European Parliament strips former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont of immunity

The decision means that Spanish authorities will be able to reactivate the arrest warrant to bring the politician back to the country and put him on trial for his involvement in the 2017 separatist bid

European deputies Carles Puigdemont and Clara Ponsatí in the European Parliament on Monday.
European deputies Carles Puigdemont and Clara Ponsatí in the European Parliament on Monday.FRANCISCO SECO (AFP)

The European Parliament has voted to lift the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, a former premier of Spain’s Catalonia region, who led an illegal attempt to secede from Spain in 2017.

In a vote held on Monday but made public on Tuesday, 400 European lawmakers supported lifting Puigdemont’s parliamentary immunity, while 248 voted against and 45 abstained.

There were very similar votes in connection with Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, two Puigdemont aides who fled Spain with him following an unauthorized referendum on independence held on October 1, 2017.

The decisions could lead to a reopening of extradition claims against all three MEPs, who are wanted by the Spanish justice system in connection with the illegal referendum and breakaway bid.

Other former members of Puigdemont’s Cabinet who stayed in Spain were tried and found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds, and are serving prison sentences in Catalan jails.

The next legal moves will now be in the hands of courts in Belgium (in the case of Puigdemont and Comín) and the UK (in the case of Ponsatí, who fled to Scotland, although lately she has been residing in Belgium).

Legal procedures that were started when Spain’s Supreme Court issued European arrest warrants were later placed on hold in early 2020, when the Catalan politicians became members of the EU Parliament and gained immunity.

In January, the Belgian courts refused to extradite another former member of Puigdemont’s cabinet, Lluís Puig, but because he lacked parliamentary immunity, the legal process was not halted.

EU Court of Justice

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí said they will take their case to the EU Court of Justice, alleging “irregularities” in the procedure against them in the EU Parliament. A couple of weeks ago, Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena – in charge of the investigation into the breakaway attempt – also took steps to make a request for a preliminary ruling from the European court.

The vote in the EU Parliament ran along expected lines. The conservative, socialist and liberal groups, which represent 61% of the chamber with 432 lawmakers out of 705, supported lifting the immunity, although there were some cracks among the two latter groups. And a majority of the green and leftist legislators voted against.

The European vote also showcased the divisions among the two political groups that make up Spain’s coalition government: members of the Socialist Party (PSOE) voted to lift the immunity, while those from Unidas Podemos voted against.

Catalonia recently held a regional election in which separatist parties collectively secured a majority of votes, although the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) was the single most-voted force.

English version by Susana Urra.

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