Spring 2022: exiles' legal battle reaches its outcome
The defense estimates Luxembourg will rule on immunity and preliminary rulings before June
Barcelona"Well, that's 59... Time does not stand still, but neither do we. We will celebrate the 60th together at home". This phrase accompanied the photograph posted by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on his Instagram on the day of his birthday, last December 29. Quite a declaration of intentions (and of confidence in the judicial resolutions he expects), taking into account that 2022 will be the key year in which exiles' legal battle will reach its outcome. It is expected that the resolutions on the preliminary questions raised by the Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena and on the immunity of the Junts MEPs will be announced before June. Probably between March and April, as explained to ARA by sources of the defence for former Catalan government members who are in Belgium. This means that, four years after leaving Catalonia, during the first half of this year it will be clear if exiles win the battle against the State over extraditions and if, through the Luxembourg resolutions, paths are opened for their return.
So, where do the proceedings stand now? After states have made their allegations on Llarena's preliminary rulings –an attempt to question Belgian judges' powers to deny the surrender of former minister Lluís Puig– the next procedural step will be the oral phase. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye already asked last January 3 to set a date for the hearing, so now Luxembourg has to decide a day for the appointment. This hearing, which is mandatory, will not be attended by those affected –that is, the exiles do not have to appear– but by the representation of the parties: Boye, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the State Attorney's Office will be present, as well as the representatives of the countries that have appeared (Poland and Romania defending the Spanish position and Belgium to defend its own resolution). Also present will be the European Commission, which is always present and which in this case, according to sources from the defence, has maintained an ambiguous position with regards to the Belgian resolution. The other states, although they are directly affected by the decision, have not joined the proceedings. Once this hearing takes place, the Advocate General will pronounce his conclusions within approximately one month, and a month later the judicial decision will be issued –according to the defense–. This calendar will also follow the processes on immunity that Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí (JxCat MEPs) have in the General Court of the European Union.
What does this imply? Depending on the Luxembourg ruling, the possibilities that exiles have to try to return to Spain without being arrested (at least on paper) will be clarified. There are different scenarios, none of them black and white, because they will depend on the terms set by the court. But roughly speaking there are three. The first is that Puigdemont loses all the open lawsuits in Luxembourg. Extradition would then be plausible and if, on the other hand, Puigdemont loses his appeal against the European Parliament for withdrawing his immunity, his mobility to EU countries would be complicated.
The opposite scenario would be for Puigdemont to win all the cases he has brought before the European court. That is, his position on the scope of the Euro-orders would triumph and Luxembourg would endorse Belgium's decision to reject the extradition of Lluís Puig due to the Supreme Court's lack of jurisdiction and for not respecting presumption of innocence. The General Court of the European Union would overturn the European Parliament's decision to withdraw his immunity and would allow him to try to return to Spain without, in principle, being arrested.
The third scenario would place the former president in an intermediate situation: to emerge victorious in only one of the cases. If it were on the preliminary issues, it would reinforce the view of the Belgian courts, which have so far rejected any extradition attempt; if it were only on immunity, it would ensure that he could travel throughout the European Union at least as long as he was a member of the European Parliament. The fate of the former president is also that of JxCat MEPs Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín, since they are in the same situation. On the other hand, the case of Lluís Puig is different: he does not have European immunity because he is not a member of the European Parliament, but if he wins the preliminary proceedings before Judge Llarena, his non-extradition to Spain will be definitively consolidated.
The political role
Beyond the legal scenarios, another thing is the political role that Puigdemont, now president of JxCat and also of the Consell per la República, wants to play. As advanced by El Mundo, two members of the Assembly of Representatives –constituted last November 14– have entered a resolution for Puigdemont to dissociate himself from Junts if he wants to assume the presidency of the Consell, which has to be chosen at the end of February after a legislative commission elaborates the regulations. They are not the first ones to demand it, since the singer-songwriter Lluís Llach, who is a member of the Consell, expressed himself along the same lines in a recent interview in the Preguntes freqüents on TV3. When asked if he thought Puigdemont had to step aside from Junts, he said, "I would like him to, I have already told him so. And I'm not the only one." Now, the singer-songwriter also said that this was a decision that only the former president could take. In any case, asked about this issue, the current president of the Assembly of Representatives, Ona Curto, a CUP councilor, told Catalunya Ràdio on Friday that she did not think he had to do it. "We have a president of the Generalitat who belongs to one party and we also have a Speaker in Parliament who belongs to another party. To ask the Consell to depoliticise.... Then none of us would show up," she stated, even though she made it clear that the request made by two members of the Assembly will be debated and that in no case will the discussion be vetoed.
If Puigdemont were to make the decision to leave the presidency of Junts –remaining as a member– it would be a shock for the party, since until now he has been the unifying figure of the different sectors. JxCat assures that this debate has not been raised, but some sources admit that there is background "pressure" on the former president and do not dare to rule anything out. It is known that Puigdemont has never felt comfortable in party structures and has a tendency to avoid them. The clearest proof of this is that he promoted JxCat as a new political formation but has never had an active role in organic terms: he does not participate in the party executives nor did he attend the last national council.
Whether politically or judicially, 2022 is the decisive year for exiles. What happens outside can change the entire political chessboard in Catalonia –with the Generalitat now led by ERC– and in Madrid, where the Spanish government sees Puigdemont as one of the potential destabilisers of the situation.