The die is cast for Catalan exiles

  • The 15 judges of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will issue their decision before the summer vacation or in early September

VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
06.04.2022 - 10:28
Actualització: 13.06.2022 - 10:12

The first result of the hearing that took place on Tuesday at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg on the case of the Catalan exiles will be announced on 14 July, when the advocate general of the court,  Richard de la Tour, will issue his non-binding opinion. And it is likely that the 15 judges of the court will issue their decision  some months after, before the summer vacation or in early September, no doubt with major consequences, whatever the decision.

The outcome of this procedure will be key in order to know whether exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, along with the five other pro-independence leaders in exile since late 2017, could be handed over to Spain. However, other circumstances are also set to play a role, including the decision of the same EU court over whether three of the exiled politicians still have immunity as MEPs. And regardless of the deliberations in Luxembourg, the Belgian and Italian judiciaries will ultimately make the final decisions on the extradition cases.

After Belgium rejected to extradite former minister Lluís Puig in January 2021, Spain’s high-profile judge overseeing the Catalan independence leaders’ judicial case, Pablo Llarena, requested clarification over whether the decision to deny the extradition was lawful. The whole discussion revolves around the fact that Belgium rejected to hand Puig over, arguing that he could see his fundamental rights violated in Spain since his trial may not be fair, 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. The court in Brussels also said that Spain’s Supreme Court should not be in charge of handling Lluís Puig’s case.

European Commission stance
During the hearing on Tuesday, the European Commission sided with Spain and backed the stance argued by representatives of Spain’s judiciary by saying that extradition between EU member states should be possible without reviewing if the accused will have a fair trial in their country, as long as there are not “systemic failures” in its rule of law. “There is no systemic failure in Spain’s rule of law,” said European Commission lawyer Julio Baquero Cruz.

Yet, the defenses of the exiled independence leaders countered that there are “widespread” problems in Spain’s judiciary and, therefore, it was lawful to reject Lluís Puig’s extradition. And Carles Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, argued that the court “will side with the jurisprudence and that benefits us.”

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.” Llarena is also asking whether Belgium can have a say on which Spanish court has to try the 2017 independence push leaders.

Spain’s allies: Poland, Romania and far-right Vox
Many parties were involved in the hearing that began on Tuesday at 9 am, including Puigdemont and the other exiled leaders’ defenses, Belgium’s judiciary, Spain’s solicitor general, as well as Poland and Romania, who decided to take sides in the deliberation and submitted an opinion similar to that of Spain, that is, questioning whether Belgium was allowed to assess potential breaches of fundamental rights if Puig was to be extradited. Although Italy has an extradition procedure against Puigdemont open, following his one-day arrest on the island of Sardinia, its judiciary has decided to not take sides or submit an opinion.

Spanish far-right party Vox is also involved in the case, since it acted as a private prosecutor in the 2017 indpendence leaders’ judicial case. Belgium was expected to support its own judiciary’s decision to reject Puig’s extradition, but instead, it maintained an ambiguous stance. The EU court judge in charge of Llarena’s request for clarification, Lars Bay Larsen, said he had found it “strange” that Belgium did not ask the Luxembourg magistrates before deciding on the Catalan politician’s extradition.


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