Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

  • Spain's Supreme Court argued the legal cases of the three Catalan MEPs 'focused on their actions in years that far pre-date their acquisition of condition as deputies in the European Parliament' (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament has voted to lift parliamentary immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí - paving the way for Spain to take further legal action.

After the result of the vote on Tuesday (9 March), Spanish foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the parliament's decision showed "Catalonia's problems are to be resolved in Spain - and not in Europe".

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Former regional premier Puigdemont, however, slammed the vote as "a sad day for the European Parliament".

"We have lost our immunity but the European Parliament has lost more than that, and as a result, it has also lost European democracy," said the separatist leader, adding that "this is a clear case of political persecution".

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí said they are planning to take their case to the European Court of Justice, alleging "irregularities" in the parliamentary procedure.

For example, they argued that the Spanish Supreme Court, which asked for their immunity to be waived, is not the competent authority to make such a request.

Ponsatí's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, called the vote "shameful". "The legal battle goes on," he tweeted.

In 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to nine to 13 years in prison for sedition and the misuse of public funds. The three Catalan MEPs face similar jail time, if convicted.

'Political victory'?

"There is no surprise in the result, we always thought it would be difficult to win the vote," Comín told EUobserver.

"We lost, but there is a political victory because the Catalan conflict has been in the centre of the debate in the EU Parliament," he also said.

"Despite all the pressure coming from the Spanish state, 42 percent of MEPs have told Spain that they do not trust their judiciary," he added, arguing the process helped many countries and political groups "to open the[ir] eyes" about the Catalan conflict.

Some 400 MEPs voted in favour of waiving the immunity of Puigdemont, 248 against, with 45 abstentions. There were similar results for Comín and Ponsatí.

The three biggest political families, representing 61 percent of EU lawmakers, voted largely in favour of stripping the immunity of the former members of the Catalan government - but some 80 MEPs from the European People's Party, the Socialists & Democrats, the liberals, and the conservatives did not follow their groups' line.

MEPs from the Greens and the Left voted against, as previously declared.

"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," said MEP Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA group.

Madrid split

Meanwhile, the parliament's vote also exposed the divisions within the ruling Spanish coalition in Madrid, whose views on the Catalan crisis are far apart.

The members of the Spanish Socialist Party voted to lose their immunity, while those from left-wing Unidas Podemos voted against it.

Spain is now expected to reactive the European arrest warrant, aiming to bring the three politicians back to the country for prosecution over their role in the failed referendum on Catalan independence in 2017.

Catalonia jigsaw still unfinished

The extradition, however, will have to be decided by the Belgian judicial system (for Puigdemont and Comín) and by the UK's judiciary (for Ponsatí, who was residing in Scotland at the time, but is now also in Belgium).

However, a Belgian court earlier this year rejected Spain's attempt to extradite the former Catalan deputy Lluís Puig, who was also wanted for his role in the 2017 independence bid.

The arrest warrant procedure, issued by the Spanish Supreme Court, was suspended in January 2020 when the separatist leaders took their seats as MEPs.

Ponsatí became an MEP shortly after Brexit, as Spain was allocated five extra seats vacated by the UK.

The Spanish Supreme Court then officially requested EU lawmakers to suspend their immunity, arguing that their cases "are focused on their actions in years that far pre-date their acquisition of condition as deputies in the European Parliament".

The Catalan judiciary process, known domestically simply as 'el procés', is one of the most controversial trials in Spain's recent history.

Catalonia's separatist parties won more than half of the votes for the first time in February's parliamentary regional election - triggering renewed calls for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona for a political solution to the independence conflict.

Two Catalan MEPs take their seats - with a third in jail

Catalan separatist leaders Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín arrived at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to take their seats as MEPs on Monday, pledging "the Catalan crisis is not an internal matter, it is a European one".

Catalan MEP is 'elected', court advisor says

In a boost for the cause of three Catalan MEPs, the advocate general of the EU Court of Justice has recognised their mandate as elected MEPs - but it is up to the parliament if they should enjoy immunity.

Catalan support for Sanchez breaks Spanish deadlock

Catalonia's largest separatist party to abstain during the upcoming confidence vote in the Socialist-led government in exchange for promises of political dialogue. Meanwhile a Belgian judge has suspended an arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont.

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