‘European democracy has lost,’ says Puigdemont after losing immunity

Exiled independence leaders celebrate 42% of MEPs didn’t vote in favour, and confirm they will appeal to European Court of Justice

MEP Carles Puigdemont photographed during a press conference in the European Parliament (by Natàlia Segura)
MEP Carles Puigdemont photographed during a press conference in the European Parliament (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

March 9, 2021 03:36 PM

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has lamented that “European democracy has lost” after he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity following a vote in the continental chamber. 

“We’ve lost our immunity but the European parliament has lost much more. It’s clearly political persecution.” Puigdemont and other exiled leaders in favour of Catalan independence may face renewed extradition charges following the move. 

In a press conference alongside fellow exiled independence leaders Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, the former president who spearheaded the 2017 push to separate from Spain also confirmed that the politicians will appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice. 

“They say it’s a strictly judicial process and that there is a separation of powers,” Puigdemont added, "but it is driven by a high intensity political and parliamentary strategy" of "repression".

Puigdemont claimed there will be provisional decisions made, which normally are not accepted. “What happens in the event that [Spanish Supreme Court judge in charge of the extradition requests against the exiled independence leaders] Llarena raises a preliminary issue in the EU court? What about our arrest warrants in the meantime? We have not had a procedure with guarantees,” the exiled politician stated.

The Junts per Catalunya leader also spoke about Tuesday morning’s news that his jailed pro-independence colleagues have had their low category statuses removed, meaning they will have to re-enter prison after having some leave privileges revoked.

“The Spanish authorities waited to know the results before removing the low category status against the jailed independence leaders,” he said. “We’re clearly facing political persecution.” 

Comín welcomes breaks from party-line vote

Toni Comín spoke about the narrow margin with which the proposal to strip the trio of their immunity passed. “There are 80 Socialist and People’s Party representatives who broke the party-line vote. 42% of MEPs have said they do not trust Spanish justice.”

Comín expressed “strong concern” but “no surprise” for today’s vote. “We have put the Catalan conflict at the centre of the debate” in Europe, he celebrated.

Ponsatí: appointment of ultra-conservative MEP 'not in accordance with law'

Elsewhere, Clara Ponsatí, living in exile in Scotland, also gave her appreciation to the MEPs who rejected the proposal to strip the Catalans of their immunity. “I’m very grateful you had a democratic approach in recognizing this is a political case. Many have broken the party-line against the decision of Spain.”  

“There will come a time in the future when they will have to think about it again, because we will go through it.”

Ponsatí also complained that the assignation of Bulgarian ultra-conservative MEP Angel Dzhambazki to draft the original report that led to their immunity being revoked was “clearly not in accordance with law.”

"More than ever by your side"

Pro-independence parties and figures were quick to offer their support on Twitter to the three MEPs when the news broke. "More than ever by your side," the ousted former Catalan president Quim Torra said.

Puigdemont's party JxCat said "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."

The other main pro-independence party ERC said "political conflict can only be resolved through political means. We demand amnesty for all those people jailed and exiled!" Their leader, Oriol Junqueras, who himself is in jail for his role in the independence push told Puigdemont, Comín, and Ponsatí, "you are not alone in this judicial battle, we continue and we will defeat injustice!"

The far-left pro-independence party CUP also sent their solidarity to the three MEPs and criticized the European parliament for being "alongside repression and against democracy" and "against exercising the right to self-determination."

The jailed pro-independence activist Jordi Cuixart urged supporters to keep going. "The democratic struggle for self-determination & amnesty continues, more international than ever, in the face of a Spanish state that continues to violate fundamental rights."

"No politician is above the law"

On the other hand, the ruling was welcomed by the Spanish government and by parties in favor of Spanish unity.

Spain's minister for foreign affairs said that the result of the vote showed the confidence Europe has in Spanish justice and "the solidity of the rule of law in Spain." Arancha González Laya said the will exists to "find a solution through dialogue" to the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain.

The unionist Ciudadanos party tweeted that "in a democracy, no politician is above the law."

"We will continue to highlight nationalism in Europe," they added.

Letters to EU leaders

In response to the ruling, the pro-independence civil society organization Catalan National Asembly (ANC) has sent letters to EU leaders signed by some sixty MEPS, former MEPS, and civil society groups from across Europe.

In the letters, they call upon Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, for EU intervention to redress Spain's "anti-democratic attitude" towards Catalonia.