View Source

Greek Neo-Nazi Lawmaker Stripped of Immunity by European Parliament

BRUSSELS — The convicted Greek neo-Nazi Ioannis Lagos was stripped of his immunity as a member of the European Parliament on Tuesday, clearing the way for his extradition to Greece months after he was sentenced in a landmark trial.

Mr. Lagos, a leading member of the now-defunct criminal organization Golden Dawn, which formed a political party that in its heyday was the third largest in the Greek Parliament, told The New York Times in written comments earlier this year that he was planning to flee to a “European country” where his rights would be protected, but did not specify which.

On Tuesday, shortly after the waiving of his immunity was announced, he did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision by the European Parliament, announced Tuesday morning after a secret ballot held a day earlier, comes after months of delays of procedure over protocol and the Covid-19 pandemic.

and he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for running a criminal organization, but was protected until now by immunity afforded to members of the European Parliament.

Golden Dawn rose to prominence a decade ago, systematically targeting the European Union and migrants, especially Muslims, during the financial crisis that devastated Greece’s economy and society.

The trial in Greece lasted more than five years and is widely regarded as one of the most important cases against neo-Nazis in contemporary Europe, where forces of the far right became empowered during the financial crisis and further emboldened after the refugee crisis of 2015-2016, in some cases penetrating the mainstream political spectrum.

One of the leading members of the party, Christos Pappas, remains on the run after his conviction.

Mr. Lagos has been fighting to hold on to his immunity and avoid extradition to Greece to serve his sentence, while also claiming the case against him is political and that he’s being prosecuted for his political thoughts, not his deeds.

has come under criticism for taking months to deliberate on the waiver of Mr. Lagos’s immunity and for refusing to prioritize his case over other pending immunity cases of European lawmakers wanted in their home countries over smaller legal matters.

The Parliament’s relevant committee defended its pace and prioritization of cases as partly a matter of slowed-down deliberations because of the coronavirus outbreak and partly an effort to meticulously follow protocol to avoid any charges of bias.

The committee recommended the European Parliament waive Mr. Lagos’s immunity last week, in an anonymous vote of 22 to 2, and the full Parliament supported that decision in a vote by 658 to 25, with 10 abstentions.

The next step is for the Greek authorities to ask the authorities in Belgium, where the Parliament is based most of the time and Mr. Lagos is a resident, to arrest and extradite him.

It would then be up to Belgian courts to rule on the request, which may take months. The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Should the Belgians block a request, Mr. Lagos would continue to sit in the European Parliament, but that seems highly unlikely.

View Source

Israel Has Its 4th National Election in 2 Years. Here’s Why.

JERUSALEM — Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday for the fourth time in two years, hoping to break a seemingly endless cycle of elections and a political deadlock that has left the country without a national budget during a pandemic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes Israel’s world-leading vaccination program, which has helped the country emerge in recent days into something approaching normality, will give him and his right-wing allies an edge and the stable majority that proved elusive in three earlier rounds of elections.

But Mr. Netanyahu, prime minister since 2009, is running for re-election while standing trial on corruption charges — a dynamic that opposition parties hope will prompt voters to finally push him out of office.

In reality, though, polls show that neither bloc has a clear route to a majority, leaving many Israelis bracing for another inconclusive result, and a possible fifth election later in the year.

Parliament to dissolve, forcing a new election, though for now the government remains in place.

than by whether they are for or against Mr. Netanyahu.

a key constituency in this election campaign.

In a sign of how the political map has changed, two of Mr. Netanyahu’s principal challengers in this election cycle are also right-wingers. Gideon Saar is a former interior minister for Mr. Netanyahu’s party and Naftali Bennett is Mr. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff.

The third leading challenger is Yair Lapid, a centrist former broadcast journalist whose party is mounting the strongest challenge to Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Gantz is no longer considered a viable threat to the prime minister. Polls suggest his party may even fail to win a seat, largely because of anger among his former supporters over his decision to form a unity government with Mr. Netanyahu in the first place, an arrangement he had promised not to join.

The Parliament, known in Hebrew as the Knesset, has 120 seats that are allocated on a proportional basis to parties that win more than 3.25 percent of the vote.

The system almost guarantees that no single party will win an outright majority, often giving tiny parties big influence in the deal-making that forms coalitions. The system allows for a broad range of voices in Parliament but forming stable coalitions under it is difficult.

