European Parliament votes to lift immunity of Catalan separatists

March 09, 2021
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

BRUSSELS — The European Parliament has voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two other separatists.

It paves the way for further legal moves by Spain, where they face charges relating to the illegal independence referendum in 2017, to seek their extradition from Belgium.

Madrid is expected to move to reactivate a European Arrest Warrant (EAS) to bring them back to the country for trial. Puigdemont stands accused of sedition and misuse of public funds.

Similar charges have been filed against the two other separatists, former Catalan health minister Antoni Comín and ex-education minister Clara Ponsatí.

The extradition will have to be decided first by the Belgian justice system. Spain has already referred the matter to the European Court of Justice.

The result was announced on Tuesday morning following a secret ballot held by MEPS on Monday evening. MEPS adopted a waiver to strip the politicians of their special protection.

In Puigdemont's case, MEPs voted by 400 in favor, to 248 against with 45 abstentions, to lift his immunity from prosecution. For Comín and Ponsatí there were 404 votes in favor of the waiver, 247 against, and 42 abstentions.

The Spanish government welcomed the result of the European Parliament's vote, claiming it showed that matters concerning Catalonia should be determined in Spain.

The MEPs' decision "sends a triple message", said Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya in a brief statement, one of which was that "Catalonia's problems are resolved in Spain, they are not resolved in Europe".

The Spanish government's approach as to "offer a hand to the Catalan political forces to find a solution through dialogue and negotiation," she added.

The MEPs' vote approves the result of a ballot by a European parliamentary committee last month, which recommended the politicians' immunity be lifted, following a report by Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki.

The Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) concluded that immunity from prosecution should not apply, as the events involving the three MEPs took place before they entered the European Parliament and the accusations are not related to their activities as European legislators.

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí are non-attached MEPs, a condition that has worked to their disadvantage during the whole legal process.

The trio carried out a PR campaign to convince their fellow parliamentarians to vote in their favor in order to maintain their immunity or, at least, to make the result as tight as possible.

The three main parties (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) in the European Parliament, which together hold more than half the seats, have long opposed the protection afforded to the Catalan politicians. Despite differences of opinion within these large and diverse groups, the level of support proved insufficient.

In Spain, nine Catalan pro-separatist leaders and activists have already been found guilty of sedition and given prison sentences of between 9 and 13 years. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí were supposed to be part of that same trial, but their exile made it impossible. — Euronews

March 09, 2021
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