Brussels defends Llarena's arrest warrants: "There is no systemic problem with the rule of law in Spain"
The European Commission believes that Belgium should not have assessed whether the Supreme Court was competent nor whether Puig would have a fair trial
LuxembourgIt was a a dense session today at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) as it heard the questions raised by Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena after the Belgian courts refused the extradition of the former conseller Lluís Puig. Throughout the morning, all parties have been able to present their arguments and the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties and rules of the European Union, has defended the Spanish position. According to the Commission, Belgium should not have assessed whether or not Puig would have a fair trial in Spain when receiving the European arrest warrant, because "there is no systemic problem of rule of law" in Spain.
Julio Baquero Cruz spoke on behalf of the European Commission's legal services. The framework that regulates Euro warrants, he defended, foresees that the authority that receives the request – in this case Belgium – can reject them if there is a "systemic" deficiency in the rule of law which therefore implies a risk of a violation of the wanted person's fundamental rights. Only in this case, in the Commission's opinion, may a second, more specific analysis be carried out to assess the possible risk of violation of the defendant's fundamental rights. For the Commission, based on its annual report on the rule of law, this is not the case in Spain and, therefore, Belgium should not have entered into an assessment of this issue.
Spanish prosecutor Fidel Cadena took the same position, as did state attorney Andrea Gavela Llopis and far right party Vox's counsel, Marta Castro. They all insisted that by assessing this aspect, the principle of judicial cooperation and trust between EU member states was put at stake. "The execution of the European arrest warrant is a principle; its refusal, an exception," said Castro. Prosecutor Cadena, who was the first to intervene, considered it illogical and absurd" that the country that receives the arrest warrant could "check" the competence rules of the country which issues it (the competence of the Supreme Court in the case is the other major bone of contention), and also ruled that "the risk of violation of fundamental rights does not exist because all those previously convicted in the same case have had their rights fully respected".
Belgium does not discuss the case's merits
But Belgium has not entered into the merits of the specific case. Through the lawyer Florence Mathis, the Kingdom of Belgium has invoked separation of powers to avoid entering into a clear assessment of the position of its courts, which have rejected the Euro-orders in several instances and now hold in abeyance those of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and the MEPs and former Catalan ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, pending on the CJEU's ruling. Precisely for this reason, the vice president of the court, Lars Bay Larsen, has asked the Belgian lawyer if the country defends that national authorities have the competence to "freely add" additional and exceptional reasons related to the respect for fundamental rights to reject a European arrest warrant. Faced with this question, Mathis said that there is some European case law that is aligned with this position, but has opened the door to the CJEU to pronounce itself thanks to this case.
On the other hand, from the pro-independence bench, Gonzalo Boye, Andreu van den Eynde, Benet Salellas and Isabel Elbal have defended Belgium should analyse the case in depth and question not only the competence of the Supreme Court, but also the guarantees that Lluís Puig would face a fair trial in Spain. "There are no courts in the EU that can fail to apply fundamental rights," said Salellas, Anna Gabriel's lawyer. And Boye, who attempted to directly refute the arguments of the Commission, claimed that the systemic deficiency that can be detected in the Spanish judicial system is precisely with regards to the "Catalan national minority" and did not tire of citing the report by the UN's group on arbitrary, which neither Spain nor the European Commission consider binding. "It is an opinion, not a ruling", both from the Prosecutor's Office and Vox said.