The argument of Carles Puigdemont that the Spanish State is persecuting him for his political activity has not convinced the European Parliament. The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament approved this Tuesday to withdraw the parliamentary immunity of the former Catalan president and his former councilors Toni Comín Y Clara Ponsatí.
The decision responds positively to the request of the Supreme Court judge, Pablo Llarena, and clears the way to reactivate the euro order against Puigdemont for sedition and embezzlement, frozen since his recognition as a MEP.
The opinion has been carried out by 15 votes in favor, 8 against and 2 abstentions, has announced the president of the Legal Affairs Committee, Adrian Vazquez (Citizens), in statements to the press at the headquarters of the European Parliament.
The request must still be ratified by the plenary session of the European Parliament during the session of the week of March 8. But its approval – which requires a simple majority of votes – it is guaranteed since it has the support of the three major groups: popular, socialist and liberal.
“MEPs do not lose their status as MEPs. Simply, Parliament, if the plenary ratifies it, what it does is notify the Member State that these MEPs can be either investigated or brought to trial, “Vázquez said.
The Legal Affairs committee has rejected all the allegations that Puigdemont presented to try to stop the petition during a hearing held on January 14. The former Catalan president maintains that the request is plagued with irregularities and responds to a desire for “political persecution” due to the independence referendum on October 1. He also argues that the Supreme Court is not competent to take the case and that in Spain it has no guarantees of a fair trial.
The report of the European Parliament concludes that the petition against Puigdemont does not aim to silence the opinions or votes cast by the now JxCat MEP in the exercise of his functions, but refers to events long before his election in the European Parliament.
For the European Parliament, it has not been possible to determine the existence of smoke persecution, that is, of factual elements that indicate that the judicial action in question was initiated with the intention of damaging the political activity of the deputy and, therefore, of the Eurocamara itself. The report has been prepared for the Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki, attached to the radical right-wing group Conservatives and European Reformists, the same as the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA and Vox.
If the plenary session also gives the green light to the request, Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín will be left without immunity, although they can continue as MEPs until there is a firm conviction against them. In addition, they can appeal the decision to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). “The appeal does not paralyze the withdrawal of immunity,” Vázquez said.
Reactivate the Euroorder
The lifting of immunity will allow Llarena to reactivate the euro order against them. After learning that they had been recognized as MEPs, the Court of First Instance of Brussels decided on February 14, 2020 to freeze the procedure against Puigdemont and Comín (that of Ponsatí is followed in Scotland). The former Catalan president had asked that the euro order be definitively rejected, but the Belgian justice rejected his request.
“This procedure is suspended until the Spanish authorities communicate the results of their petition addressed to the European Parliament to lift parliamentary immunity,” the Court reported then.
Despite the reactivation of the euro order, Puigdemont and Comín trust that the Belgian justice will reject his delivery to Spain following the precedent of Lluís Puig. The Brussels Court of Appeal overturned the euro order against Puig on January 7 –that he is not an MEP and therefore did not enjoy immunity – considering that the Supreme is not the competent body to judge it, but should be done by a Catalan court.
The ruling also ensures that there is a risk of violation of the presumption of innocence in Spain due to “statements made by high officials and authorities about the guilt of the people affected before the judicial decision.” The decision is already firm since it has not been appealed by the Belgian prosecutor’s office.
Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín fled to Belgium in October 2017, after the failed declaration of independence of Catalonia in the Parliament and the application of article 155. From there they stood for the European elections in May 2019 and in January 2020 they were recognized as MEPs thanks to the controversial ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) on Oriol Junqueras.
Judge Llarena immediately requested the request from the European Parliament, but the application has been on hold for months due to the impact of Covid-19, which prevented the holding of face-to-face meetings behind closed doors required by the regulations to preserve confidentiality. The procedures were reactivated last November after an opinion from the legal services that authorized them to continue electronically.