Key EU lawmakers vote to lift immunity of Catalan 3

BRUSSELS - A key European Parliament committee voted Tuesday to lift the immunity of three former top Catalan officials who fled Spain fearing arrest over a secessionist push they led in the region, possibly paving the way for their extradition.

The parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted 15-8 with two abstentions to recommend waiving the immunities of Carles Puigdemont, former president of Spain’s Catalonia region, and two associates, former health minister Toni Comin and former education minister Clara Ponsati.

The decision must be endorsed during a full sitting 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 arrest over the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government said was illegal. In 2019, he, Ponsatí and Comín won seats in the European Parliament, and were afforded protection in their positions as members of the EU assembly.

Ponsati, 63, has since 2016 been a lecturer of the University of Saint Andrews, in Scotland, where she lives.

In the 2017 independence referendum, the vote in favour of Catalonia breaking away won by a landslide. But those in favour of the relatively rich northern region remaining part of Spain largely stayed home. Spain’s central had government declared the vote illegal and unconstitutional, and hundreds of people were injured in a police crackdown on the day of the referendum.

Spain has attempted to have Puigdemont returned for trial but failed to convince Belgian justice authorities to extradite him. The lifting of his parliamentary immunity could lead to a new effort to have him returned.

A post from the Twitter account for the Council of the Republic of Catalonia, a symbolic body created for Puigdemont to preside over from Brussels, slammed the European Parliament vote, saying: “That the Spanish parties have dragged a majority of the EP to adopt a decision incompatible with the principles of the rule of law makes today a black day for European democracy.””

But it 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 González 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 rule of law in an EU member country, thus damaging the stability of the Union as a whole.”
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