A divided EU Parliament lifts immunity of three Catalan MEPs

Spain can now resume extradition procedures against exiled pro-independence leaders and they will appeal in court

VilaWeb
VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
09.03.2021 - 09:46
Actualització: 09.03.2021 - 10:46

The European Parliament has approved removing  the immunity as MEP of exiled president Carles Puigdemont and his deposed ministers Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín after a plenary session vote.

The vote, however, was far from unanimous: in the case of Puigdemont, 400 MEPs sided in favour of lifting it, 248 against and 45 representatives abstained. In the case of Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, the result was 404 Yes votes, 247 No votes and 42 abstentions. That means that 42% of the MEPs didn’t vote in favour of the immunity waiver, which is an unprecedented high figure.

The secret ballot was held on Monday but the results were released on Tuesday morning. The decision enables Spain’s resumption of their extradition procedures, although they already announced that they would challenge the immunity lifting before the European Court of Justice.

Breach of confidentiality

Their party, Junts per Catalunya, has denounced a “breach of confidentiality,” since the content of the report prior to the preliminary chamber committee vote on the issue was revealed before MEPs voted on it – the chamber insists that Members of the European Parliament cannot reveal the content of reports before a vote in a committee.

Thus, Puigdemont is expected to take the whole procedure to the European Court of Justice, claiming that there have been “formal errors”.

The report was drafted by ultra-conservative MEP Angel Dzhambazki and greenlighted by the committee on Legal Affairs, led by a member of the anti-independence Ciudadanos party, Adrián Vázquez, on February 23.

Why is their immunity as MEPs being lifted?

Following their appointment as European representatives, their extradition requests by Spain were frozen because they began to enjoy privileges as MEPs – yet, the Spanish judiciary has been for a year requesting that they lose these privileges so the procedure which could end up in them being handed over to Spain can continue.

Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín are wanted by Spain because of their role in the 2017 independence push – this is the third time the Supreme Court attempts to have them handed over, after two previous failed attempts in which either Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected the full terms of their extradition, or Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant before it was denied.

Along with their lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí attended a hearing at the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs in January, to argue against the Spanish Supreme Court’s motion to waive their political immunity, the approval of which is necessary for Spain’s extradition attempt to move forward. These proceedings took place behind closed doors almost a year after the court’s initial request.

Even if the Catalan pro-independence politicians were stripped of their immunity, they would still retain their status as MEPs until a potential conviction barring them from office, even if Belgium, or Scotland in the case of Ponsatí, decided to hand them over to Spain. As the case of Lluís Puig demonstrated, not having political immunity does not automatically guarantee these politicians will be extradited.

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