Spain bid to return exiled Catalan politicians boosted by EU Court judgment

Brussels, Jan 31 (EFE).- A judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union Tuesday limited the grounds on which member states can reject European arrest warrants in a move that could boost Spanish efforts to return Catalan politicians who fled in the wake of a controversial independence referendum.

The CJEU said an executing court may not refuse to execute a European arrest warrant on the grounds of divergent laws but can do so if it believes an individual is at risk of not receiving a fair trial.

“The Court, sitting as the Grand Chamber, states that the principles of mutual trust and mutual recognition between the Member States are the cornerstone of the system of judicial cooperation in respect of an EAW. It states, however, that the fundamental right to a fair trial is also of cardinal importance,” the CJEU said in its judgment.

The judgment could be crucial in determining the fate of the former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, depending on whether the EU’s lower General Court decides to lift his immunity as a Member of the European Parliament.

It also clears the way for Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena to issue a fresh European arrest warrant for Lluis Puig, a former regional Catalan lawmaker who fled to Belgium with Puigdemont in the wake of the 2017 referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence, branded by the Spanish judiciary as unconstitutional.

Belgian courts have previously rejected European arrest warrants for the self-exiled Catalan politicians, saying Spain’s Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction to issue the measure.

Puigdemont still faces a national arrest warrant in Spain, where he is wanted for charges of misuse of public funds, which carries a sentence of up to 12 years, and disobedience.

In 2021, Spain’s Socialist Party prime minister Pedro Sánchez pardoned nine Catalan politicians and activists, including the former regional president Oriol Junqueras, who had been sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the crisis.

The referendum on October 1, which was boycotted by opponents of Catalan independence, and the unilateral declaration of independence 10 days later, brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

In response to the ballot, which was met with a heavy police crackdown, the government of erstwhile prime minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, used a hitherto unused constitutional article to impose direct rule on Catalonia, dissolve its regional chamber and slate new elections.EFE


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