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The European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs has called Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí to appear on 7th December to take part in the proceedings opened today to lift their parliamentary immunity from prosecution. It is expected that the appearance will be in person, since the coronavirus restrictions imposed by the president of the parliament, David Sassoli, are scheduled to end on November 30th.

The Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) this morning opened its consideration of the question, which arises from the request by Spain's Supreme Court to lift the parliamentary immunity of the three pro-independence MEPs so that the Spanish state's long-running attempts to extradite them to face independence referendum charges can continue. In 2017, Puigdemont was president - and Comín and Ponsatí, ministers - of the Catalan government which held the 1st October referendum on independence from Spain, in defiance of the wishes of the Spanish authorities. 

Today, Bulgarian representative Angel Dzhambazki, acting as rapporteur for the case, made an initial presentation, via internet connection. Only the chairman of the committee, Adrián Vázquez, Spanish MEP of the Ciudadanos party, was present in the European Parliament. Despite being telematic, the meeting was "behind closed doors". Only members of the committee may take part in its deliberations and they may not disclose the content of the debates.

Committee chairman Adrián Vázquez, Spanish MEP of the anti-independence Ciudadanos party, speaking after today's meeting: "We are not a court, not judges, prosecutors, or defence lawyers. .. We can't enter into the substance of the question."

Appearance and questioning

At the end of today's meeting, the officers of the committee called a hearing for December 7th, at which each of the three MEPs will have 15 minutes to present their arguments. Subsequently, the members of the committee will be able to ask them questions. The MEPs will appear one by one and may be accompanied by their legal advisers, who cannot take part, but only advise them.

Upon being told the date of the hearing, Puigdemont noted that December 7th was the day when, three years ago, Catalan independence supporters held a massive demonstration in the EU capital, called "Let's fill Brussels". "A good day to go out and defend our rights at the heart of the most important institution of European democracy: its Parliament," he said.

"Comparative grievance"

The three MEPs, all representatives of the Together for Catalonia (Junts) party, today registered their protest that Vázquez himself, as committee chair, is in charge of all three cases. The Ciudadanos MEP argued that since all three are in "almost" the same situation, it was decided to group them "so as not to generate comparative grievance". In addition, according to Vázquez, the three MEPs use the same line and arguments in their defence.

The chairperson of the committee also rejected the protests made by the pro-independence politicians - and also by some members of the committee - against the use of electronic means for the hearing appearances and said that it had been approved in line with a European Parliament report requested by all groups.

The chairperson's arithmetic

Likewise, Vázquez rejected the complaints of the pro-independence MEPs regarding the fact that five of the 25 members of the committee are Spanish MEPs, which far exceeds the percentage of the Spanish state in the chamber.

In fact, he claimed that in reality there are 26 members in total and 4 Spanish representatives. This does not correspond to the information provided by the European Parliament, which confirms that there are 5 Spaniards out of a total of 25 deputies, and they therefore represent 20% of the members. According to the chamber's records, these members are Vázquez, of Ciudadanos, who is the chairperson, as well as two deputies from the Socialists (PSOE) and two from the Popular Party (PP).

The likely calendar

Following the appearance of MEPs at the committee, the third phase of its work will be to discuss the report made by spokesperson Dzhambazki. The final meeting will put the report to a vote, which will automatically go to the plenary of Parliament.

After December 7th, no more further meetings of the Legal Affairs Committee are scheduled, and Vázquez assures that no extraordinary meeting is envisaged to address the issue. In fact, he affirmed that all such proceedings follow a standard procedure and recalled that there are 12 such requests currently open for the lifting of parliamentary immunity. Thus, although the chair avoided revealing the calendar, it is not expected that the hearing will end before February.

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