The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg on Wednesday lifted the parliamentary immunity of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and two of his former advisers in the Generalitat, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí. The ruling has been welcomed by both the Spanish government and the opposition.
Once EU immunity is lifted, Puigdemont will lose the protection that has hitherto made him untouchable in Europe and the procedures for his surrender will be restarted.
That means the three MEPs could be extradited to Spain for their involvement in the Catalonia region’s declaration of independence. Spain has been asking for their extradition for years. However, the court did not rule on possible arrest or extradition.
The decision clears the way for Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena to issue another European arrest warrant demanding the surrender to Spain of the three pro-independence politicians, who have been on the run since October 2017.
A brief look back
MEPs organised a referendum in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 on the region’s independence. Spanish police closed hundreds of polling stations and violence was used in the process. Then, on 27 October that year, the Catalan parliament declared independence for the rebellious region. In doing so, Catalonia went against the Spanish constitution for the second time. Earlier, it did so in 1934. The Spanish government placed the region under the authority of Madrid and called new regional elections. Puigdemont then fled to Belgium with a number of ministers. And in the summer of 2019, he became an MEP. His term still runs until the European elections in 2024.
The diplomatic immunity of the three was temporarily reinstated by the European Court in May last year, pending appeal, as otherwise they were likely to be arrested, according to the court.
Speaking from Brussels, Puigdemont announced in a press conference that he will appeal the ruling. The ruling also obliges the politicians of Junts per Catalunya leaders of the pro-independence process and now MEPs, to assume their legal costs and those of the European Parliament they had appealed against.
“It is true that this is not the decision we had hoped for and worked so hard for. Obviously we will appeal and it is clear that we hope for a favourable ruling at the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU, the highest European court)’ Puigdemont said. His lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, said they are asking for precautionary measures to preserve his immunity until the final ruling, but did not want to set a deadline for this.
‘It has been proven that we are being prosecuted for strictly political reasons. And until today, we thought there was no place for that in Europe. We believed it then and we believe it now, that is my conviction and I do not intend to stop insisting on this path,’ Puigdemont stressed.
Court rejects argument of partisan impartiality
The court in Luxembourg rejected the lack of ‘impartiality’ denounced by Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí because the chairman of the European Parliament’s Legal Committee, which examined the waiver of their immunity, is Spaniard Adrián Vázquez of Ciudadanos. And that party, according to the defence of the Catalan MEPs, has shown “hostility” to independence. In this context, the EU Constitutional Court points out that a Member of the European Parliament is “by definition not politically neutral”, but “he or she nevertheless acts within the framework of a parliamentary committee whose composition reflects the balance of the political groups in Parliament”.
‘The ruling confirms what we already knew: that the process of lifting the immunity of the European Parliament was carried out impeccably and with all guarantees, Vázquez said in Brussels.