Parliamentary immunity is not a Member’s personal privilege, but guarantees that a MEP can freely exercise his or her mandate and cannot be exposed to arbitrary, political persecution. As such it is a guarantee of the independence and integrity of Parliament as a whole.
Members of the European Parliament cannot be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings because of opinions expressed or votes cast in their capacity as MEP.
An MEP's immunity is twofold:
- in the territory of his or her own member state, similar to the immunities accorded to members of their national parliament; and
- in the territory of any other member state, immunity from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings. (Article 9 of Protocol n°7)
Immunity cannot be claimed when a Member is found in the act of committing an offence.
Following a request by a competent national authority to the European Parliament that the immunity of a Member be waived (or a request by an MEP or former MEP that his/her immunity is defended), Parliament’s President will announce the request to the plenum and refer it to the parliamentary committee responsible, which is the Committee on Legal Affairs.
The committee may ask for any information or explanation which it deems necessary. The MEP concerned will be given an opportunity to be heard, and may present any documents or other written evidence.
The committee adopts, in camera, a recommendation to the whole Parliament to approve or reject the request, i.e. to lift or defend the immunity. At the plenary session following the committee decision, Parliament reaches a decision by a simple majority vote. Following the vote, the President will immediately communicate Parliament's decision to the MEP concerned and to the competent authority of the Member State concerned.
Does an MEP keep his/her seat even if his or her immunity is waived?
Yes. The mandate of an MEP is a national mandate and cannot be taken away by any other authority. Moreover, the lifting an MEP's immunity is not a "guilty" verdict. It merely enables the national judicial authorities to proceed to undertake an investigation or a trial. And as MEPs are elected under national electoral law, if an MEP is found guilty of a criminal offence, it is for the member state's authorities to decide whether his or her mandate therefore falls.