Court withdraws EU arrest warrant for Catalan separatist leaders


WikiTribune’s been covering the Catalan crisis since its inception

A Spanish Supreme Court judge withdrew an international arrest order for Catalan former regional president Carles Puigdemont and four of his counselors on December 5. The date coincided with the start of the region’s electoral campaign that will see Catalonian voters elect a new government on December 21. However, according to Spanish daily El País, there is still a national arrest warrant for the five, who face potential charges of rebellion and sedition back home.

In a court document published December 5 (only available in Spanish), Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said his decision to withdraw the international arrest warrant was partly based on Puigdemont’s display of willingness to return to Catalonia to campaign in the December 21 regional elections.

It remains unclear whether Puigdemont will return to Spain after the judge’s decision.

Llarena also argued that withdrawing the arrest warrant would let Spain take full control over the investigation.

Prior to Llarena’s December 5 decision, Puigdemont and his four associates were awaiting a Belgian judge’s verdict on whether to hand them over to the Spanish courts, which was expected December 14.

Catalonian politicians denied bail

On December 4, Llarena refused bail for four former Catalonian separatist leaders including the region’s ousted vice president, Oriol Junqueras. All were facing potential charges of sedition. A bail of €100,000 each was set for another six separatist former cabinet ministers for their part in the controversial push for Catalan independence that culminated with Madrid dismissing then-regional president Carles Puigdemont’s government and imposing direct rule over the region.

Llarena’s highly-anticipated decision came one day before the start of a heated Catalonian electoral campaign, with elections December 21, which Madrid called after dissolving the region’s semi-autonomous status. Reuters reports that the central government hopes early elections will help lay to rest the nation’s worst political crisis since its return to democracy afater the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Joan Culla, a professor of contemporary Catalan history at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a former commentator for Spanish daily El País, told WikiTribune that he believes these elections are “exceptional and dramatic”.

At play for separatists is their movement’s survival, Culla said, while for Catalan unionists, these elections will determine whether what they see as the “nightmare of the danger of the rupture of Spanish unity” continues.

The separatists could lose their parliamentary absolute majority, according to a survey by leading Spanish pollster CIS (link available only in Spanish). Ciudadanos, a self-described liberal progressive party that opposes independence, leads with 22.5 percent.

Polling a close second was separatist center-left Esquerra Republicana, with 20.8 percent.

The poll had a sample size of 3,000 voters, a 95.5 percent confidence level, a margin of error of ±1.8 percent, and was conducted between November 23 and November 27.

Sebastian Balfour, emeritus professor of contemporary Spanish studies at the London School of Economics, told WikiTribune in an email on December 1: “I suspect the decision by Llarena (who was expected to release the ten on bail) may be to do with the slightly different responses given by the ten. He may wish to vary the level of bail according to these responses. I don’t think this variation will have much of an impact on the electoral campaign.”

Llarena’s decision not to release Junqueras; former minister of the interior Joaquim Forn; and two leaders of separatist civil groups ANC and Omnium Cultural, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, respectively, was based on his judgment that they present the risk of criminal reiteration. 

In a court document (only available in Spanish), Llarena said his decision takes into account “the probability that acts with grave, immediate and irreparable consequences for the community can reoccur.”

Junqueras is the president and leadership candidate for Esquerra Republicana. Under Spanish law, Junqueras can still run in the regional elections called by Madrid after it imposed direct rule on Catalonia following the Carles Puigdemont government’s failed push for independence.

If they make bail, the other six separatist leaders will have to surrender their passports. They also will have to attend weekly hearings at a court of their convenience, according to several local news agencies (El Pais, El Periódico de Catalunya, Eldiario.es, La Vanguardia).

Eight of the political leaders were arrested on November 2, while Sànchez and Cuixart were arrested in mid-October.

As well as Culla, the expert on Catalonia at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Wikipedia discussed the upcoming election with Jorge Galindo, a Spanish sociologist, political scientist and founding member of Politikon, an independent website for social and political commentary with a focus on Spain.

Why are the December 21 elections crucial?

Galindo believes these elections are crucial because the separatists are tacitly acknowledging a change of strategy.

“The simple fact that the separatists, after having unilaterally declared the independence of Catalonia, are now presenting themselves for elections called by Madrid implies that they have implicitly accepted that unilateralism – the path they have been on for the past month and a half – doesn’t work because they are not willing to pay the costs that entails,” Galindo said, referring to the potentially lengthy prison terms and hefty fines separatist leaders might incur if found guilty.

“Now, if the independence bloc manages to win another majority [in Parliament] on December 21, they will have to reassess this question. And they will reassess it in the same terms,” Galindo said. “Because on one hand they have a voter base that believes that unilateralism is the only exit for Catalonia, but on the other they have the costs associated with that unilateralism that they aren’t willing to assume. And that is the contradiction that is playing out in this election and what happens after.”

For Culla, these are “exceptional and dramatic” elections, given, among other things, that they were called following Madrid’s unprecedented imposition of direct rule over Catalonia, and the subsequent arrest of several separatist leaders.

And after two months of increasingly acrimonious confrontations between separatists and the Spanish state on a national level, and Catalan separatists and unionists on a regional stage, Culla believes the elections are being treated by both sides with the utmost gravity.

“At the moment, for separatists, the December 21 elections are going to determine whether Catalonia’s identity is going to be razed like is being announced by the spokespeople for the PP [Popular Party, the ruling Spanish party]. Now, for the other half of the Catalonian electorate, these elections will determine whether what for them is the nightmare of the danger of the rupture of Spanish unity will continue or will end.”

WikiTribune’s been covering the Catalan crisis since its inception

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