Ex-Catalonia Leader Can Be Extradited, but Not on the Charge Spain Wants

A German court ruled on Thursday that Catalonia’s former leader, Carles Puigdemont, can be extradited to Spain, but only on fraud charges and not for rebellion, the main charge he faced in Spain after Catalonia’s botched declaration of independence last year.

The decision is a setback for the Spanish judiciary, which had hoped the German court would allow Mr. Puigdemont to stand trial on a rebellion charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

Under the lesser charge of corruption related to the misuse of public money, Mr. Puigdemont could still be sentenced to prison. But if such financial crime sentences are two years or less, they are normally suspended in Spain for first-time offenders.

Mr. Puigdemont is accused of misusing public money to organize an illegal independence referendum on Oct. 1, when he was president of the restive region. Two dozen other Catalan politicians are also facing trial; some are being held in prison, while a handful of others are fighting extradition.

The German court’s decision is the latest twist in a complicated legal battle that gained an international dimension last October, when Mr. Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain, alongside some other members of his former cabinet.

They left shortly after Madrid used emergency constitutional powers to oust Mr. Puigdemont’s administration and place Catalonia under direct rule. In March, while traveling by car from Finland to Belgium, Mr. Puigdemont was arrested by the German police on an international arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge.

In Thursday’s ruling, the German high court of the state of Schleswig-Holstein also ruled that Mr. Puigdemont did not represent a flight risk and therefore should not be taken into police custody before being sent back to Spain.

No date has been set for extradition, but it is expected to happen soon, according to Wiebke Hoffelner, a Schleswig-Holstein state prosecutor.

Mr. Puigdemont could take the difficult route of lodging an appeal before Germany’s constitutional court, if his lawyers can convince the court that his basic human rights were violated. In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Puigdemont’s lawyers said they were considering how to proceed.

Pablo Llarena, the Spanish Supreme Court judge who is presiding over the trial against Mr. Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians, has said that Spain’s judiciary could take the case to the European Court of Justice if Germany blocked Mr. Puigdemont’s extradition on the charges sought by Madrid. There was no immediate response from Judge Llarena to the German decision.

The court’s decision is in line with a preliminary ruling in April, which found that the rebellion charge could not be honored in Germany “because evidence of ‘violence’ is not present.” Violence is a component of the charge in Spain’s legal code.

Since then, however, Spain’s political landscape has changed considerably. A Socialist government took office in Madrid last month, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. His predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, had vehemently opposed Catalonia’s separatist movement, and moved to block an effort to re-elect Mr. Puigdemont as the region’s leader in May.

Mr. Sánchez said on Thursday that his government respected judicial decisions. And although he did not weigh in on whether extradition on the rebellion charge should also have been allowed, he said at a news conference that Spanish society “expected the people involved in the events of the second half of 2017 to be judged by Spanish courts.” He added: “This will happen.”

Writing on Twitter, Mr. Puigdemont welcomed the decision by the German court to strike down “the main lie of the state” by not recognizing the independence referendum as an act of rebellion.

And Quim Torra, who leads a separatist coalition that formed a new Catalan regional government in June, called the German ruling “great news.” He added: “Today the fictitious narrative of the Spanish state has fallen apart.”

On Monday, Mr. Torra visited Madrid to meet with Mr. Sánchez for the first time, an encounter that both men described as positive. The prime minister had previously vowed to “find a political solution to a political crisis” and return to the negotiating table.

Mr. Sánchez, whose weak Socialist government relies in part on support from the Catalan parties, has also allowed the jailed Catalan politicians to be transferred from Madrid to prisons within their region.

In Barcelona, Mr. Torra is also in a fragile position: His unwieldy coalition of separatist parties appears to have run out of political options after the failed independence effort.

Mr. Puigdemont’s return to Spain and a trial of the main Catalan separatist leaders could potentially prolong a dispute that has raised broader concerns about the rule of law in the European Union. On Thursday, some center-right politicians in Spain questioned the purpose of a European arrest warrant if courts in different countries did not apply the same criteria.

When Mr. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels last October, he said his goal was to make Spain’s territorial conflict an international issue and bring Catalonia into “the institutional heart of Europe,” as Brussels is home to the most important institutions of the European Union.

His lawyers said in their statement on Thursday that Mr. Puigdemont was only “being sought for criminal prosecution by the Spanish authorities because he enabled a democratic referendum to take place as instructed by his voters.”

