BRUSSELS (AP) — Three Catalan separatist members of the European Parliament on Thursday applauded a European court ruling to put on hold a decision by the EU’s legislative chamber stripping them of their immunity from prosecution.
As a result, their immunity has been provisionally restored.
“Today we are a little bit closer to hearing the final arguments that say we are right,” said Carles Puigdemont, the former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region.
Puigdemont and two of his associates had sought protection from the Court of Justice of the European Union after the European Parliament voted in March to lift their immunity, as sought by Spain.
Puigdemont, former Catalan Health Minister Toni Comín and former regional Education Minister Clara Ponsatí said they feared they could be arrested on an extradition order by Spain and thus be stopped from representing their voters in the parliament.
The court said that the order issued late on Wednesday was taken to give it time to consider their case in full. It made no indication of whether it agreed with their arguments.
The three fled Spain in 2017 after the Catalan government led by Puigdemont failed in an attempt to carve an independent state out of Spain’s wealthy northeastern corner. If they return to Spain they could be arrested.
Puigdemont and Comín went to Belgium and Ponsatí to Scotland, where they have avoided extradition. All three won seats in the European Parliament in 2019 elections as candidates from pro-secession Catalan parties.
Twelve of their cohorts stayed in Spain where they were arrested and found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds.
If their immunity as European lawmakers is removed, Spain can reactivate its attempts to bring them home to face justice.
Since 2017, official elections have repeatedly shown that Catalan voters are equally split by the secession question.