Carles Puigdemont, arrested in Alghero

Former Catalan president to appear in court tomorrow despite suspended euro warrants

4 min
Carles Puigdemont before entering Neumünster prison when he was arrested in Germany in 2018

Barcelona / BrusselsThe Italian police arrested former president of the Generalitat and current MEP Carles Puigdemont this Thursday in Sardinia, where he had travelled this Friday to meet authorities on the island. Puigdemont recently lost parliamentary immunity because the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) interpreted that there was no risk of arrest, since the European arrest warrant issued against him by the Spanish Supreme Court (SSC) had been suspended while the European justice ruled on pretrial questions relating to the case. This Thursday, however, when he arrived at Alghero airport, he was detained by Italian border police and tomorrow he will be brought before the Sassari Court of Appeal, which will decide whether to release him or extradite him

"He is calm," assured Jordi Sànchez, secretary general of Together for Catalonia (JxCat), the party Puigdemont founded. "Once again the Spanish courts have deceived the European courts and have kept euro-orders in place when should not have been," he added. He is convinced that the European courts will prevail and that it will be demonstrated that the arrest is "incorrect". "Extradition will not occur (...). We hope that tomorrow Puigdemont may regain his freedom," he has finished

His lawyer, Gonzalo Boye - who is assisting him with Italian lawyers - used Twitter to recall that the arrest warrant issued on October 14, 2019 had been suspended, as the State had told the GCEU in a hearing to decide on Puigdemont's suspension. This was the first time Puigdemont travelled to Alghero since he went into exile. He was planning to meet the president of the autonomous region of Sardinia and with the mayor of Alghero.

The SSC's version, however, is quite the opposite. Sources at the court claim that the euro warrant "never was deactivated". "Immunity was lifted by the European Parliament and the GCEU maintained the withdrawal of Puigdemont's immunity until his appeal [to the European courts] is resolved," the sources point out. "The prejudicial question bares no influence because it only aimed to clarify the decision taken by Belgium," they end. This is a reference to the case of former Catalan minister Lluís Puig, whose extradition was denied by Belgium. The SSC, unhappy with the decision, made an inquiry to the GCEU regarding other states' leeway to deny extradition requests.

What did the court say?

Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí had lost their parliamentary immunity for the second time after the European court considered that there was no risk that they would be arrested taking the SSC' inquiry regarding Lluís Puig's case into account. The General Court of the European Union's order which withdrew their parliamentary immunity referred to the fact that Spain had made it clear that "a EU court could not execute the European arrest warrants in question until the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) had decided".

Despite the fact that the SSC now says that the European arrest warrants had not been suspended, the vice-president of the CJEU stated in the decision which withdrew Puidemont's immunity that the Spanish authorities themselves had notified them that the European arrest warrants were inactive. And for this reason, he concluded that "while the CJEU does not rule on the Puig preliminary ruling, there is nothing to consider that Belgian judicial authorities or those of any other member state can execute the arrest warrants issued against the MEPs and hand them over to the Spanish authorities"

That is why lawyer Josep Costa has also questioned the move via Twitter: "The Spanish government told the Luxembourg Court that the euro warrant against President Carles Puigdemont had been suspended, as provided by CJEU rules. It was not true. Llarena has never issued any ruling deactivating or suspending it. They will have to give many explanations and not only to the CJEU"

In this sense, Luxembourg left the door open for Puigdemont to request precautionary measures again if he was arrested. "MEPs maintain the possibility of filing a new appeal if, after this ruling, the alleged threat becomes likely, in particular in the event that they are arrested by an enforcement authority of a Member State or that some action aimed at handing them over to the Spanish authorities is carried out," it said. This may thus become one of the strategies used by Puigdemont's defence before the General Court of the European Union.

After the news broke, pro-independence figures has reacted on social networks expressing support for Puigdemont. The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, expressed his "most energetic condemnation" in the face of "persecution and judicial repression". "Amnesty is the only way. Self-determination, the only solution," said the head of the executive.

Puigedemont's arrest comes as the thaw between the Spanish and Catalan administrations was gaining pace, only a week after the first meeting between Aragonès and the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, as well as the second meeting of the negotiating table between governments. It has also come after the former president travelled from Belgium to other EU countries, such as France, over the summer. In Italy, however, he has been arrested.

The Spanish government defends the arrest

A few minutes past 1 am, the Spanish government has issued a statement in which it expresses its "respect" for Italian courts, "as Italy has done with the Spanish and European courts that have issued resolutions in judicial proceedings affecting Mr. Puigdemont". The Spanish government claims the detention to the Alguer has taken place as part of "judicial proceedings in course that apply to any citizen to the European Union who has to answer for his actions before the courts". In this sense, Pedro Sánchez's government stresses that Puigdemont "has to submit to the courts, exactly like any other citizen".