EU court ruling may see extradition of former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont a step closer 

A COURT ruling published on Tuesday may mean that former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont is a step closer to being extradited to Spain from Belgium, where he has been living since fleeing the country in 2017 to avoid arrest for his role in the independence drive. 

The Belgian authorities have so far rejected European orders issued by Spain in a bid to bring Puigdemont and other former officials from the government in Catalunya to stand trial for their actions during the attempted secession from Spain, which included an illegal vote on independence as well as a unilateral declaration of independence that was passed by the regional government. 

However, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – which interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all of the bloc’s countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions – has just issued a ruling that could affect the situation. 

According to the CJEU, no EU country can question the competence of Spain’s Supreme Court to issue arrest orders against the former Catalan politicians. But they can refuse to hand them over if they consider, and can document, that there are ‘systemic deficiencies’ in Spain that violate their fundamental rights. 

This will now limit the reasons that the Belgian justice system can cite for not handing over Puigdemont and his former colleagues to Spain to stand trial for their role in the proces, as the independence drive is commonly known. 

The Belgian authorities have argued in the past that the Supreme Court does not have the powers to try the politicians, and that they should be dealt with by the Catalan regional courts. They also indicated that their fundamental rights, such as the presumption of innocence, could be violated. 

Isabel Rodriguez, the spokesperson for the Spanish government, said on Tuesday that the ruling appeared to mean that the handover of Puigdemont would be ‘facilitated’ and that he would ‘be accountable’ for his actions before the ‘Spanish justice system’.

A victory 

Puigdemont, however, interpreted the ruling as a victory. ‘The CJEU sentence leaves the extraditions dead in their tracks,’ he said on Tuesday from Brussels, where he was flanked by the other Catalan politicians who fled to Belgium, including Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí and Lluis Puig. 

The other leaders of the independence drive, including then-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), went on trial in the Supreme Court for their actions and received lengthy prison terms. 

They have since been pardoned by the central government and released from custody, as part of the governing Socialist Party’s attempts to seek a political solution to the ongoing conflict.

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