The plenary of the European Parliament approved on Tuesday (9) the suspension of the parliamentary immunity of Catalan deputies Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, an action requested by Spain after Catalonia’s attempt at independence in 2017, by plebiscite.
The immunity of Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia, was suspended by 400 votes in favor and 248 against, in addition to 45 abstentions, while the motions against Comín, former regional councilor (equivalent to the minister) of Health, and Ponsatí, former holder of education, were adopted by 404 votes to 247, with 42 abstentions, announced the plenary table.
The decision of this Tuesday does not affect, for the moment, the situation of the three Catalan leaders, who could continue to exercise their functions as MEPs. The suspension of immunity was, however, the necessary condition for the common justice to examine the requests presented by the Supreme Court of Spain, which requires the sending of the three parliamentarians to be prosecuted in their country.
In a message on Monday (8), Puigdemont said the vote would define “what values we stand for, what idea of democracy we have and what future we want to build in Europe”.
With the decision of this Tuesday, the Puigdemont and Comín cases return to the Justice of Belgium, while that of Ponsatí returns to the Justice of Scotland, bodies to which Spain has presented extradition requests.
The three MEPs have, however, already anticipated that they would bring their cases before the main judicial body of the bloc, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
Spanish courts charge Puigdemont and Comín with sedition and embezzlement, while Ponsatí is only charged with sedition. The defense of the three MEPs alleges procedural and jurisdictional errors, a lack of evidence and political persecution.
The vote took place on Monday evening, but with the restrictive measures adopted by the Covid pandemic, it took place virtually. Therefore, the official result was not announced until Tuesday.
Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee recommended at the end of February that the plenary suspend the immunity of the three legislators. The three largest blocs in the European Parliament (the People’s Party Group, the Socialists and Democrats and the Liberals of Renew Europe) had planned that they would vote to suspend immunity. The three benches represent 417 chairs out of a total of 705.
Aamer Anwar, a lawyer for Ponsati in Scotland, criticized on Twitter the Parliament’s “shameful vote” and said the battle was continuing.
The legal process does not have to be straightforward. In January, the Belgian court rejected a Spanish extradition request from another Catalan adviser, Lluís Puig, holder of the Culture portfolio and currently residing in Belgium, alleging the “risk of violating his fundamental rights”, thus highlighting cause the jurisdiction of the Spanish Supreme Court in this case.
In Madrid, Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya declared that the vote of the European Parliament underlines that “Catalonia’s problems are solved in Spain, not in Europe”.
The head of Spanish diplomacy said the government “is reaching out to all Catalan political forces to seek a solution to Catalonia’s problems through dialogue and negotiation”.
According to González, this Tuesday’s vote also shows respect for “the work of Spanish justice” and reaffirms the “solidity of the rule of law in Spain”.