“We are convinced that Germany should not play any part in the criminalization of democratic acts of this kind,” they added, “and that it should stay out of the highly charged domestic disputes of other states.”

Raphael Minder reported from Madrid, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.

The New York Times

Catalan protesters call for return of jailed or exiled leaders

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have taken to the streets of Barcelona to call for the return of the 16 Catalan leaders who are in prison or have fled the country in the aftermath of last October’s unilateral independence referendum.

Sunday’s mass demonstration, which was called by the two main Catalan pro-independence groups and backed by the regional branches of Spain’s two biggest unions, took place under the slogan “For rights and freedoms, for democracy and cohesion, we want you home!”

Police put attendance at 315,000 while the organisers said 750,000 people had turned out to take part in the protest, with the city’s streets once again filled with people dressed in yellow clutching pro-independence estelada flags.

The former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium at the end of October and is on bail in Germany, tweeted that the march was “a great civic and democratic demonstration”, adding: “We are European citizens who just want to live in peace, free and without fear.”

Elsa Artadi, a spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said the event put paid to suggestions that the independence movement was running out of steam.

“We’re once again showing all those who say that the movement is demobilising, or that people are tired, that things aren’t that way,” she said. “We’re here today because there are 16 people in prison or in exile for defending political ideas that represent 2 million people.”

Alex de Ferrer, a 50-year-old IT specialist, told Agence France Presse that he had decided to join the protest as jailing separatist leaders “only serves to manufacture separatists”.

While conceding that the arrests of prominent Catalan leaders on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds had left the independence movement “decapitated”, he said the setback was only temporary.

The involvement of the Catalan branches of the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers’ Union was not universally endorsed as some members oppose the region’s secession.

But the regional secretary general of the latter defended the move. “The majority of Catalans, regardless of their political position, agree that pre-trial jail is not justified,” said Camil Ros. “What we as labour unions are asking for now is dialogue.”

The protest came almost six months after the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded to the illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by sacking Puigdemont’s government and taking direct controlof the region.

Rajoy also called elections in December, a move that backfired after the pro-independence bloc retained its parliamentary majority. Repeated attempts to form a new Catalan government have come to nothing as Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile and two other presidential candidates – Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull – are on remand.

Despite the huge turnout and the talk of cohesion and coexistence, polls suggest Catalans remain deeply and almost evenly divided over the notion of seceding from Spain.

While the overwhelming majority of people in the region favour a legal referendum agreed between Madrid and Barcelona, a recent survey found that support for independence dropped from 48.7% last October to 40.8% in February this year.

An anti-independence rally held in Barcelona last November attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. Police put attendance at 350,000; organisers said 930,000 people took part.

The Guardian

German court bails Puigdemont in extradition hearing

Judges at the upper state court in Schleswig-Holstein ruled against extradition for the rebellion allegation because Puigdemont was not personally involved in violence during a referendum on Catalan independence last October,

That made his actions not punishable under German law, the judges said, rejecting prosecutors’ argument that the Spanish “rebellion” charge was similar enough to Germany’s “high treason” statute to justify an extradition.

The Catalan separatist figurehead could still be extradited on a charge of misusing public funds, the judges added, although “further facts must be clarified and information gathered” in the coming days and weeks.

But meanwhile Puigdemont can leave custody if he fulfils court-imposed conditions including a payment of 75,000 euros ($92,000).

Regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung reported that the politician would also have to report to the police every week and would not be allowed to leave Germany without prosecutors’ consent.

It was not immediately clear when Puigdemont would leave the prison in Neumuenster where he has been held since his arrest on March 25.

‘Outrageous’ charge

German lawyer Till Dunckel told news agency DPA that the bail conditions would be fulfilled as quickly as possible, but that Puigdemont might not leave jail on Thursday evening.

Puigdemont’s German defence team welcomed the court’s decision to set aside the “outrageous” charge of rebellion in a statement.

They “respected” judges’ decision to ask for more information from Spain on the misuse of funds charge in a “case with trend-setting signficance for the European understanding of democracy,” they added.

“[Puigdemont] always said that he had full confidence in the German judiciary,” his Barcelona-based lawyer Jaime Alonso-Cuevillas tweeted.

A Spanish government source told AFP that Madrid “always respects” judicial decisions “whether they please it or not”.

“The government is sure that Spain’s justice system will take the appropriate measures given these new circumstances, to ensure respect for the laws of our country,” the source added.

If extradited only on the charge of misusing public funds, Puigdemont cannot be prosecuted in Spain on the more serious charge of rebellion.

