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No Immunity in Probe of Inciting Racial Hatred

(CN) - Immunity does not shield an EU parliamentarian from liability over anti-Semitic comments he made as president of a radical political party, Europe's General Court ruled Thursday.

Bruno Gollnisch represents France in the European Parliament and serves as president for the Rhone-Alps regional council of the far-right Front National Party.

In 2009, French authorities launched an inquiry against Gollnisch for incitement to racial hatred after his work with Front National drew protest from the International League of Racism and Anti-Semitism.

Two years later, the European Parliament complied with a request from the French national court to waive Gollnisch's immunity so that it could proceed with its investigation.

Gollnisch sued to force lawmakers to reverse their decision and for "non-material damage," claiming Parliament owed him both immunity and a duty to defend him against legal actions.

The General Court of the European Union rejected Gollnisch's claims Thursday, stating that European Parliament no longer had a duty to defend Gollnisch when it granted France's waiver of immunity request. Its decision is not available in English.

Case law has established that immunity covers only the opinions and actions of ministers during the performance of their duties, according to the ruling. It does not extend to remarks made in a person's capacity as a leader of an extreme regional political party.

"It is not disputed that the statement was drafted by the spokesperson of the Front National group, of which Mr. Gollnisch is president," the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement. "It is also not disputed that, during a press conference which took place in Lyon, Mr. Gollnisch confirmed that the press release had been drafted by persons authorized to speak in the name of the elected representatives of the political group concerned within the regional council. It must be stated that those facts directly concern the duties carried out by the applicant acting in his capacity as regional councilor and president of the Front National group. Consequently, there is no link between the statement allegedly made by Mr. Gollnisch and his duties as MEP nor, a fortiori, a direct and obvious link between the statement at issue and his duties as an MEP."

Gollnisch also lost his argument about how France's investigation and the waiver of immunity might damage him politically.

"The judicial proceedings had not been brought by a political opponent but by an association authorized under French law to bring proceedings against exponents of written or oral racist or anti-Semitic statements," the court said. "In addition, the proceedings did not concern either historical matters or acts carried out during an electoral campaign and further, there is no evidence, in light of the facts taken into consideration by the Parliament which have not been contested by Mr. Gollnisch, to show that the manifest purpose of the proceedings is to make an example out of him. It follows that the obligation for the Parliament to examine, with care and impartiality, all the pertinent elements of the present case has been met."

This is not the first time Gollnisch's radical views have landed him in hot water.

In 2007, a French court sentenced him to a three-month prison sentence and a $66,000 fine for "an offense of verbal contestation of the existence of crimes against humanity." Gollnisch had questioned the historical validity of the Holocaust in 2004, saying, "I do not question the existence of concentration camps but historians could discuss the number of deaths. As to the existence of gas chambers, it is up to historians to speak their minds."

France's supreme appellate court reversed his conviction in 2009.

He drew controversy in 2011 for criticizing the Vatican in its opposition to the deportation of the Roma people from French territory.

Gollnisch suggested that France deport the Roma, disparagingly referred to as "gypsies," to accommodations in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican and invited the Catholic Church to reassess its criticism after it received the refugees.

Gollnisch has 60 days to lodge an appeal, limited to points of law only, of the General Court's decision with the Court of Justice."

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