Brussels – Monday, 13/01/2020 – 12:09
Former President Carles Puigdemont and ‘ex-conseller’ Toni Comín have been MEPs since July 2nd and enjoy the parliamentary immunity that accompanies the post. This is apparent from the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union on December 19th concerning the case of ERC leader Oriol Junqueras. The Spanish judicial machinery has already been put in place for the Eurochamber to lift their immunity and to be tried in Spain. A procedure that will take time, but which usually concludes by giving free rein to the lifting of capacity.
What is immunity?
This is, in accordance with the internal rules of the Eurochamber, “a guarantee of independence” and “not a personal privilege” of Members, designed to “protect Parliament and its members from legal proceedings related to activities carried out in the exercise of parliamentary functions, and which cannot be separated from them.” In other words, protection so that MEPs can exercise their mandate without political interference.
What are the next steps?
Once the President of the Supreme Court requests the lifting of immunity from the President of the European Parliament, Italian David Sassoli in this case, the request is registered and the President communicates it to the plenary with a view to forwarding it to the Committee of Legal Affairs (JURI) which is responsible for examining the application and issuing a recommendation. This announcement is the one that Sassoli will make on Monday in Strasbourg.
What is the test?
The Committee of Legal Affiars (JURI), which is not a Court of Justice, and therefore does not assess the guilt or not of the Member whose immunity is at issue or “the alleged deficiencies of national judicial systems”, designates a rapporteur responsible for the file, which cannot belong to the same group or have been elected in the same Member State as the MEP. The committee may request all the information or explanations it needs to draw up its recommendation, but the examination of each dossier will include an initial presentation of the rapporteur, an optional hearing, an exchange of views and a vote.
Could Puigdemont or Comín be heard?
The MEPs concerned have the right to be heard in audience – although it is not mandatory and may resign – and to be represented or accompanied by a lawyer or legal adviser, although the lawyer cannot take the floor. The rules only state that if they cannot be heard – for example, for medical reasons – the procedure should continue without a hearing.
Are the meetings public?
No. All files on parliamentary immunity are always discussed behind closed doors, both during the hearing with the MEP questioned and during meetings of the committee on legal affairs. On the basis of all the information gathered, the rapporteur shall draw up a draft report which, once approved in the Committee on Legal Affairs, will have to be put to a vote in the plenary session of the European Parliament, which may approve or reject the lifting of immunity but without introducing amendments. Approval must have a simple majority. If the plea is motivated by several charges, each of them may be the subject of a different decision.
What are the deadlines?
The regulations do not specify any specific deadlines. All it says is that the rapporteur and the responsible committee “will seek to conclude each immunity dossier as quickly as possible, taking into account the relative complexity of each case.” In practice, the time limit usually ranges from three to six months, although it can be extended by a few more months.
Is immunity always suspended?
The European Parliament generally approves almost all the requests it receives to lift the immunity of its MEPs. According to the regulations, “immunity cannot be suspended when the investigation, detention or judicial proceedings relate to the opinions or votes issued in the exercise of their duties.” In addition, where the procedure is unrelated to the task of an MEP, “suspension” is necessary unless “the intention underlying the judicial proceedings is to harm the political activity of a Member and, consequently, independence of the institution.”
How many requests have there been?
In recent legislatures, the number of pleas received, to 60 during the last term, of which 55 have been approved, has increased. In 2019, for example, half a dozen petitions were filed, two of which have been resolved. The last request was that of the Portuguese Jose Manuel Fernandes, at the request of the porto criminal investigation department, as part of an investigation into alleged embezzlement, and was granted in less than four months. Among the politicians against which the most requests have been made are Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen. They were all authorized.