There is no such offence on German law books, although prosecutors had argued that it could be seen as roughly equivalent to the crime of “high treason”.

The misuse of public funds charge relates to the cost of the Catalan independence referendum, estimated at 1.6 million euros by Madrid.

Puigdemont’s lawyers have appealed in Spain against the “rebellion” charge, highlighting that he was not involved in violence.

Flight across Europe

After being removed from office by the central government in Madrid following his unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, Puigdemont fled to Belgium.

He was arrested in northern Germany in late March on the way back from a trip to Finland.

Puigdemont and six political allies escaped Spanish authorities in an attempt to “internationalise” their plight by dragging other European Union countries into the row.

Nine other pro-independence figures are currently in custody, including six members of Puigdemont’s Catalan government and the former president of the Catalan parliament.

Source: AFP – SBSnews, Australia

German court says Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail

A court in northern Germany has ruled that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail while extradition proceedings continue.

The district court in Schleswig set bail for the 55-year-old at €75,000 (£66,000).

Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum.

The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.

Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said.

“There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.”

Puigdemont has written an open letter from prison, urging Catalonia’s parliament to make another attempt to elect jailed separatist activist Jordi Sànchez as the region’s president.

Puigdemont had proposed Sànchez as his number two in the Together for Catalonia party last month, but Spain’s supreme court refused to free him to attend a parliamentary session. Sànchez said in a letter from a Madrid jail published on Thursday that he was ready to try again to be elected.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

The Guardian

Clashes in Barcelona after former Catalan leader is detained in Germany

Mr Puigdemont faces up to 25 years in prison in Spain for organising an illegal referendum on secession last year.

He had entered Germany from Denmark after leaving Finland on Friday when it appeared police would arrest him there and begin an extradition process requested by Spain.

The detention threatens to worsen the Catalan crisis which flared last year when the region made a symbolic declaration of independence, prompting Madrid to take direct rule.

German police said they had arrested Mr Puigdemont in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

Police did not say exactly where Mr Puigdemont, who had been living in Brussels since late October, was being held but Spanish press said he was at a police station in the nearby town of Schuby.

German magazine Focus said Spanish intelligence informed the BKA federal police that Mr Puigdemont was on his way from Finland to Germany. It gave no source for its report.

Police use force against protestors

In Barcelona, police dressed in riot gear struck demonstrators with batons as they tried to push back a large crowd attempting to advance on the office of the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia.

Catalan police have blocked the street and issued a call for people not to gather.

Thousands answered the call by a pro-independence grassroots group to protest in the city centre hours after Mr Puigdemont was detained by German police.

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that 25 Catalan leaders would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state.

Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena also sent five separatist leaders to pre-trial jail. Their detention sparked protests across Catalonia.

German court appeal possible

It is not clear if Mr Puigdemont will be immediately extradited from Germany.

Mr Puigdemont had previously made clear his preference to fight the extradition process from Belgium, where the former Catalan leader was heading at the time of his detention, according to Mr Puigdemont’s spokesman, Joan Maria Pique.

“The president was going to Belgium to put himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice,” Mr Pique said.

The Spanish prosecutor’s office said on Sunday it was working closely with counterparts in Germany and EU agency Eurojust to provide all of the information needed to make the European arrest warrant for Mr Puigdemont effective.

The European arrest warrant system in place since 2004 makes it easier for EU countries to demand the extradition from other EU states of people wanted for crimes, and removes political decision-making from the process.

EU countries issue thousands of such warrants each year.

Mr Puidgemont could take his case to Germany’s highest court, which had in 2005 blocked the extradition to Spain on an EU arrest warrant of a German-Syrian al-Qaeda suspect.

The case of Mamoun Darkazanli sparked a judicial row between the two countries after Germany’s Federal Constitutional court refused to turn over Mr Darkazanli, saying that EU extradition laws designed to speed up the delivery of suspects between member states violated the rights of German citizens.

The Spanish Supreme Court had issued an international arrest warrant against Mr Puigdemont last year but withdrew it in December to avoid the risk of Belgian authorities granting him asylum.

Leaving Belgium had exposed him again to the risk of arrest.


More at ABCnews Melbourne

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont held by German police

German police have detained the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont under a European arrest warrant as he crossed from Denmark into Germany.

Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Brussels since October, was travelling in a car on the way from Finland to Belgium on Sunday when he was detained, having visited Finnish lawmakers in Helsinki.

