Spanish Government Dialogue and Reconciliation? Immunity of Catalan MEPs Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí Stripped and Seven of the Nine Political Prisoners Sent Back to Prison

On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved the removal of the immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí after a plenary session vote. The Spanish political parties PSOE, PP and Vox had requested this. The secret ballot was held on Monday, but the results were released on Tuesday morning.

The vote was not unanimous and some 80 MEPs from the Socialists, PP and Liberal groups broke the voting discipline imposed by PSOE and PP. That means that 42% of the MEPs didn’t vote in favour of the immunity waiver, which is an unprecedentedly high figure in such cases.

– In the case of Puigdemont, 400 MEPs voted in favour of removing his immunity, 248 against and 45 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Toni Comí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing his immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Clara Ponsatí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing her immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.

Spain seeks the extradition of the Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum – this is the third time the Supreme Court has attempted to have them handed over. Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected extradition requests before and Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant on another occasion before it was denied.

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will keep their status as MEPs. They would lose their status only after extradition and conviction in a Spanish court. The extradition would have to be approved by a local court.

Belgian justice already denied the extradition request for exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig, who didn’t have immunity, on the grounds that the Spanish Supreme Court was not competent to request his extradition.

Removal of the Open Prison Privileges for the Seven Male Political Prisoners

On Tuesday, a few hours after the European Parliament decided to remove the immunity of the exiled Catalan leaders and MEPs, a penitentiary court decided to remove the day-leave permits of the seven male pro-independence political prisoners, who will now have to stay in prison full-time.

They had been enjoying the “low security” prison category status since late January, allowing them to leave jail during the day, sleep in their cells at night, and go home on weekends, after over three years behind bars.

The other two female political prisoners persecuted for their role in the 2017 referendum, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, are still pending a final decision of another Catalan penitentiary court.

Punishment

The pro-independence movement has interpreted these moves as a punishment for getting historic results in the last Catalan elections, surpassing 50% of the popular vote for the first time, with 52%.

The EU Parliament’s Procedure to Decide on the Immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín to Begin Tomorrow Monday

Tomorrow Monday, November 16th, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs will start discussing whether to lift the immunity of Catalan leaders Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín. This comes at the request of Spanish authorities, who have openly expressed their desire to have them extradited in order to jail them for their roles in the 2017 independence referendum, even though Belgian justice recently rejected the extradition of exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig arguing that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to issue a European arrest warrant against him.

The ultra-conservative Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki will be the head of the committee and will present the case, which will then be discussed by the rest of MEPs on the committee.

Monday’s session will be held virtually due to Covid-19 restrictions. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will be summoned for a hearing at a later date. The debate on their immunity is expected to last for several months.

In the event Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí lose their immunity, they would still remain MEPs until a potential extradition and conviction barring them from office takes place.

Ciudadanos (C’s) Party MEP Adrián Vázquez Elected to Chair the Legal Affairs Commission Which Will Assess Catalan Leaders Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí’s Immunity

On Monday, Ciudadanos (C’s) party MEP Adrián Vázquez was elected to chair the Legal Affairs Commission (JURI) of the European Parliament which will discuss the response to requests for supplication sent by the Supreme Court to extradite President Puigdemont and exiled leaders Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

The three Catalan leaders will soon appear before this commission to discuss whether their immunity as MEPs is lifted by the EU Parliament. This process is expected to take several months and will conclude with a recommendation that will be voted in the plenary.

The Legal Affairs Committee has a total of eight Spanish MEPs, five of them as holders and three more as alternates. The MEPs are the “socialists” Ibán García and Marcos Ros, and the “conservatives” Esteban González Pons, Javier Zarzalejos, and Adrián Vázquez. As substitutes are the unregistered liberal Javier Nart, the “socialist” Nacho Sánchez Amor, and the head of the far-right party Vox in the Eurochamber, Jorge Buxadé.

Vázquez joined the European Parliament in early February after the departure of British MEPs due to Brexit. According to the distribution of chairs between the political groups in the chamber, this presidency corresponded to the Renew Europe parliamentary group – the group that integrates C’s. In his presentation, Vázquez said that as chairman of the commission he wanted to work with “transparency and dialogue.”

The Greens asked for a postponement of the vote to have more time to examine and meet the candidate, but the interim president indicated that the rules did not allow it and the vote took place.

The same commission will decide in the next few days who will be assigned as the spokesperson at the request for the supplicatory issued by the Spanish Supreme Court against the Catalan leaders. Most sources point out that the Bulgarian Conservative and Reformist MEP Angel Dzhambazki will be the chosen one.