BRUSSELS: A key European Parliament committee voted on Tuesday to lift the immunity of three former senior Catalan officials who fled Spain fearing they would be arrested for a secessionist push they led in the region, possibly opening up be the way to their extradition.
The Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted 15 to 8 with two abstentions to recommend the lifting of the immunities of Carles Puigdemont, former president of the Spanish region of Catalonia, and two associates, former Minister of Health Toni Comin and former Minister of Education Clara Ponsati.
The decision must be endorsed at a plenary session of the European Parliament to take effect. The next plenary session is scheduled for March 8.
Puigdemont and a number of his political associates fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing they would be arrested for holding an independence referendum that the Spanish government has declared illegal. In 2019, he, Ponsat and Comn won seats in the European Parliament and enjoyed protection in their duties as members of the EU Assembly.
Ponsati, 63, has been a lecturer at the University of Saint Andrews, Scotland, where she lives since 2016.
In the 2017 independence referendum, the vote to break Catalonia won over a landslide. But supporters of the relatively wealthy Nordic region that remains a part of Spain have largely stayed at home. Spain’s central government declared the vote illegal and unconstitutional, and hundreds of people were injured in police crackdown on referendum day.
Spain tried to have Puigdemont sent back for trial, but failed to convince Belgian judicial authorities to extradite him. The lifting of his parliamentary immunity could lead to a new effort to bring him back.
A message from the Twitter account of the Council of the Republic of Catalonia, a symbolic body created for Puigdemont to preside from Brussels, criticized the European Parliament’s vote, saying: that the Spanish parties dragged a majority of the EP to adopt a decision incompatible with the principles of the rule of law make today a dark day for European democracy.
But he added that the legal and political struggle continues. We have the strength of reason, the legitimacy of the popular will and the perseverance it takes to take new steps.
Separately, Esteban Gonzlez Pons, a Spanish EU lawmaker who is a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, said in a statement: The European Parliament cannot become a haven of impunity for those who attack the state of law in an EU member country, thus prejudicing the stability of the Union as a whole.
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