Will Puigdemont have ‘immunity’ to return if elected in European Parliament?
Spain will have “last say” in whether former Catalan president can be confirmed as MEP, according to European sources
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has pledged he’ll return to the country from his exile in Belgium if he wins a seat in the upcoming European Parliament election. Accused of rebellion for attempting to achieve independence in 2017, he claims Spanish authorities won’t be able to arrest him because he’ll enjoy “parliamentary immunity.” Yet, whether he’ll be able to deliver on his promise will largely depend on Spanish and European institutions.
Spain, not the EU, has the last say
The European Parliament election will be held between May 23 and 26. The EU provides a framework clarifying the logistics of the vote, but the ultimate authority lays on each member state and its own electoral law.
“If you’re a candidate in Spain, you should abide by Spain’s electoral law"
European Parliament sources
In an interview with a Catalan radio station, Puigdemont claimed that “EU regulations and the EU Court of Justice are the ones ruling in the European Parliament.” Asked for clarifications, EU chamber sources said: “If you’re a candidate in Spain, you should abide by Spain’s electoral law.”
Oath of office always takes place in Madrid
Even if he wins a seat for the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) candidacy, Puigdemont will not officially be a member of the European Parliament (MEP) until Spain confirms his election and notifies it to the EU. In order to do so, elected MEPs are expected to take the oath of office before Spain’s electoral authority, based in Madrid, no later than 5 days after results are announced.
Puigdemont stated that there’s no need to be present when taking the oath. So far, according to EU sources, all MEPs elected in Spain have taken their oath in Madrid—even those who were sworn-in after a colleague ceded their post.
Immunity does not apply before assuming the post
EU rules on MEPs’ parliamentary immunity reads as follows: "Members of the Parliament shall not be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings in respect of opinions expressed or votes cast by them in the performance of their duties". Aside from the abovementioned provision, MEPs enjoy the same rights as MPs in member states’ national parliaments.
Puigdemont says he will enjoy the parliamentary immunity immediately from the moment election results are announced. In contrast, EU parliament sources maintain that MEPs will only enjoy such right when they are confirmed by their member state. Therefore, he could face arrest before he is able to assume his post in Madrid.
EU parliament seat “incompatible” with Catalan parliament seat
Despite being exiled in Belgium, Puigdemont was re-elected as a member of the Catalan parliament in 2017, in an election exceptionally called from Madrid after ousting him from office following a declaration of independence. The Supreme Court eventually suspended him and other MPs indicted in the independence case. Yet, Puigdemont’s party rejected replacing him claiming his political rights remained intact. He has not been able to vote since the court ordered his suspension.
Spain’s electoral law states that one person can’t hold both a seat in the European and in the Catalan parliament at the same time. (LOREG: Article 211.1) In the radio interview, the pro-independence leader said judges should decide whether his suspension as an MP is compatible with being an MEP.