Round Two

Puigdemont affair may go to European Court of Justice

Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont addresses a news conference in Berlin
Oh please. Source: Reuters

Last week’s decision by a German court not to extradite the Catalan ousted leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain for the charge of “rebellion” may not be the final word in the matter. Spanish judges haven’t given up hope of convincing the Higher Regional Court in Schleswig-Holstein that the events Mr. Puigdemont oversaw in Catalonia last year amount to high treason in German law and are grounds for extradition.

And they may even turn to the European Court of Justice to try to overrule the German judiciary if necessary.

On Thursday, Spanish prosecutors met German counterparts and gave them further evidence to substantiate the rebellion lawsuit against Mr. Puigdemont. The material included videos of violent actions and police reports, Spanish media reported. Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá said on Friday the judicial officials were “satisfied” with the meeting with their German peers, which took place in the headquarters of Eurojust, a judicial cooperation agency based in the Dutch city of The Hague.

After the German court reviews the material from Spain, it would be reasonable that its final decision is consistent with what the Spanish judge has found, Mr. Catalá emphasized.

“It is not the role of the German court to substantively assess the incidents in Catalonia.”

Francesc de Carreras, constitutional law professor, the Autonomous University of Barcelona

Mr. Puigdemont, who fled Spain after declaring Catalan secession from Spain in late October following an illegal referendum, was detained in northern Germany last month under a European arrest warrant issued by Madrid.

But since the judges ruled last week that the former Catalan president could only face trial for the lesser offense he is wanted for — misuse of public funds — and not for the more serious charge of rebellion, Spain has also argued that the regional German court is exceeding its powers.

Legal experts say that the Schleswig-Holstein court is hierarchically below the Spanish Supreme Court in charge of the inquiry, and therefore does not qualify to conduct a new probe into the case to begin with. “It is not the role of the German court to substantively assess the incidents in Catalonia,” Francesc de Carreras, a professor of constitutional law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, told Handelsblatt.

This is where the EU Court of Justice could pitch in. On the one hand, the Higher Regional Court of Schleswig-Holstein may acknowledge it has legal doubts about the case and ask the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.

On the other hand, it may stand by its initial decision that Mr. Puigdemont cannot be judged in Spain for rebellion. In this case, however, the Spanish Supreme Court may itself turn to the ECJ. Spanish media say that Justice Pablo Llarena will ask the ECJ whether the Schleswig-Holstein judges have correctly interpreted the laws surrounding European arrest warrants.

“If each court were to review what another has done, this would be a huge step backwards.”

Rafael Catalá, Spanish minister of justice

The answer may not be straightforward. Other European countries have to decide whether they will hand over Catalan separatist leaders to Spain as well. After Clara Ponsatí, a former minister in Mr. Puigdemont’s dismissed regional government, relocated to Scotland, a court in Edinburgh announced this week that it will schedule a two-week hearing by the end of July to rule on her case. This is a far cry from the few days it took German judges to decide against extraditing Mr. Puigdemont.

But Madrid is confident that the ECJ will eventually back it. “If each court were to review what another has done, this would be a huge step backwards,” Justice Minister Mr. Catalá said on Friday.

He added he had spoken with his German counterpart, Katarina Barley, and said she apologized for controversial comments she made supporting the decision of the German court.

Sandra Louven is Handelsblatt’s Madrid correspondent. Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the authors: louven@handelsblatt.com, hauteville@handelsblatt.com

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