The European Parliament has upheld the parliamentary immunity of Italian MEP Luigi de Magistris, who is being sued for libel. By contrast, MEPs voted to lift the immunity of French MEP Bruno Gollnisch so that a complaint of incitement to racial hatred can be investigated.
Luigi de Magistris
In the case of Luigi de Magistris (ALDE, IT), a case was filed against the MEP by Clemente Mario Mastella, in connection with an interview Mr de Magistris gave to an Italian newspaper on 31 October 2009. Mr Mastella argued that a part of that interview constituted libel and claimed damages of €1,000,000 plus costs.
The European Parliament decided to defend Mr de Magistris' immunity, saying that in giving the interview in question Mr de Magistris "was acting in performance of his duties as an MEP and carrying out political activities by expressing his opinion on a matter of public interest to his constituents". MEPs add that "attempts to prevent Members of Parliament from expressing their opinions on matters of legitimate public interest and concern, and from criticising their political opponents, by bringing legal proceedings are unacceptable in a democratic society".
In the case of Bruno Gollnisch (NI, FR), the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism complained against an unnamed person for incitement to racial hatred in a press release issued on 3 October 2008 by the Front National group in the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council, of which Gollnisch was the President. Mr Gollnisch has explained that the press release was written by the Front National team in the region, including its head of communications, who was "empowered to speak on behalf of the Front National's elected officials". The French authorities have requested the waiver of Gollnisch's immunity so that the complaint can be investigated and so that, if appropriate, Mr Gollnisch can be tried. Mr Gollnisch, on the other hand, asked for the defence of his immunity.
The European Parliament decided to waive Mr Gollnisch's immunity, saying the case was not connected to his activities as an MEP but rather to his role as a Rhône-Alpes regional councillor. Also, applying parliamentary immunity to such a situation "would constitute an undue extension of those rules".
The report requesting the defence of Mr de Magistris' immunity was adopted by show of hands. The report requesting the waiver of Mr Gollnisch's immunity was adopted by 511 votes in favour, 56 against and 65 abstentions. Both reports were prepared by Bernhard Rapkay (S&D, DE).