VilaWeb interviewed lawyer Gonzalo Boye shortly after he learnt of the EU General Court’s ruling in his favour, a temporary injunction returning immunity to his clients —MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí— until the appeal against the European Parliament’s decision has been resolved. Boye is elated, but speaks cautiously. Clearly, he is convinced that this new judicial victory by the exiled Catalan leaders is a further step on the path to the trio’s return to Catalonia.
—What’s the significance of this decision?
—Basically, the resolution is another step in a long process during which very few people have believed in us, a process in which such injunctions are not usually granted. What does it really mean? It means that, at first glance -in legal terms, prima facie– the EGC sees it as a case of political persecution, as we’d argued all along. As a result, they believe the MEPs’ ought to retain their rights until their case has been resolved.
—You said that it was unusual for such injunctions to be accepted. Do you see it as a victory or is it too early to say?
—I think we have to be careful and prudent. It’s a first step, but a particularly important one. It’s the first step towards the main battle, or the mother of all the battles we will fight: the appeal. We have always maintained that it’s a case of fumus persecutionis, a political persecution, and that it should be dealt with as such.
—Will your clients have their immunity restored until the merits of the appeal or the temporary injunction have been resolved?
—The temporary injunction will have to be resolved, but in a very preliminary way they have already proved us right. They can revoke it, of course, but they will need to find convincing arguments in order to change the criteria which they themselves have established.
—Therefore, their parliamentary immunity as MEPs will remain in force until the court has made a decision.
—We believe that, in principle, it will. That would be the right attitude. But the decision is in the hands of justice. Of justice with a capital J. We have always respected court rulings that were favourable and a few that weren’t, such as that of 2 July 2019, in which we were denied a temporary injunction. We appealed against that decision and ended up winning it on 20 December 2019. In principle, we have always been proved right in the steps we have taken in Europe and we are confident that it will stay that way.
—How long might the ruling on the appeal take? A year?
—A year or so. I’m convinced that it’s a unique case. I’ve said on many occasions that long ago we entered unexplored terrain. That is true for the European Parliament, for us and for the EGC. Therefore, we will all proceed with the utmost intellectual and legal rigour and we strongly believe that by acting in such a way, everything will be alright in the end.
—Could your clients travel and leave Belgium safely tomorrow?
—Yes, of course. The measure comes into immediate force.
—And how does that affect the European arrest warrants against them? Have they been put on hold?
—The arrest warrants were issued in spite of the fact that my clients already had immunity as MEPs. This was contradictory. In addition, Judge Llarena filed some preliminary motions which, by law, should put the arrest warrants on hold. It’s not open for debate. They would only come into effect if someone broke the law.
—Could this restored immunity have any effect on the preliminary rulings pending resolution in the ECJ?
—We believe that these are two independent yet closely related issues. Therefore, in all our legal arguments we link one thing to another. Everything is related.
—In its ruling, the EGC states that it has taken the decision without waiting to hear the European Parliament’s opinion. Are you surprised they didn’t wait to hear what the European Parliament has to say on the matter? Do you think it will voice its opinion now?
—The EGC’s main mission is to guarantee the rights of all parties concerned, especially those who may have their fundamental rights affected, which is the case of my clients. Nevertheless, I’m sure that the European Parliament let its opinion be heard, but I find it difficult to think that they will say anything that infringes on the rights of MEPs and goes against the criteria of the General Court. To be honest, I can’t see that happening.
—The decision is a further setback for the Spanish judiciary, although the arrest warrant against Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí is still in force.
—I think that with this decision and this legal battle we have shown that Spain’s position is becoming more and more untenable, taking into account the situation which exists in the rest of Europe. It has little or no justification.
—What would your next step be if they ultimately rule in your favour? Can you ask the European Parliament for protection so that Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí can step on Spanish soil?
—The next step will be for all their rights to be recognized throughout the entire European Union. This means defining what constitutes EU territory, period.
—And the procedure is to ask the European Parliament for their constitutional rights to be upheld?
—I’ll be cautious. We must forge ahead one step at a time. We are showing that, by working carefully and properly, we are able to move forward in the right direction. I see no reason to rush at this stage. We won’t take any more steps for the time being, we have to wait for the other players to move their pieces on the board.
—Finally, I must ask you about the issue of official pardons [for the convicted Catalan leaders] and the debate over whether they will be conditional.
—It’s like a game of the monte where there are too many cups and everyone is trying to decide where the ball went. The Spanish law is very clear on the subject of official pardons. By definition, pardons are not revocable, but they can be granted in such a way that certain preconditions must be met. However, the process of granting a pardon is slower than many people think. I’ve outlined my position on many occasions. I’d be delighted if those in prison were finally granted an effective pardon, but I don’t think it’s the solution to a conflict with political dimensions which involves a whole country, not just a handful of people.