EU parliament lifts immunity as MEPs of Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí
Decision enables resumption of extradition procedures against exiled pro-independence leaders, who will appeal in court
The European Parliament has approved removing former president Carles Puigdemont's immunity as MEP after a plenary session vote.
400 MEPs sided in favour of lifting it, 248 against, and 45 representatives abstained.
The secret ballot was held on Monday but the results of which were released on Tuesday morning.
Likewise, the chamber also decided to waive privileges for fellow exiled pro-independence leaders Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, with 404 Yes votes, 247 No votes, and 42 abstentions.
The decisions enable the resumption of their extradition procedures, although they already announced that they would challenge the immunity lifting before the European Court of Justice.
'Breach of confidentiality'
Their party, Junts per Catalunya, has denounced a "breach of confidentiality," since the content of the report prior to the preliminary chamber committee vote on the issue was revealed before MEPs voted on it – the chamber insists that Members of the European Parliament cannot reveal the content of reports before a vote in a committee.
Thus, Puigdemont is expected to take the whole procedure to the European Court of Justice, claiming that there have been "formal errors”.
The report was drafted by ultra-conservative MEP Angel Dzhambazki and greenlighted by the committee on Legal Affairs, led by a member of the anti-independence Ciudadanos party, Adrián Vázquez, on February 23.
Why is their immunity as MEPs being 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.
Political parties and individuals were quick to react to Tuesday morning's news, sending their solidarity and support to the three MEPs in some cases, and celebrating that Europe has backed up the Spanish justice system in others.
Carles Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya party say "the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain is no longer an internal affair. We've taken it to the heart of Europe to continue denouncing the repression & political persecution of the Spanish state."
Their pro-independence allies Esquerra Republicana offer their support to the three MEPs "in the face of this new repressive onslaught." "Political conflict can only be resolved through political means. We demand amnesty for all people jailed and exiled!"
Unionist Ciudadanos welcomed the outcome of the vote: "In a democracy, no politician is above the law. Despite the pressures of separatism, the European Parliament just lifted Puigdemont's immunity. We will continue to highlight nationalism in Europe."
The Spanish government say the European Parliament voting to lift the immunity of the MEPs shows the confidence of Europe in Spanish justice and "the solidity of the rule of law in Spain." The Spanish foreign affairs minister, Arancha González Laya underlined the will to "find a solution through dialogue."
Far-left pro-independence party CUP send their solidarity to the three MEPs "The European Parliament alongside repression and against democracy. Against exercising the right to self-determination of a people."
Former Catalan president Quim Torra says that Europeans would never have undermined the "vote of one million Catalans." "But Spain will do EVERYTHING against independence. More than ever by your side," Torra says to the three MEPs.
Jailed independence leader and head of ERC, Oriol Junqueras, gives his support to Puigdemont, Comín, and Ponsatí: "You are not alone in this judicial battle, we continue and we will win injustice!"
Jailed pro-independence activist Jordi Cuixart sends his support to the MEPs: "The democratic struggle for self-determination and amnesty continues, more international than ever, in the face of a Spanish state that continues to violate fundamental rights."