Puigdemont calls on EU parliament not to oppose his restoration of immunity
Exiled former president welcomes being first MEP whose removal of privileges have been suspended by European judiciary
The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, now an MEP in exile in Belgium, has welcomed the decision of the European General Court to provisionally suspend the removal of his immunity in the European Parliament.
In a press conference on Thursday, he said that "it is the first time that the European judiciary restores the immunity of MEPs that the parliament had decided to lift." So far, the magistrates' decision, also affecting exiled former ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, is temporary while they study their appeals.
He also called on the European Parliament to not oppose his restoration of immunity. The chamber still has to have their say in the procedure before the court.
Former Catalan president Puigdemont and his two colleagues, who were elected in the European election as members of the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya party, were stripped of their parliamentary rights last March after a majority of fellow MEPs in the chamber voted in favor of doing so.
The three politicians, who left Catalonia for Belgium in the fall of 2017 fearing imprisonment for their role in the failed bid to separate from Spain, challenged the European Parliament decision in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
They 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.
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.
"It is the first time that the European judiciary restores the immunity of MEPs that the parliament had decided to lift"
Carles Puigdemont · Former Catalan president
Thus, Puigdemont took the case to the European General Court, claiming that there have been "formal errors" and also argued that they had been victims of political persecution.
In the vote to lift Puigdemont's immunity in the European Parliament's plenary session, 400 MEPs sided in favor of doing so, 248 were against it, and 45 representatives abstained.
The Spanish Supreme Court has repeatedly tried to extradite the three politicians to judge them for over three years, but so far they have failed to do so – their last hurdle was their immunity, which they requested to be lifted but now has been provisionally restored.
Their extradition processes will be further delayed again, not only because the EU court has to make a final decision over their immunity – if, in the end, they keep it, Belgian courts will have to stop the judicial procedures to consider whether to hand them in to Spain –, but also because Spain's Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the case of Lluís Puig, another exiled leader.
Belgium refused to hand him over on the grounds that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to try him since he no longer had a post in government. They also raised concerns that Puig's presumption of innocence might be at risk in Spain, following a report by the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention about the politicians who are now serving a prison sentence rather than being in exile.
Judge Pablo Llarena asked the European Court of Justice whether these arguments could be used against a European arrest warrant. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí's lawyers believe that the court will take a year to answer, and that in the meantime the extradition requests will remain frozen.