MEPs take first step towards lifting Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí's immunity
Legal affairs committee decides in favour of the request, prior to the vote in the European Parliament
BrusselsParliament's legal affairs committee voted on Tuesday to waive Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí's immunity, as proposed by Bulgarian ultra-conservative rapporteur Angel Dzhambazki. His report received 15 votes in favour, 8 against and 2 abstentions. This vote is the first step towards accepting the Spanish Supreme Court's request, which requires the three MEPs to lose their immunity from prosecution before extradition can be requested. But it is not the final step, which will have to be taken by all 705 MEPs in a vote scheduled for the week starting March 8. After that, the Belgian and Scottish courts will be able to continue to process the suspended warrants pending the request.
To approve the report 13 of the 25 votes needed to be cast and the result was closer than expected. The European groups to which Spain's PP, PSOE, C's and Vox belong constitute a large parliamentary majority in the European Parliament. Of the 25 members of the committee who have voted, seven are part of the European People's Party (which the PP is part of), five from the Party of European Socialists (includes PSOE), four from the liberal Renew Europe (includes C's) and two from the Conservatives and Reformists where Vox and also the Flemish nationalists are. If all the MEPs from these four families had voted in favour, there would have been 18 votes in favour. The result, therefore, implies that the bloc has fractured slightly, although both the PP and the PSOE and C's claim to have agreed to vote in favour.
Even so, the result of the final vote cannot yet be anticipated for the whole of the plenary session. In the case of the Greens, the group's position is not yet fixed and will be discussed next week, but the most likely option is that most of its MEPs will vote against it, according to parliamentary sources.
In addition, the committee has several Spanish MEPs. The president of the committee is Adrián Vázquez, from C's. One of the vice-presidents is the Socialist Ibán García de Blanco. The PP's Esteban González Pons is also one of the members, as well as Javier Zarzalejos and the Socialist Marcos Ros Sempere. Of the 25 MEPs who voted on Tuesday, five were Spanish. And this without counting the substitutes, among whom are Jorge Buxadé of Vox and Javier Nart, formerly of C's. The defence of the independentistas considers the proportion of Spanish MEPs in this committee irregular.
Confidentiality and irregularities
Although the result was not unforeseen, during the process there have been a few hitches that can have consequences, especially those related to the confidentiality of the process. The process is meant to be an absolutely secret. Both the debates and the appearance of the three MEPs concerned and the votes are held behind closed doors and the members of the committee are required to remain silent about everything that happens inside the room. But after Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí's hearings González Pons told the press that inside the room there had been a debate about the competence of the Supreme Court in the issuance of the euro-orders, one of the main arguments of the defence. In addition, Vázquez had said in a press conference before the meeting that the case of the three MEPs "had nothing to do" with that of Lluís Puig, also exiled in Belgium, whom the Belgian courts have so far protected by rejecting extradition to Spain. Junts immediately filed two complaints because they considered that the principle of confidentiality had been violated.
In addition, last week the rapporteur's report to newspaper Abc. This was also considered an irregularity by the president of the committee, who on Monday asked the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, to open an investigation that could lead to sanctions (withdrawal of salary or voting rights) if the person responsible is identified. Junts presented a complaint to Sassoli for the leak.
Next stop: European justice
All this accumulates to the bulk of arguments that the independentistas will expose before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Once the final result of the vote in the plenary is known, the Catalan MEPs will be able to challenge the decision in the European justice. According to the defence headed by Gonzalo Boye, there have been other possible irregularities apart from the leaks. These would include the fact that all three cases are treated by the same rapporteur or that the rapporteur shares a parliamentary group with Vox, which was popular accusation throughout the judicial process against political prisoners in the Spanish Supreme Court.
There is there are precedents of recourse to justice. A recent one is that of the French Front National MEP Mylène Troszczynski, who appealed the loss of her immunity in 2017. In that case, both the EU General Court (first instance) and the CJEU (second instance) rejected the allegations. Even so, the Catalan MEPs are confident of their options in Luxembourg. More immediately, what the withdrawal of their immunity would imply is that the Euro-orders in Belgium and Scotland would be reactivated. However, neither Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín nor Clara Ponsatí will cease to be MEPs if there is no conviction against them.