Parliamentary immunity lifted for former Catalan leader and two other separatist MEPs

The decision, in a vote late on Monday, now clears the way for formal legal moves by Spain, where Carles Puigdemont and colleagues Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí all face charges relating to the Catalan independence referendum in 2017.
Carles Puigdemont: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Mar 2021

Spain had asked for their MEP immunity from criminal prosecution to be lifted as it seeks their extradition from Belgium where they are in exile. It is expected that Spain will now move to reactivate a European Arrest Warrant (EAS) to return them for trial.

Puigdemont stands accused of sedition and misuse of public funds while similar charges have been made against Comín and Ponsatí.

Speaking at a news conference in Parliament on Tuesday, S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez,  a Spanish member, told reporters that she welcomed the outcome of the vote, saying, “I am very happy with the result which is a victory for democracy and the rule of law.”

“Parliament, in this vote, has done nothing other than demonstrate the importance of cooperating with the judiciary. We must cooperate with justice, not block it. Parliament is not judging anyone but just wants justice to be done.”

“Spanish justice should be able to do its job so, yes, this is a victory for parliamentary democracy.”

She added, “There was a strong campaign by the pro-separatist movement using arguments that often had no reality, but this vote now allows Spanish justice to do its work.”

“We believe that the political conflict in Catalonia and Spain needs to be resolved by political means, and that an important condition for this to succeed is to avoid the continuous judicialisation of politics”

Philippe Lamberts, Greens/EFA co-leader

“I am not going to waste a single minute wasting time to try to explain why others did not vote for this [immunity waiver] but I thank our Spanish Socialist delegation for their support.”

Asked to explain the outcome of the vote, given that Parliament has a long tradition of defending members’ immunity, she replied, “Parliament is not here to voice an opinion on what Spanish judges are doing. It has voted to lift immunity, a privilege we MEPs enjoy, so that these three people can be held accountable by the judiciary in Spain and answer to justice.”

“This was a secret ballot and, in the Socialist group, there was an overwhelming majority in favour of waiving immunity.”

“The waiver comes into force immediately, so it is now up to the Belgian authorities to decide if the three can be extradited to Spain.”

“The three of them can continue their work as MEPs, pending the outcome of that decision, but I think it would best for them to accede to the request as soon as possible.”

For the three pro-independence MEPs it is the third time in the last four years that they have faced an attempt by the Spanish court to extradite them to face charges of sedition for their roles in the Catalan independence referendum of 2017.

“Parliament, in this vote, has done nothing other than demonstrate the importance of cooperating with the judiciary … Spanish justice should be able to do its job so, yes, this is a victory for parliamentary democracy”

Iratxe García Pérez, S&D leader

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí are, as MEPs, currently protected by parliamentary immunity from prosecution. The three members, all non-attached, have reportedly said they will now appeal the vote.

The request from Spain did not meet with universal approval on Monday, though, and the Greens voted again.

Group joint leader Philippe Lamberts said, “We believe that the political conflict in Catalonia and Spain needs to be resolved by political means, and that an important condition for this to succeed is to avoid the continuous judicialisation of politics.”

“We also urge the Spanish government to decide as soon as possible on different instruments to guarantee that the political and social leaders imprisoned for their involvement in the events of October 2017 can soon regain their freedom. This political solution should also allow that no further judicial indictments are issued,” he added.

His colleague, German member Ska Keller, added, “The group considers in this case that the competence of the Spanish Supreme Court is still disputed and has not been sufficiently clarified during the evaluation done by the JURI Committee. Without further clarity on this key element of the request, the group considers that the waiver should be rejected.”

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