EU lawmakers lift the immunity of 3 Catalan separatists

Full Screen
1 / 9

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Member of European Parliament Carles Puigdemont prepares for an interview at the European Parliament in Brussels, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to lift the immunity of the former president of Spain's Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, and two of his associates, a move which could pave the way for their extradition. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament on Tuesday lifted the immunity of the former president of Spain’s Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, and two of his associates, a move that could pave the way for their extradition and reopen the scars of separatism in Spain.

The Spanish government immediately welcome the decision by the European Union's legislature as a victory for the rule of law and against those who sought to break the rich northeastern region away from the rest of Spain.

The decision will likely also extend the 3 1/2-year legal saga on the fate of the three separatists by months, if not years, since many avenues for appeal remain open before any possible extraditions.

In the decision on Puigdemont, 400 legislators voted for the waiver of immunity, 248 were against and 45 abstained. The measures to lift the immunity of his associates — former Catalan Health Minister Toni Comín and former regional Education Minister Clara Ponsatí — were by largely similar margins.

“We have lost our immunity, but the European Parliament has lost more than that. And as a result, European democracy, too," Puigdemont said afterward. "This is a clear case of political persecution.”

He said that “the European Parliament has unfortunately fallen into this strategy.”

Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest after holding an independence referendum for Catalonia that the Spanish courts and government said was illegal.

In 2019, Puigdemont and his two associates won seats in the European Parliament and were afforded protection as members of the EU assembly.