There have been no surprises. The Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament, in charge of issuing a recommendation on the request of the Supreme Court made against the former president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, and his former councilors Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, has voted this Tuesday in favor of withdrawing immunity Catalan politicians, demanded by the Spanish justice since they fled the country in 2017. It was expected that the three great European political families (popular, socialists and liberals) and the conservatives of ECR, which together add up to a majority of around 70% in the organ, they will support to strip them of their immunity. But finally, the vote has been less lucid and it has come forward with slightly less than the expected margin: 15 yeses, 8 noes and 2 abstentions.
The proposal will now be raised to the plenary session of the European Parliament, whose 705 deputies will have to decide in principle on March 8, in a vote that will be secret, if they finally withdraw from their three colleagues the protection they have enjoyed since they took possession of their minutes at the beginning of 2020. From the environment of the Catalans, except for “miracle”, the battle in the hemicycle has long been considered lost.
Once the European parliamentary chrysalis is broken, the process against Puigdemont and Comín would be reactivated in the Belgian courts, in charge of deciding whether to accept or reject the Euro order issued against them by the Supreme Court magistrate, Pablo Llarena, who claims them to investigate and judge them for their involvement in you process.
In a recent decision, which marked a clear precedent for what could happen to Puigdemont and Comín, the Belgian Court of Appeal refused to hand over to Spain Lluís Puig, another of the former Catalan councilors settled in Brussels since he fled Catalonia in 2017. The case of MEP Ponsatí, on the other hand, would take place in Scotland, where she settled after fleeing, although lately she resides in Belgium.
The confidential report on which the members of the Commission have voted, prepared by the ultra-conservative Bulgarian Angel Dzhambazki, rules out protecting them because the Catalan independence leaders are claimed for events of 2017, prior to their election in 2019 as members of the European Parliament, and without any link with his activity within this institution, according to what was leaked to the press last week. In the file, the rapporteur maintains that the request for prosecution could not benefit from the protocol on immunities of MEPs, since it does not refer to acts derived from their activity in the European Parliament and claims that the chamber should not question internal judicial procedures of the Member States, as advanced ABC.
The document, prepared after months of work, discussions with the rest of the members and listening to the parties involved, would not have taken into account the defense of the Catalan secessionists who denounced a “political persecution” from Spain, and adduced the recent ruling of the Justice of Belgium that rejected the extradition of Puig due to the lack of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and “the risk of violation of the presumption of innocence”, among other arguments.
The five Spanish MEPs holding the Commission have voted in favor of withdrawing their immunity, including the two Socialists, whose vote is perhaps the most scrutinized due to its implications in national politics. The sense of the vote of this last group in the plenary session, however, has not yet been decided, as explained last week by a source from the Social Democratic family: “There is no report and therefore we have not discussed it yet in the group.” Now, that the dossier will be published and sent to the entire European Parliament after the recommendation of this Tuesday, they will be forced to fix a position. Among the Renew liberals, according to a source in this group, there has not been unanimity in the vote either.
A source close to the vote this afternoon predicts that the result in the plenary session will be similar, with the large groups in favor of withdrawing immunity and as it happens in more than 90% of cases on immunities: of the 60 procedures of this type of the previous legislature (2014-2019), MEPs raised it 55 times. This same source concedes, however, that perhaps in the plenary session the figures are even less emphatic, given that in each group very heterogeneous members coexist: “There will be a bit of everything, different casuistry.
The results are usually “replicated” in the votes of the plenary session, but any forecast is “speculative”, has considered the president of the Committee on Legal Affairs and MEP for Citizens, Adrián Vázquez, after announcing the result. “We have to wait. The procedure has not yet been completed ”.
The immunity procedures, in theory, have to be resolved as quickly as possible. The pandemic, however, has had them paralyzed since March, since it was impossible to celebrate them behind closed doors and in person, as required by the regulations because they involve fundamental rights. They were reactivated already in autumn, after the insistence of Vázquez and the intervention of the legal services of the European Parliament, which exceptionally decided to allow their development in part telematics.