Puigdemont’s immunity as MEP to be discussed next week in Brussels

Spain hopes process will lead to extradition of exiled Catalan president and MEPs Comín and Ponsatí

The procedure to decide whether or not to waive the immunity in the European Parliament of exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is to begin on Monday 16 November. The investigation comes at the request of Spanish authorities, who want Puigdemont, along with fellow exiled MEPs Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, extradited to Spain for their roles in the 2017 independence push.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs will discuss the case of the three pro-independence MEPs for the first time, restarting proceedings that have been on ice for months. Monday’s meeting will be held remotely, after the rule for it to be held in person was eased due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite concerns over confidentiality from lawyers representing the pro-independence MEPs.

The head of the committee, the ultra-conservative Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki, will present the case, which will then be discussed by the MEPs who make up the committee. Only the committee chairperson, Adrián Vázquez, from the unionist Ciudadanos party, will be able to attend the session in person. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will not participate in this first meeting; they will be summoned for a hearing at a later date.

Extradition unclear

In the event any of the leaders of the 2017 independence referendum loses their parliamentary immunity, the Spanish judiciary would be able to proceed with their extradition cases – but they would still be MEPs. Even if Belgium or Scotland (in Ponsatí’s case) agreed to hand them in, they would still keep their MEP seats until a potential conviction barring them from office.

Yet, whether having their immunity lifted would lead to extradition is not clear, especially since a Belgian court recently rejected handing another exiled leader, Lluís Puig, back to Spain after arguing that the Spanish Supreme Court did not have the authority to issue an European arrest against him.