Puigdemont and former ministers no longer have immunity

by Deborah Cater
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The European Parliament has lifted the immunity of Catalan politicians Carles Puigdemont, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí. They are being prosecuted for their involvement in the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

The MEPs held a secret vote on Monday night lifting the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, former president of the Catalan partial government Generalitat, and his two former ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

The three fled to Belgium after the referendum. In the European elections of May 2019, Puigdemont and Comín were elected to the European Parliament. After a months-long legal battle, they took their seats in early 2020.

At a distance

The Parliament announced the results on Tuesday because MEPs voted remotely from the member states. In the case of Puigdemont, 400 voted in favour of waiving immunity, 248 against and 45 abstained, and in the case of both Comín and Ponsatí, 404 voted in favour, 247 against and 42 abstained. The result does not mean the three politicians will no longer be Members of the European Parliament. Nor that extradition to Spain is on the cards. However, it enables the Spanish and Belgian authorities to reactivate the European arrest warrant procedure.

Objections to the request for waiver of immunity filed by Judge Pablo Llarena in early 2020 came from, among others, the left-wing group, which includes the Greens and Unidas Podemos. Supporters of the waiver included Izaskun Bilbao of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), as well as Puigdemont’s allies in Belgium, the Flemish nationalists of N-VA who, like Vox, are part of the conservative group.

Confidence in the Spanish rule of law

With this decision, the European Parliament says no to ‘fabrications and lies of Catalan independence’ and proves that Europe is a rule of law. The European Parliament trusts in the Spanish rule of law and now says that it is up to “national legal system to prosecute people or not.”

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No surprise

Ponsatí reacted to the vote by saying that the result “fills her with hope and strength to fight the next battle. I have not been vaccinated yet, but I feel more ‘immune’ today than yesterday”.

The result came as no surprise to Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí. After the Legal Affairs Committee approved the request to lift immunity (15 in favour, 8 against and 2 abstentions), the Catalan pro-independence politicians already knew how the ruling would end. “We have never given up a fight, not even this one, but we can do the maths,” Puigdemont said. The committee vote took place under the chairmanship of Spaniard Adrián Vázquez, of Ciudadanos.

Lobby

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí know how to play their cards in the European Parliament. In recent weeks, they have lobbied hard to win more votes to get close to the 353 votes needed for an absolute majority.

From European Parliament to European Court of Justice

Now the case is in principle leaving the European Parliament. After this vote, the case theoretically returns to the European arrest warrant and the extradition. However, the three have already announced their intention to appeal to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

In any case, Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí remain members of the European Parliament. The only novelty is Judge Llarena reinstating the European arrest warrant for the Belgian judicial authorities. Puigdemont and Comín are still in Belgium; Ponsatí is in Scotland. It is not yet clear whether they could face prison sentences. That would depend on the Belgian and Scottish courts agreeing to a Spanish request for extradition.

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