MEPs voted on Monday to strip their Catalan colleague Carles Puigdemont of his immunity from prosecution.
Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont has vowed to take his case to Europe's highest court after MEPs voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity.
The 58-year-old, wanted in Spain over Catalonia's independence referendum in 2017, said he would now take his legal fight to the European Court of Justice.
Puigdemont fled after Catalonia declared independence from Madrid and has been an MEP since 2019.
That position afforded him immunity from prosecution in Spain, where he is accused of sedition and misuse of public funds.
But MEPs on Monday voted to strip him of that protection, a move that Puigdemont told Euronews he had been expecting.
"We are politically persecuted, it's political persecution," he said. "And that is one of the main reasons to refuse any petition to waive immunity because we are politicians.
"What kind of democracy is it [where] political minorities or dissidents are persecuted for their ideas?"
"We were elected by more than a million votes to defend the same ideas that the Spanish justice is using to persecute us.
"We have some hope as European citizens to be protected by European institutions as a whole because that is a system that officially or directly protects fundamental rights and to guarantee every European citizen has the same rights across the European Union.
"But look at Spain. There are political prisoners. There are artists in jail for the lyrics of its songs that is very out of sense of the European framework of the European rule of law."
In a secret ballot on Monday, MEPs voted by 400 in favour and to 248 against to strip Puigdemont of his special protection.
He could now be extradited to Spain and be put on trial.
Two other Catalan MEPs, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí were also stripped of their immunity.
A majority of MEPs agreed the three are charged with crimes committed before they were elected to the European Parliament and therefore, immunity does not apply.
Puigdemont, however, rejected the idea that his case was simply a Spanish internal matter.
"If democracy doesn't rule in a part of the Union, it is the whole European Union that undermines its credibility [in front of] the other regions in the world where human rights are threatened," he said.
"And when political decisions are put in jail, that is unacceptable for the whole European Union. It doesn't matter if you are in Spain or is in Poland."
The former leader of Catalonia is aware that his fate depends on whether the Belgian justice system accepts the European Arrest Warrant (EAS) issued by Spain. This legal process will be complex and lengthy, with the ECJ in Luxembourg also poised to play a part.
In the meantime, Puigdemont says he will continue to advance the cause of Catalan independence in Belgium, where he has resided for the past three years.
"I [will] continue fighting using my freedom of speech," he says. "Politics is the way we can help the Catalan process for independence."
Despite losing his special protection, Puigdemont and his other two colleagues will keep their positions as MEPs.
But he fears the arrest warrant placed on him by Spain could jeopardise this work.
"We want to ask [EU Parliament] President [David] Sassoli in this regard what's exactly wrong with us. How can we do our job if there is a European arrest warrant across Europe that prevents us to act freely as well as the rest of our colleagues?"
The Spanish government welcomed MEPs' vote, claiming it showed that matters concerning Catalonia should be determined in Spain.
The MEPs' decision "sends a triple message", said Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya in a brief statement, one of which was that "Catalonia's problems are resolved in Spain, they are not resolved in Europe".
The Spanish government's approach is to "offer a hand to the Catalan political forces to find a solution through dialogue and negotiation," she added.
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