The Spanish Supreme Court Is Expected to Withdraw Puigdemont’s Extradition Order

Spanish Supreme Court Judge Llarena is expected to withdraw the extradition order against exiled Catalan President Puigdemont in the next few days. On Thursday, the German court of Schleswig-Holstein decided to extradite Puigdemont for embezzlement, but not for rebellion, the charge sought by the Spanish Supreme Court.

This decision compromises Judge Llarena’s instruction against the ex-members of the Catalan government who held the referendum. 

Given that the acceptance of Puigdemont’s extradition would mean that he, “ex-leader” of the Catalan government, would be judged neither for rebellion nor for sedition, Judge Llarena has apparently decided to reject his extradition in order to be able to judge the rest of imprisoned Catalan leaders for rebellion without showing a lack of justice in Spain.

The image of President Puigdemont, “ex-leader” of the Catalan government, being judged for the minor crime of misusing public funds, with maximum penalties of up to 6 years in prison, while the rest of Catalan leaders, who played a minor role in the organization of the independence referendum, are judged for rebellion with penalties of up to 30 years in prison,would be controversial and would make evident the lack of justice and the non- existence of separation of powers in Spain.

Llarena already withdrew another extradition request for Puigdemont and three former ministers in Belgium last December. But he re-activated it after a few months, which caused outrage across European governments, which said that the judge was abusing the extradition request system.

Llarena may also take another unlikely path, taking the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). However, he appears not to be willing to take the risk of losing an appeal at a European court since it would show the lack of justice in Spain and would probably force him to release all Catalan political prisoners.

Requesting a preliminary ruling for the CJEU is a legal procedure, which enables courts of member states to question the interpretation or validity of an EU law.

If the Spanish Supreme Court requests the ruling, Puigdemont’s extradition would be frozen until it is resolved, which could take up to 16 months.

On the other hand, if Llarena doesn’t take any action, the extradition would take place in a few weeks, unless Puigdemont’s defense appeals the decision at the court of Schleswig-Holstein or at the German Constitutional Court.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said they were planning to appeal at the German Constitutional Court. “It might be a denial of the extradition.”

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PNV supports Spain’s Budget despite Promising the Contrary

On Wednesday, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) voted in favor of Spain’s State Budget despite promising its voters and the Catalans that it would never ever support it unless the Rajoy administration lifted the direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155). A PNV spokesman said, “The party made such a decision out of ‘responsibility.’ It will help improve the living conditions of the Basque people.”

In the past few months, we expressed our intention to reject Spain’s budget for 2018 if the direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155) remained in place, this was a matter of principles,” read an official statement by the party.

PNB representatives lead by Joseba Egibar recognized on Thursday that they had broken their promises over Catalonia, and the fact that they weren’t able to de-activate Spain’s direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155) because apparently they “miscalculated” their capacity of influence.

The PNV had been very critical of the Rajoy administration since he implemented a direct rule over Catalonia. However, yesterday’s decision to support Spain’s Budget by breaking its promises suggests that from the beginning, PNV’s real intentions were to take advantage of the existing political situation in Catalonia in order to negotiate a better funding for the Basque Country.

If the PNV had voted against the budget, the Rajoy administration would have lost the chamber, which might have forced a snap/quick election in the next few months.

The PNV had strong incentives to support Rajoy’s ‘corrupt’ government. The budget includes €570 million in investments destined for the Basque country. In a hypothetical new election, the opposition party C’s could have won the majority of seats in Parliament. C’s has been very critical of the high degree of financial autonomy in the Basque country and announced a few weeks ago that if it ever gets the presidency, it will break all the existing financial pacts between Spain and the Basque Country.

A spokesperson for the Basque government, Josu Erkoreka, also criticized Catalan President Torra for appointing jailed and exiled ministers, which in his personal opinion, has prevented the Spanish government from lifting the direct rule (Article 155) over Catalonia. “There is no doubt he was aware of the effect and consequences of his actions,” he said.

A wide range of political parties, including the pro-independence ones, the Spanish Podemos, and the Basque EH Bildu, have accused the PNV of breaking its promises with Catalan people and being responsible for “keeping” the PP, a corrupt party, in power.

On Thursday, Spain’s ruling PP’s party was fined 250k by the Spanish National Court for illegal funding in a case which involves accusations of kickbacks in exchange for giving contracts to a network of businesspeople bidding for venders.

