The European Parliament has voted to waive the immunity of Catalonia's former regional head of government and two other separatist lawmakers, taking them a step closer to extradition to Spain, where they are charged with sedition.
The chamber announced on Tuesday that EU lawmakers had voted clearly in favour of stripping the immunity from prosecution of Carles Puigdemont and two former cabinet members, Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati.
Puigdemont and Comin, who are in self-imposed exile in Belgium, formally became members of the European Parliament in June 2019, while Ponsati, who is in Scotland, was officially a member from January 2020.
All are subject to European arrest warrants issued by Spain which is seeking their extradition related to their role in organising a 2017 independence referendum deemed illegal by a Spanish court.
Spain's Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said the decision was a sign of "respect for the work of the Spanish justice system" and a European lawmaker cannot use his condition to "protect himself from appearing in a national court."
"Problems in Catalonia are solved in Spain, not in Europe," she said, defending a solution through dialogue.
The European Parliament said it was for national judicial systems of EU countries to determine criminal proceedings.
Belgium has so far denied Spain's requests. A court in January refused to extradite Lluis Puig, another separatist former member of the Catalan government living in Belgium, over charges of misuse of public funds.
Puigdemont has also been charged with misuse of public funds.
"We will not give up," his party, Junts, tweeted after the EU parliament's announcement.
"The political conflict between Catalonia and Spain has stopped being an internal affair. We have brought it to the heart of Europe to continue denouncing the repression and political persecution of the Spanish state," it added.
Various independence leaders were convicted in Spain of the same charge of sedition in 2019 and sentenced to up to 13 years in prison.
Parliament's legal affairs committee voted last month that immunity from prosecution should be waived. In each case, the vote was 15 in favour, eight against and two abstentions.