can’t stop being it.”

In a statement outside the Catalan government, following an urgent meeting of his cabinet, Torra accused the electoral commission of exercising powers that do not belong to it. He said he would appeal the decision, which he described as “authoritarian and completely irregular.”

“This is the second time that there is an attempt to remove a Catalan president from office, from an office in Madrid,” Torra said, insisting that the Catalan parliament is the only institution with powers to dismiss him as president of the region.

“The last two presidents of Catalonia have been ceased dismissed by Spain, not by the parliament [of Catalonia]. They have grown used to deciding who must be the president and who must not.” — Carles Puigdemont

The decision by the electoral commission, which oversees elections, comes weeks after the Catalan Regional High Court found Torra guilty of disobedience for failing to remove banners and yellow ribbons supporting the independence of Catalonia and jailed independence leaders from several regional public buildings ahead of Spain’s national election in April.

The electoral commission argued at the time that these symbols should be removed to preserve neutrality ahead of the vote.

The regional court banned Torra from public office for 18 months and fined him €30,000 plus legal costs. However, Torra has stayed in post pending appeal.

The commission upheld the argument put forward by the conservative Popular Party, which argued Torra should been barred from acting as a regional MP following the earlier court ruling.

The decision deals a blow to Torra’s Together for Catalonia (JxCat), one of the two separatist parties that rule the north-east Spanish region in coalition.

Catalan President Quim Torra and former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont | Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

In a separate decision, the electoral commission also barred separatist leader and elected MEP Oriol Junqueras from office, despite a ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU stating that he should have enjoyed the immunity afforded to members of the European Parliament from the moment the EU election results were declared.

Junqueras, former vice-president of Catalonia and leader of another separatist party, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), was elected to the European Parliament in May, despite being in jail in Spain. In October, he was jailed for 13 years after being convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds related to the region’s failed independence bid in 2017.

The two decisions by the commission are seen by the separatists as a further attempt to repress the pro-independence movement in Catalonia, and add uncertainty to whether Pedro Sánchez will be confirmed as prime minister in investiture votes due to take place on Sunday and Tuesday. Sánchez needs the abstention of the ERC in order to take office.

Pere Aragonès, Catalan vice president and the ERC’s national coordinator, described Friday's decision as “aberrant,” and expressed solidarity with their coalition partners. The ERC’s executive will meet tomorrow to consider the consequences of the commission’s decisions on Torra and Junqueras.

The decision also means Torra might not be able to contest any future elections, which could create a leadership crisis within JxCat. Torra took over from Carles Puigdemont after he fled to Belgium in 2017 to avoid arrest over his involvement in a 2017 secession bid deemed illegal by Spain. Puigdemont described Friday’s decision as “outrageous and embarrassing.”

“The last two presidents of Catalonia have been dismissed by Spain, not by the parliament [of Catalonia]. They have grown used to deciding who must be the president and who must not,” Puigdemont tweeted.