Former PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined €44 million. The businessman and leader of the corruption plot, Francisco Correa, was sentenced to 51 years in jail. The Spanish National Court also sentenced the former PP member and businessman, Pablo Crespo, to 37 years behind bars. Twenty-six more people involved in the case were also sentenced to prison or fined.

PNV’s decision to support the Rajoy administration will definitely benefit them in the short term since they will be able to maintain a high degree of power in the Basque Country. Nevertheless, it may also backfire against them in the near future when they will need support from the Catalan administration, which feels betrayed.  They may also face problems in next elections, since most of their voters support Catalonia’s bid for independence and more importantly, democracy. It’s believed that the opposition Basque pro-independence party, EH Bildu, will get a high percentage of votes from ex-PNV voters since they have remained loyal to the Catalan people and their legitimate aspirations.

President Quim Torra

The new presidential candidate, Quim Torra (JxCat), is well-known for his fierce defense of the Catalan Republic. Ex-president of Òmnium Cultural, one of the major Catalan pro-independence organizations, Torra was chosen by President Puigdemont to lead a provisional government aimed at the construction of the Republic.

Quim Torra was born in Blanes, a small town on the north side of Barcelona, in 1962. He has a degree in law, was director of the Born Cultural Centre until 2015 and director of the Centre of Studies of Contemporary Topics of the Catalan government until last October.

Torra presented his MP candidacy for JxCat as an independent. He isn’t a member of any political party. He also formed part of the team which negotiated the government manifesto with CUP and ERC in advance of an expected investiture. His presidential candidacy comes after the Spanish Constitutional Court blocked the investiture of Puigdemont, the legitimate President of Catalonia, who then activated the plan “D,” the provisional investiture of Torra until he can be sworn in later by the legislature.

The expectation is that Torra will be elected as President of Catalonia in a second round on Monday after not achieving an absolute majority in the first round on Saturday after the CUP decided to keep its abstention in its political council held on Sunday.

Although unlikely, if the Spanish government or the Constitutional Court decides to block Torra’s investiture, there will be a new election in two months.

German Parliament President, Wolfgang Schäuble, asks Spain to de-escalate the conflict with Catalonia

German Parliament president, Wolfgang Schäuble, asked Spain on Friday to de-escalate the conflict with Catalonia.

“We have to shape globalization such that people don’t feel lost. To that end, the Spanish are advised to solve the problem in a way that the Catalans can live with,” he said.

Catalan president Puigdemont was detained and held in a German prison since last week. In response to requests that he be released, Schäuble said that his country has to respect the rules of the European Arrest Warrant.

“The decision over Puigdemont seems anything but trivial. Now it’s in the hands of the justice system, in which I have full confidence,” said Schäuble.

He also said that the German government won’t intervene in Puigdemont’s extradition case, arguing that there must be separation of powers between politics and the justice system.

Puigdemont has been in prison in Neumünster – in the north of Germany – since he was detained and taken into custody by German authorities last week, while traveling to Belgium to face his extradition case there. His German lawyer, Wolfgang Schomburg, had unsuccessfully called through the media for Merkel’s government to stop Puigdemont’s extradition.

Schomburg, one of today’s best German lawyers, believes that the German courts will reject the extradition request, but, if they don’t, he will take the case to the Constitutional Court.

A German government representative, Steffen Seibert, expressed his support for the Spanish government, arguing that this is an “internal matter” which must be resolved in accordance with the Spanish Constitution and laws.

On Saturday, Puigdemont sent his first message from prison:

“I won’t give up, and I won’t step aside when faced with the illegitimate actions of those who lost at the ballot box, nor when faced with the arbitrariness of those who are willing to pay the price of abandoning the rule of law and justice for the unity of the motherland.”

Imminent Internal Restructuring of ERC and PDeCAT

The failure of the negotiations for the formation of a new government between pro-independence parties in the last two months, has forced ERC and PDeCAT to carry out a deep internal restructure.

Numerous influential groups within PDeCAT are demanding that the leadership call for an ideologically extreme congress aimed at establishing a new strategy. They argue that PDeCAT is not defending the mandate of the latest election: the immediate implementation of the Catalan Republic. They also accuse the current party leadership of betraying Puigdemont, arguing that they only defended his candidacy at the last moment, which ultimately led to his resignation and the nomination of the jailed Jordi Sánchez as new candidate.