It could take weeks or possibly months for a new government to be formed — if one can be formed — and at any point in the process, a majority of the Knesset could vote to dissolve again, forcing yet another election.

In the days after the election, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, will give one lawmaker four weeks to try to form a coalition. He usually gives that mandate to the leader of the party that won the highest number of seats, which is likely to be Mr. Netanyahu. But he could grant it to another lawmaker, like Mr. Lapid, who he believes has a better chance at pulling together a viable coalition.

If that lawmaker’s efforts break down, the president can give a second candidate another four weeks to form a government. If that process also stutters, Parliament itself can nominate a third candidate to give it a go. And if he or she fails, Parliament dissolves and another election is called.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu will remain caretaker prime minister. If somehow the deadlock continues until November, Mr. Gantz might still succeed him. The power-sharing deal the pair agreed to last April was enshrined into Israeli law, and stipulated that Mr. Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021.

In recent weeks, Israel has sent children back to school, reopened restaurants for in-house dining and allowed vaccinated people to attend concerts and theater performances.

Mr. Netanyahu hopes the success of Israel’s vaccine rollout, which has given a majority of Israelis at least one dose, will help propel him to victory.

But his pandemic record may also cost him. Some voters believe he politicized certain key decisions — for instance, capping some fines for flouting antivirus regulations at levels much lower than public health experts recommended.

Critics perceived this as a sop to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, some of whom flouted coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings. Mr. Netanyahu will need the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties to remain in office after the election.

Voting by mail is not available in Israel. To prevent the spread of the virus, special polling stations are being set up for quarantined people and for Covid-19 patients.

No one is ruling it out. Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is predicted to emerge as the largest party, with around 30 seats. But his allies may not win enough seats to give him a majority of 61.

And though current polling suggests the opposition parties will collectively win more than 61 seats, it’s unclear whether their profound ideological differences will allow them to come together.

The key player could be Mr. Bennett. Though he wants to replace Mr. Netanyahu, he has also not ruled out joining his government.

Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

View Source

E.U. Parliament Strips Carles Puigdemont of Immunity

MADRID — The European Parliament has stripped the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Catalonia, clearing the way for Spain to make a fresh attempt to extradite him from Belgium and try him on sedition charges.

The European Parliament said on Tuesday that a majority of its members had voted a day earlier in a secret ballot to remove the immunity of Mr. Puigdemont and two other Catalan members of the assembly who face charges in Spain related to a botched attempt to declare Catalonia’s independence in 2017. Spain’s judiciary has charged that their bid was unconstitutional.

The vote on Monday ended a lengthy battle by Mr. Puigdemont and his colleagues to use their protection as elected members of the European assembly to shield them from prosecution in Spain. Now it is up to the Belgian judiciary to rule on whether Mr. Puigdemont should be sent back to the Spanish capital, Madrid, to stand trial.

“It is a sad day for the European Parliament,” Mr. Puigdemont said. “We have lost our immunity, but the European Parliament has lost more than that and as a result, European democracy too,” he said, adding that this was “a clear case of political prosecution.”

regional elections in Catalonia that increased the majority of pro-independence parties in the regional Parliament. Separatist politicians have held control since 2015, but the secessionist conflict has split Catalan society while also remaining a highly contentious issue in national politics.

ousted his regional government for holding a referendum that Spanish courts had ruled illegal and then declaring Catalonia’s independence.

During the past three years, Mr. Puigdemont has successfully fought off attempts to extradite him both from Belgium and Germany, where he was briefly detained during a trip.

Ioannis Lagos, who was sentenced in Greece last year for his activities with the far-right Golden Dawn party. The Greek government considers Golden Dawn a criminal organization.

The Catalan case has divided politicians in Brussels, many of them loathe to set a precedent of lawmakers being tried over political activity. The removal of Mr. Puigdemont’s immunity was approved by three-fifths of the members of the European Parliament.

It could take months for Belgian courts to rule on Spain’s latest attempt to extradite Mr. Puigdemont and the two other Catalan leaders, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office is examining the possibility of renewing legal proceedings in Belgium, a spokeswoman for the office said.

Should the Belgian courts block the extradition request, the Catalans would continue to sit in the European Parliament, but without special immunity rights.

View Source