EU advocate general backs Spain’s attempts to extradite former Catalan minister

Legal experts say European arrest warrants cannot be denied unless “systemic deficiencies” in judicial system are demonstrated

Lluís Puig in February 2020
VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
14.07.2022 - 13:33

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice has sided with Spain in its attempts to extradite exiled former Catalan minister Lluís Puig. Specifically, the legal experts say that European arrest warrants cannot be denied unless “systemic deficiencies” in the judicial system of the country requesting the extradition can be demonstrated.

Belgium has repeatedly denied extraditing Lluís Puig, who is wanted in Spain for his role in the 2017 independence push. After rejecting Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena’s arrest warrant against Puig, the judge requested clarification over whether the decision to deny handing over him was lawful.

Belgium rejected handing him over, arguing that he could see his fundamental rights violated in Spain, and mentioning the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reports calling for the release of the leaders who did not leave the country and ended up in jail. Also, Brussels said that Spain’s Supreme Court should not be in charge of handling Lluís Puig’s case.

Non-binding opinion

In response, Llarena asked the EU court whether Belgium can assess the risk of fundamental rights being violated in another EU member state, and if so, whether the Working Group’s papers are a valid argument. The Supreme Court magistrate also asked Luxembourg regarding “the elements in EU law so that a member state can resolve that in another member state a risk of fundamental rights violation exists.”

The ECJ advocate general has also favored in Llarena’s position on whether Spain’s Supreme Court was competent to charge the pro-independence figures. For the EU legal experts, this cannot be questioned.

This is a non-binding opinion and states that Brussels’ judges extra limited themselves when rejecting the arrest warrant. In fact, the decision only regards former minister Puig, but the definitive ruling could also have effects on other arrest warrants’ future, including the one for former president Carles Puigdemont.

In Belgium, Puig has continued to be politically active alongside exiled president Carles Puigdemont and other pro-independence leaders. In October 2019, nine of Puigdemont’s former ministers who stayed in Catalonia and faced trial for the independence push were sentenced to serve between 9 and 13 years in prison for the crime of sedition.

Puigdemont’s extradition case 

While the request for clarification regarding Puig’s case will set a precedent for the other exiles’ cases, Belgium’s public prosecutor has stated that in the case of Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, and Clara Ponsatí, all former government members now in exile and MEPs, their extradition procedures will continue on hold regardless, because their immunity status has yet been fully clarified.

After Puigdemont, Comín, and Ponsatí had their immunity as Members of the European Parliament (MEP) lifted in March 2021, their legal team appealed against the decision made by a majority of the members of parliament before the EU court. In June, they recovered their parliamentary privileges, before then losing them again in July in a provisional decision. However, in May 2022, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) provisionally restored the parliamentary immunity of the Catalan pro-independence MEPs.

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