ERC has also announced that it will soon hold an ideological conference aimed at unifying the party and choose a new strategy. This move comes after numerous ERC representatives from numerous cities across the country publicly showed disagreement with the leadership of the party. They argued that ERC has given up on construction of the Catalan Republic due to their fear of repression by Spain. That is why they are also demanding that all the leaders of the party who are scared of ending up in prison must step aside and allow new members who are willing to disobey Spain to implement the Republic.

Sources close to the leadership recently said that they won’t resign and will instead try to impose a new strategy, aimed at respecting the current Spanish legal framework and implementing measures to grow social support for independence. However, the party bases appear to be willing to push until their resignation.

Jordi Sánchez Nominated as Presidential Candidate

On Monday, Catalan Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, nominated the jailed leader, Jordi Sànchez, as a presidential candidate. One day later, he also announced that the investiture session to swear Sànchez in will be held in  Parliament next Monday at 10 am.

The Spanish government warned that they won’t allow him to become president. However, the final decision will be made by the Spanish Supreme Court.

According to an important number of jurists, if Judge Llarena, who is leading the case against Catalan pro-independence leaders, does not allow Sànchez to be sworn in as President, he would be prevaricating. Thus, if Sànchez appeals that possible decision to higher courts, including the European ones and wins, the whole case against Catalan pro-independence leaders would be nullified. And all the Catalan political prisoners would have to be released immediately. 

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Dual Government in Catalonia?

Pro-independence parties have restarted talks on the formation of an effective government in Catalonia. The negotiations broke down two weeks ago, following a wave of mutual reproaches and criticism. However, the announcement of the Spanish government that it will use its direct rule over Catalonia to eliminate Catalan as a vernacular language at schools has forced ERC and JxCat to understand each other and accelerate their negotiations.

A number of possible formulas to swear in Puigdemont as president are under discussion. The possibility of forming a dual government with some members in Brussels and others in Barcelona appears to be the most feasible one. In an interview with ACN (Catalan News Agency), Elsa Artadi (JxCat) said that her party and the ERC are preparing the necessary logistics to make it possible to govern from both places.

She also said that Puigdemont has to be sworn in even though the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Spanish government are determined to prevent it from happening. She explains that Puigdemont cannot be just a symbolic figure. For her candidacy, she has to “govern, be part of the executive power and have complete legitimacy.” Artadi added that Puigdemont should be the leader of the country, the one “setting the tone” of Catalonia’s politics.

The debate between the ERC and JxCat is developing on the assumption that part of the Catalan government will be in Brussels and the other in Barcelona. While Artadi said that Puigdemont should be able to return to Catalonia after being sworn in, the chances of that happening are remote since there aren’t sufficient guarantees that he wouldn’t be imprisoned.

Similarly, other sources from the negotiations admitted that they still have to find a formula to guarantee a normal pace of activity in the Parliament.

JxCat and ERC representatives announced yesterday that their negotiations have progressed significantly. However, they won’t announce any agreement at least until the end of next week or the following one. They said that they don’t want to prejudice the legal strategy of numerous members of JxCat and ERC, including its current leaders, who will have to appear in the Spanish Supreme Court for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public money over the next few days. They believe that the announcement of an agreement could cause their immediate imprisonment.

The major Catalan pro-independence organization, ANC, adds pressure on pro-independence parties

Last week, the ANC Executive Assembly decided to warn ERC and JxCat that if they did not reach an agreement soon on forming a government, respecting the mandate of the latest election, they will organize mass protests against them. It also encouraged the future Catalan government to disobey the Spanish government and the Spanish Constitutional Court because it is the only possible way to implement the Catalan Republic.

On February 25th, 50,000 members of the ANC will define its new road-map for the next two years. The one proposed by the direction includes the organization of permanent protests across Catalonia in order to defend the Catalan Republic. According to them, it is time for civil society to take part in the fight for independence, stressing that without mass protests and mass disobedience coming from society the Catalan Republic will never become a reality. It also added that the actions of political parties are limited due to judicial processes against their leaders and members. And finally, it encouraged other grassroots organizations to coordinate protests in order to build the Catalan Republic.