On Friday the Spanish government reactivated an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who is wanted on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Spain sent a request to the Finnish authorities to detain Puigdemont, who was on a visit to promote the Catalan independence cause. However, the request was written in Spanish and there was a delay while authorities in Madrid had it translated into English. In the meantime, Puigdemont left the country.

In a statement on Sunday, Puigdemont’s press officer said: “Carles Puigdemont has been detained in Germany as he crossed from Denmark en route to Belgium. He has been properly treated throughout and is right now in a police station. He was on his way to Belgium where he would be, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice.”

Ralph Döpper, a deputy general attorney at the state prosecutor in Schleswig-Holstein, told the Guardian he was currently investigating whether Puigdemont would be placed into extradition custody, and he would announce his preliminary findings on Monday morning. On Sunday afternoon Puigdemont was transferred to Neumünster prison in northern Schlewig-Holstein.

Citing “rumours within judicial circles”, the local newspaper Kieler Nachrichten reported that Puigdemont was considering applying for asylum in Germany. The paper added that the chances of an asylum application overriding the European arrest warrant were relatively slim.

News of the arrest sparked protests in Barcelona that turned violent, with three arrests and at least 52 people injured.

A crowd of several thousand people gathered outside the office of the European commission chanting “no more repression” and “general strike”. They later made their way to demonstrate outside the German consulate. There were also traffic go-slows on several main roads.

While the main demonstration passed off peacefully, several hundred protesters tried to break through police cordons around the seat of the Spanish government in the city. They were beaten back by baton charges.

There were also demonstrations in all four of Catalonia’s provincial capitals and major roads were blocked by sit-down protests amid a growing sense that the era of peaceful pro-independence demonstrations is over, despite appeals from the main secessionist parties for calm.

Puigdemont had covered 808 miles (1,300km) of the 1,243-mile car journey when he was stopped at 11.19am, apparently at a petrol station near Schuby on the A7 motorway, 31 miles into German territory, according to his lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas.

According to German media reports, the arrest was made following a tipoff from Spain’s intelligence agency to German federal police’s Sirene bureau, part of a network of information-sharing units for national police in the Schengen area.

Puigdemont could face up to 25 years in prison in Spain if convicted of charges of rebellion and sedition for organising an illegal referendum for Catalonia that led to a unilateral declaration of independence in October.

According to the rules of the European arrest warrant, Germany has up to 60 days to decide whether to extradite him to Spain. If Puigdemont surrenders to be prosecuted, the decision must be made within 10 days.

The international warrant, originally issued in November, was rescinded in December amid Spanish concerns that Belgium would not extradite Puigdemont for the more serious charges against him as they are not on the Belgian statute books.

Were he to be extradited only on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds, he could be tried only for that offence.

Germany can extradite suspects only if the alleged offence is also punishable under German law. There is no such crime as rebellion under German law, but there is a crime of high treason, defined as using force or the threat of force to undermine the constitutional order.

The Catalan unilateral declaration of independence was entirely peaceful, if unlawful, although Spanish authorities may argue there was an implicit threat of force. The crime of sedition was dropped from German law in the 1970s.

The arrest warrant was reactivated on Friday, as were similar warrants for other Catalan fugitives – Lluís Puig, Meritxell Serret and Toni Comín, who are all in Belgium, and Clara Ponsati, currently in Scotland where she is teaching at the University of St Andrews. Authorities in Scotland confirmed they had received the warrant, and Ponsati was said to be negotiating to turn herself in to police.

Warrants were also issued for the arrest of Marta Rovira, secretary general of the secessionist Republican Left party, and Anna Gabriel, of the radical Popular Unity Candidacy, both of whom have sought refuge in Switzerland.

On Friday a Spanish supreme court judge, Pablo Llarena remanded in custody Jordi Turull, the third and latest candidate for the vacant Catalan presidency, and four others, among them a former speaker of the Catalan parliament. They join Oriol Junqueras, leader of Republican Left, and three others already held on remand in Madrid jails.

Police are treating a graffiti attack outside a house that Llarena owns in Girona in northern Catalonia as an attempt at coercion. Catalan activists painted slogans in the road outside the house denouncing the judge as a “fascist”.

More at The Guardian

Burning King’s Picture Is Free Speech, European Court Warns Spain

The European Court of Human Rights said on Tuesday that Spain had wrongfully condemned two Catalans for publicly burning a photograph of the king and queen, saying that the act was justifiable political criticism.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges said they were “not convinced” that the burning “could reasonably be construed as incitement to hatred or violence.”

