Carles Puigdemont and his judge eagerly awaited the decision of the European Court of Justice.

It could be another step to facilitate the extradition of the former Catalan regional president.

After the illegal independence referendum, the Catalan separatist fled to Belgium in November 2017, where he is now a member of the European Parliament.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg limited Belgium's ability to refuse to extradite Catalan separatists.

Hans Christian Roessler

Political correspondent for the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb based in Madrid.

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The CJEU was actually dealing with former Catalan culture minister Lluís Puig, but his case also has implications for Puigdemont.

Spain is demanding the extradition of the minister, whom prosecutors have accused of embezzlement and disobedience.

According to the Belgian judges, the Supreme Court in Madrid does not have jurisdiction;

the case belongs before Catalan courts.

In addition, fundamental rights such as the presumption of innocence could be endangered in the event of an extradition.

Judge: European Arrest Warrant may only exceptionally not be enforced

The Spanish investigating judge Pablo Llarena had put a question to the court in 2021 about the Belgian judiciary's refusal to extradite the Catalans to Spain.

The ECJ has now emphasized that the refusal to execute a European arrest warrant must have an “exceptional character”.

This could only be the case, for example, in the event of a possible violation of fundamental rights.

Last summer, Advocate General Jean Richard de la Tour largely endorsed the Spanish position, stating in his application that Belgium could not question the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to issue a European Arrest Warrant.

Nor could it refuse extradition for a possible violation of fundamental rights unless it could be proven that Spain was systematically violating the fundamental rights of a larger group.

For the Spanish investigating judge, the decision of the ECJ means a stage victory.

In a further step, the European judiciary will finally clarify in the next few months whether the European Parliament has rightly lifted Puigdemont's immunity.

In March 2021, the European Parliament revoked this legal protection because, according to a majority of Parliament, Puigdemont and his fellow campaigners in Spain were accused of crimes that predated their membership in the Strasbourg House.

The first instance court of the European Union (EuG) dismissed an action against this decision as inadmissible last July.

The Catalans Puigdemont and Antoni Comín, who were elected to the EU Parliament in 2019, are therefore still unable to take up their mandates.

In Spain, the most recent criminal law reform is also helping to make it easier to extradite Puigdemont.

Judge Llarena recently updated the warrant for his arrest.

After the deletion of the "riot" offense, Puigdemont is only accused of embezzling taxpayers' money and "disobedience".

Because of the use of state funds for the 2017 referendum on Catalan independence, which was banned by the Spanish judiciary, he and his fellow campaigners Toni Comín and Lluís Puig could face several years in prison.

According to Spanish lawyers, extradition for this crime, which also exists in other European countries, would be easier than for the riot charge, which does not exist as a criminal offense elsewhere.

Earlier Spanish extradition requests had been rejected by courts in Belgium, Germany and Scotland because they did not recognize the initial accusation of "rebellion".

In 2019, Spain's Supreme Court also ruled that the "episodes of violence" that occurred before and after the 2017 referendum were not serious enough to be convicted of rebellion.