EU committee votes to remove Puigdemont's immunity ahead of final decision in March

European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs members sided with report recommendation but whole chamber with take part in upcoming binding vote

MEPs Clara Ponsatí, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín in the European parliament, January 14, 2021 (by Maria Castanyer)
MEPs Clara Ponsatí, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín in the European parliament, January 14, 2021 (by Maria Castanyer) / ACN

ACN | Brussels

February 23, 2021 07:18 PM

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs has voted to remove parliamentary immunity from former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his two fellow pro-independence MEPs, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

15 members voted in favor, 8 against and 2 abstained, confirmed the chair of the committee, Adrián Vázquez of the unionist Ciudadanos party. 

The vote is advisory, with a final decision to be made by all MEPs in a binding vote to take place in the upcoming plenary session in the week beginning March 8.

Members of the Committee on Legal Affairs agreed with the report's recommendation, written by ultra-conservative Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki, which advises lifting Puigdemont and the others' immunity.

The result was anticipated as the three main blocs in the parliament – conservative, social democrat and liberal – have a majority between them and were all expected to side against the Catalan pro-independence figures.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Spanish Socialists outlined their intention to vote in favor of lifting the immunity enjoyed by Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí as members of the European parliament.

Committee vote

The 7 MEPs of the European People's Party voted in favor of lifting the Catalans' immunity as did the 4 liberal Renew Europe MEPs. The Spanish Socialists said its two MEPs also voted in favor, but did not confirm whether or not the other three Socialists did.

There are 5 Spanish MEPs on the 25-member committee, and all sided with the report. The French MEP Manon Aubry of the United Left confirmed she voted against the report.

'Breach of confidentiality'

The paper proposes waiving their privileges, and the pro-independence leaders' group, Junts per Catalunya, denounced a "breach of confidentiality," since the chamber insists that no committee members can reveal the content of any report before its vote.

Indeed, last Thursday, Puigdemont's team announced they will file a complaint before the chamber speaker, David Sassoli, for the leak – they also threatened to take the whole procedure to the European Court of Justice if their immunity is waived, claiming that there have been "formal errors” made.

The committee's president, Spain's Ciudadanos MEP Adrián Vázquez, said that this breach could result in "sanctions" for the person responsible for the leak.

Why their immunity could be lifted

Following their appointment as European representatives, their extradition requests by Spain were frozen because they began to enjoy privileges as MEPs – yet, the Spanish judiciary has been for a year requesting that they lose these privileges so the procedure which could end up in them being handed over to Spain can continue.

Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín are wanted by Spain because of their role in the 2017 independence push - this is the third time the Supreme Court attempts to have them handed over, after two previous failed attempts in which either Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected the full terms of their extradition, or Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant before it was denied.

Along with their lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí attended a hearing at the European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs in January, to argue against the Spanish Supreme Court's motion to waive their political immunity, the approval of which is necessary for Spain's extradition attempt to move forward. These proceedings took place behind closed doors almost a year after the court's initial request.

Even if the Catalan pro-independence politicians were stripped of their immunity, they would still retain their status as MEPs until a potential conviction barring them from office, even if Belgium, or Scotland in the case of Ponsatí, decided to hand them over to Spain.

As the case of Lluís Puig demonstrated, not having political immunity does not automatically guarantee these politicians will be extradited.