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The question resonating in the corridors of the Catalan Parliament is quite surreal. Is Pau Juvillà still an MP or not? And the answer is by no means clear, but it contains a series of doubts and assumptions that, despite multiple appearances, no one seems to have fully resolved so far. What is clear is that last Friday, Spain's Central Electoral Comission (JEC) decided to press on with its stand, withdrawing the seat from Juvillà and issuing credentials for the candidate who follows him on the candidature list which his party, the CUP, presented in the Lleida constituency in the elections of February 14th, 2021. In addition, the electoral board demanded that speaker Laura Borràs state within five working days the measures taken to withdraw the seat from Juvillà, following his conviction for failing to remove yellow ribbons from the Lleida city hall building when he was a councillor there. So this was the issue faced by the Parliament's procedural body, the Bureau, when it met this morning in a context that Borràs has described as "extremely serious".

"We propose to the parliamentary bodies that meetings be called off until there is an agreement from the MPs Committee." This was the announcement made by Borràs after a whole morning of meetings. The speaker arrived this morning with a more radical proposal, that of paralyzing parliamentary activity completely until the committee which deals with the rights of MPs meets to issue a report on how to proceed with Juvillà. The proposition shook up the house, as the legal basis under which it could be done was not clear. Borràs's intention was to show the pro-independence parties were united in showing support for Juvillà, and beyond that, the fact of suspending activity also meant avoiding certain dangers, as it meant that the questioned MP - like all the others - would not be taking part and this would decrease the risk of his being disobedient. In any case, the proposal was modified in the end, firstly because of the doubts that ERC and the CUP had about this measure, but also because the house's lawyer warned that paralyzing Parliament could have serious consequences.

Laura Borràs dirigiendose a la reunión mesa parlament caso Juvillà / Sergi Alcàzar

Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Laura Borràs, and secretary of the Bureau, Aurora Madaula / Sergi Alcàzar

Borràs calls the MPs Committee for Thursday

Thus, the proposal came to be modified and the pro-independence parties were finally persuaded to stop the house's activity. How? By boycotting the committee meetings scheduled for this week, where the absence of the pro-independence parties will cause them to be suspended for lack of a quorum. It is a measure similar to what has been done on other occasions when MPs facing judicial reprisals over the independence issue had to testify for some reason. The same thing happened today, but the magnitude is greater: it will happen again tomorrow, and so on, until the MPs Committee meets. And when will that be? As has learned, the speaker of parliament will today sign the convocation of the committee, which must take place with 48 hours notice. Thus, the committee will meet on Thursday and the political parties are already working on their opinion. Borràs calls this committee together after the recent changes that have taken place in its membership and which, for practical purposes, mean that there is no chairperson at this time. As announced on Tuesday, the Junts deputy David Saldoni has ceased presiding over it, and gives way to the deputy and lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, who will take up his position on Thursday.

Not until this committee meeting takes place will the outcome for Juvillà be known. Today, CUP sources affirmed that the secretary general of Parliament verbally communicated to his adviser, the ex-deputy Maria Sirvent, that he would no longer be working in the chamber after the decision of the JEC. This communication, which the CUP said was made by the secretary to Sirvent last Friday, set off all the alarms, indicating to them that possibly this would also mean that Juvillà would be expelled from Parliament. Despite the uproar, sources in the Catalan chamber deny that this expulsion has been carried out. This will be revealed in the payrolls - but they won't be known until the end of February; another approach would be through the participation or not of Juvillà in committees, but here there is the additional factor that he has a health problem preventing him from keeping up his political activity.


The Commons distance themselves

All this has led to wider expressions of opposition to Borràs. Before the speaker appeared to explain the recommendation for the suspension of the house's activity, the political groups went ahead and reacted to the first news they had, the possibility of paralyzing everything. From the PSC, Alícia Romero warned that her group would do everything possible for the chamber to maintain its activity, and threatened any decision with legal measures. As well, the Commons, occasional partners of the government, were very critical with the decision of the pro-independence groups. Although they had initially expressed their support for Juvillà, today they distanced themselves from the decision to protest using a stoppage, and criticized Borràs for making "patrimonial use" of the institutions.

albiach david cid ACN

David Cid and Jessica Albiach (Commons) / ACN

ERC did not like this approach at all, and criticized the position of Commons leader Jéssica Albiach. Thus, ERC's Marta Vilalta reproached the party for having turned its backs on this cause, accusing them of incendiary actions, especially when they have a precedent in their own ranks: the case of Alberto Rodríguez in the Congress of Deputies. She also said that opposition groups "are exaggerating" and warned them that "democracy is not put in danger because you postpone the agenda for a day, but rather by denying the rights of deputies." The ERC spokesperson also pointed out that this stoppage will allow the CUP deputy to avoid being challenged in the votes in which he might participate before the committee's opinion is issued. However, she remarked that as there is still a judicial appeal, and with the demand for interim measures from the Supreme Court, Juvillà "is still a deputy and enjoys all his rights" in the eyes of the Republican Left.

The differences from the Torra case 

The rapid manoeuvres being made by the electoral board are completely different from how it behaved in the case of the withdrawal of the seat of Catalan president Quim Torra. At that time, the JEC sent a letter asking the speaker of parliament Roger Torrent to proceed with the withdrawal of Torra's seat and requesting that he also send to the JEC all the documentation certifying that this had been done. In the case of Juvillà, the Electoral Commission itself withdrew the credentials of the deputy and materialized the person who was to substitute him, issuing the new credentials for the person who must occupy the seat.

Unlike in the case of Torrent, therefore, the JEC has not allowed Borràs room to decide whether or not to withdraw the seat, because it had already acted to remove it. What the speaker of parliament will have to decide is whether to assume disobedience to the decision of the JEC, which could lead to the assumption of other crimes such as collaboration in the usurpation of functions and misuse of public funds, as public funds would be used to pay the salary of a deputy whose seat had been withdrawn. All this greatly complicates the situation for the speaker, who came to the chamber with a court accusation under her arm, for alleged contractual irregularities at the Institution of Catalan Letters, which she headed, and in these 11 months in Parliament she has added eight more cases, following the PSC's appeal to the Constitutional Court, over the acceptance of the delegation of the vote of Lluís Puig, absent and exiled, in addition to various complaints from Ciudadanos and Vox.

Differences between ERC and Junts

These differences in strategy - both in the past and now - have caused clashes between the two government parties. Junts spokesperson Elsa Artadi claimed yesterday that president Borràs is acting very differently from the way her ERC predecessor Roger Torrent did. For Artadi, Borràs is making movements to maintain Juvillà's position and getting to where she wants to go. On the other hand, ERC considers that she is acting in much the same way as Roger Torrent did, in reference to making a united anti-repression stand.

That is why there is unease within ERC ranks because they consider it unfair to say that Torrent did not do the same: "The only difference between Borràs and Torrent in terms of his anti-repression movements is that the current speaker is receiving the support which, for tactical reasons, speaker Torrent was denied." This is the opinion of ERC's Pau Morales on his Twitter profile.

It remains to be seen if the tactics used so far will, in the end, work, or if Juvillà finally is removed from being an MP for the anti-capitalist party. In any case, the repression has caused the pro-independence groups to organize to confront it. Now, the calendar must be watched carefully. Parliamentary activity will continue to be suspended on Wednesday, and the MPs Committee will meet on Thursday, with a special plenary session of Parliament then to be called to vote on the committee's opinion. It could be this very Friday, or if not, early next week.