Beatriz Navarro, Brussels, 5 July 2023
The former President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, during an appearance in the European Parliament (Europa Press).
The former president announces that he will appeal the ruling of the EU General Court that endorses the decision of the European Parliament to withdraw his legal shield: “Nothing is over, on the contrary, everything continues”.
Carles Puigdemont is left without a legal shield against Spain’s extradition demands. The European Parliament acted correctly in its decision to waive parliamentary immunity at the request of the Supreme Court, the General Court of the European Union (GC of the EU) announced today. “The action brought by Mr Puigdemont i Casamajó and Mr Comín i Oliveres and Ms Ponsatí i Obiols against the decisions of the European Parliament to waive their immunity is dismissed,” the court announced this morning in Luxembourg, endorsing the decisions taken to waive their parliamentary immunity.
“The General Court rejects all the pleas put forward by the three MPs, in particular their allegations that the Parliament erred in concluding that the aforementioned judicial proceedings were not brought with the intention of harming the activity of the MPs,” the judgment states, contrary to the arguments put forward by Puigdemont’s defence, which spoke of “political persecution” against the Catalan representatives. The judges affirm that, in order to accept the request, “the Parliament relied on various elements”, among them that “the alleged acts had been committed in 2017, while the MEPs acquired the status of Members of Parliament on 13 June 2019” as well as the fact that the three were prosecuted on 21 March 2018, “that is to say, at a time when the acquisition of the status of MEP was hypothetical”.
The GCJEU points out that the acts for which they are being prosecuted predate their seat and that they were prosecuted before they became MEPs.
Contrary to what Puigdemont’s legal team has argued, the General Court states that, when examining a request for waiver of immunity, “it is not for the Parliament to analyse the legality of Spanish judicial acts, as this is a matter for the national authorities alone”. Finally, the European judges also reject that the European Parliament did not act with due impartiality just because the rapporteur of the report on the request, the Bulgarian Angel Dzhambazki, belonged to the European Conservatives and Reformists political group, the same group in which Vox is a member. This condition “is in principle irrelevant to the assessment of his impartiality” because although by definition an MEP is not politically neutral, “he nevertheless acts within the framework of a parliamentary committee whose composition reflects the balance of the political groups in Parliament”. Nor does he see any irregularity in the fact that the Legal Affairs Committee that dealt with the request for a preliminary ruling organised the three files into a single case. Moreover, in a second decision also known today, the GC also considers inadmissible the action brought against the refusal of the President of the European Parliament to defend his parliamentary immunity in 2019.
Moments before the judgments were released, Puigdemont himself announced in a tweet the outcome of the case and announced that he will appeal the ruling before the Court of Justice of the EU, the CJEU, the highest judicial instance of the club. “Nothing is over, on the contrary, everything continues. We will appeal to the CJEU and we will defend our fundamental rights until the end,” says the former president, who says he will continue to work “with the same spirit” as on the first day “to win freedom”. Clearly disappointed by the court decision, Puigdemont concluded that “political dissidence is more threatened in Europe today”. In addition to appealing the ruling, the defence of the former president has advanced that it will request the imposition of “precautionary measures” to prevent him from being detained in the time that elapses until there is a firm sentence, as these were only valid until his appeal was resolved.
The European justice rejects that there was “political persecution” and that the European Parliament did not act with due impartiality.
At the time, the European Parliament concluded that the facts for which Puigdemont and Comín were wanted (the crimes of embezzlement and sedition, only for the latter in the case of Ponsatí) were prior to obtaining their seat, so they are not related to their activity as MEPs and could not be exempted from answering to justice for their new status as MEPs. Puigdemont’s lawyers, however, argue that this request is no longer valid as it refers to an arrest and surrender warrant that was withdrawn at the beginning of the year by Judge Llarena as a result of the reform of the Criminal Code, so, in their opinion, they should start the proceedings from scratch in the European Parliament, a theory that the SC does not share.
In theory, the decision of the TGUE opens the door for Llarena to reactivate the Euro-orders (now only active in the Spanish national territory) and again request the European judicial authorities to arrest and surrender him to Spain, but to do so, the investigating judge of 1-O must issue new arrest and surrender warrants against the accused, taking into account the latest reform of the Criminal Code. In the case of Puigdemont, the crimes he is accused of are disobedience and aggravated embezzlement.
In any case, this process will not be quick or automatic. Nor is it clear what the outcome will be. Even if Llarena issues new arrest warrants for the former president and the former deputies, the authorities in Belgium, the country where they currently reside, will wait for the judgment of the CJEU to become final, which will take several months. In addition, a preliminary ruling issued in January by the CJEU in January seriously delimited the grounds on which an EU country can refuse a request for arrest but did not completely rule out this possibility.