The decision from the European court, which is based in Strasbourg, France, comes as Spain has mounted a series of challenges to freedom of expression by social media users as well as rappers and other artists. Many of them have been prosecuted on charges of violating antiterrorism laws introduced in 2015 by the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The protest case, however, dates from 2007, when Catalan secessionism was still a fringe political movement. More recently, the northeastern region of Catalonia has become the epicenter of a territorial and constitutional crisis that culminated in a botched declaration of independence last October.

In September 2007, Enric Stern and Jaume Roura set fire to a life-size, upside-down photograph of the royal couple during a visit by King Juan Carlos I to the northeastern city of Girona.

The two men were initially sentenced to 15 months in prison for insulting the monarchy — a felony in Spain. The sentence was later reduced to a fine of 2,700 euros, or about $3,300, each. The defendants took their case to the European court after Spain’s Constitutional Court refused to hear their appeal. The European court ordered Spain to reimburse the fines imposed and pay for legal costs.

In its ruling, the court said that the photo burning “had not been a personal attack on the king of Spain geared to insulting and vilifying his person, but a denunciation of what the king represented as the head and the symbol of the state apparatus and the forces which, according to the applicants, had occupied Catalonia.”

The Spanish government did not have any immediate reaction to the ruling.

Picture-burning protests have become more common as the drive toward the creation of an independent Catalan republic has gathered steam. In late 2016, politicians from the Popular Unity Candidacy, a far-left Catalan party, ripped photographs of the current monarch, King Felipe VI, during a news conference that was held to protest prosecutions of demonstrators who burned royal photographs.

This week, an Amnesty International report, headlined “Tweet if you dare,” condemned Spain’s use of counterterrorism legislation to prosecute people who posted social media messages judged to “glorify terrorism.” The report concluded that the toughening of the law in 2015 had led to “increasing self-censorship and a broader chilling effect on freedom of expression in Spain.”

By Raphael Minder 13 March 2018

The New York Times

Anger from Catalonia as Spain threatens direct rule on language

Secessionists accused Madrid of -authoritarian behaviour and inflaming Spanish nationalism with the proposal to use Article 155 to impose changes in Catalan education – an issue that has long been a political and social battleground.

The outcry came after the Spanish Ministry of Education confirmed such a move was under discussion, following a meeting between Mr Rajoy and two Catalan groups that advocate -bilingual education.

The proposed change could allow parents in Catalonia to choose greater teaching in Castilian Spanish. At present, state schools teach almost entirely in Catalan, with Castilian usually restricted to Spanish literature and language classes.

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan independence leader currently vying to be returned to the presidency, accused Mr Rajoy of using the issue to fan divisions. Tweeting from his voluntary -exile in Brussels late on Thursday night, he said the government in -Madrid was “supercharging” Spanish nationalism and “trying to divide Catalan students by their language”.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, said the issue went beyond political positions, insisting: “We will not let anyone touch our educational model.”

The initiative is still under discussion, and Spanish government sources suggested it would likely be weeks -before the details were confirmed.

The groups which met with Mr -Rajoy – AMES and the Societat Civil Catalana – have respectively called for parents to be able to choose studies “also using Castilian Spanish as a -vehicular language”, and for a mandated minimum level of 25 per cent of teaching in Spanish.

News of the proposal was welcomed by both groups yesterday.

But it was denounced by educational organisations including USTEC, the largest Catalan teachers’ union, whose spokesperson Ramon Font warned it would stop at nothing to prevent “the attack” from Madrid.

Mr Rajoy’s government has pushed back against the encroachment of Catalan, not only in Catalonia but in the autonomous communities of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, where variations of the language are also taking a greater hold in the public sector.

Critics claim that the predominance of Catalan in schools disadvantages students, and they link it to what they say is pro-independence indoctrination in education.

In 2013, a controversial education reform mandated greater use of Castilian Spanish, but this has not been implemented in Catalonia.

The Age, Melbourne

Catalan crisis rekindled as parliament proposes Puigdemont as leader

Rodrigo De Miguel, Teis Jensen

Catalonia’s parliament nominated former leader Carles Puigdemont, sacked by Spain for unilaterally declaring independence, as candidate to rule the region again in a sign of defiance to Madrid and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government.

Puigdemont and his supporters say he can rule from self-imposed exile in Belgium, where he fled to in October to avoid arrest for his part in organizing a banned referendum on a split from Spain and the consequent declaration of independence.

Madrid has rejected this possibility and said it will challenge any attempt by him to rule remotely in the courts.

Puigdemont said on Monday the independence movement would not bow to Spanish authority in comments during a debate held in the University of Copenhagen.

“We will not surrender to authoritarianism,” Puigdemont said at the event, which marked his first trip away from Belgium in three months.

Puigdemont became the top candidate to lead the wealthy northeastern region again after elections in Catalonia last month gave secessionists a slim majority.

The 55-year old former journalist potentially faces decades of jail in Spain if he is convicted of the charges leveled against him, including rebellion and sedition, for organizing the referendum and declaring Catalonia’s independence.

Rajoy and his ministers have said they would appeal to the courts and maintain Madrid’s direct rule of Catalonia if Puigdemont was elected while abroad.

However, the Catalan parliament’s speaker said Puigdemont was the only candidate chosen by parliament to rule the region.

“I am conscious of the warnings that weigh upon him, but I am also conscious of his absolute legitimacy to be candidate,” Roger Torrent said.

Catalonia’s parliament must hold its first vote of confidence on the new leader by Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Supreme Court rejected on Monday a request from the state prosecutor to reactivate a European arrest warrant to detain Puigdemont while he is in Copenhagen.

While at first glance a blow to Madrid’s efforts to have Puigdemont arrested, the court’s decision could also make it more difficult for the former Catalan leader to be allowed to vote.

Spanish laws make it easier for someone in detention than for someone who is abroad to be granted a parliamentary proxy.

In Copenhagen, Puigdemont declined to comment any further on the day’s events.

After weeks of uneasy calm, the political crisis triggered by Catalonia’s independence drive flared up again last week when the new regional parliament elected Torrent as speaker at its first sitting.

Despite that tension, Spain’s borrowing costs fell to six-week lows on Monday after credit agency Fitch upgraded its sovereign rating to gave Spain its first “A-” grade since the euro zone debt crisis.

According the Danish parliament’s diary, Puigdemont has also been invited to a meeting there on Tuesday by Magni Arge, a deputy representing the Faroe Islands, which have their own independence movement seeking secession from Denmark.



Catalan independence movement takes control upon parliament’s return in boost for exiled Puigdemont

The independence movement in Catalonia regained control of the troubled region’s parliament without difficulties when it assembled on Wednesday for the first time since December’s elections – but their attempts to elect nationalist leader Carles Puigdemont as president-in-exile will likely not prove so straightforward.

Earlier this week Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a strongly-worded warning that direct rule from Madrid will continue if Mr Puigdemont, who faces almost certain arrest if he returns to Catalonia from Belgium, attempts to govern remotely.

“It is absurd that somebody tries to become president of Catalonia whilst they’re in Brussels,” Mr Rajoy said.

“It’s not a political or legal problem, it’s a question of common sense,” he added. “You cannot be sworn in as president from Brussels and without a president, article 155” – the part of Spanish legislation that permits direct rule  – “would continue.”

With their narrow overall majority confirmed in December’s snap elections, the Nationalists won an important initial vote when Republican Roger Torrent was elected new speaker and head of its governing committee, key to deciding which legislation is voted on by parliament.

Overall, the session was much quieter than the fraught pro-independence parliamentary debates of last autumn, when the Catalan parliament last met before direct rule was applied.

But on Wednesday the eight empty MPs’ seats in the nationalist benches constituted a powerful reminder of the huge underlying challenges this parliament faces in a region where pro-and anti-independence support is almost equally divided.

Three of the secessionist MPs are in jail, whilst another five, including Mr Puigdemont, are in exile, and all eight face charges of sedition and rebellion.

The missing MPs seats were bedecked with yellow ribbons, symbols of the campaign for the release of the three jailed lawmakers, including former Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras. All three imprisoned MPs were permitted to delegate their votes to colleagues in parliament.

But despite their return to power, any attempt by the Nationalist-run governing committee to nominate Mr Puigdemont would place the separatists once again on a legal collision course with the Spanish government.

With the 31 January deadline to select a new president approaching, rumours are growing that Mr Puigdemont might attempt a daring return to Catalonia.

There is even speculation that he could emulate WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and seek diplomatic immunity in a foreign consulate in Barcelona, and recently Mr Puigdemont posted an enigmatic photo of people walking along the French side of the Catalan border, with the single word camins, meaning “road”, written underneath.

However, a Spanish Customs house was also visible in the photo’s background, an apt reminder of the considerable political, and legal, obstacles Mr Puigdemont may well now face.

More: The Independent