Spain’s withdrawal of an arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ex-leader was almost inevitable

Resting easier?
Resting easier?
Image: Reuters/Ives Herman
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A Spanish judge withdrew an arrest warrant today for the former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and four other ministers who relocated to Belgium after declaring independence from Spain and subsequently lost their jobs when Madrid took control of the restive region.

For those who understand European Arrest Warrant system, the move was inevitable.

Last month, Spain’s central government issued the warrants for Puigdemont and four of his allies—Meritxell Serret, former agriculture minister; Antoni Comín, former health minister; Lluís Puig, former culture minister; and Clara Ponsatí, former education minister. For pursuing Catalan independence after Spanish courts deemed an October referendum illegal, they were charged with rebellion, sedition, and the misuse of public funds. Despite the withdrawal of the warrants today, the judge in Spain said the group still faced possible charges for sedition and rebellion, with the latter carrying up to 30 years in prison.

However, as Quartz pointed out before, rebellion and sedition are not part of the European Union’s list of 32 offenses in which the charges only need to be considered a crime in the issuing country in order to trigger extradition within 60 days. (Spain issued the warrants in early November.) That gives Belgium more discretion to consider Spain’s extradition request. The charge of misusing public funds may present a clearer case for extradition, but was somewhat muddled by the mix of charges in the warrants.

There is also a question that if the former leaders were returned to Spain, it could violate their human rights, under EU law, based on political discrimination. All have said they would not return unless they were guaranteed a fair trial.

A court in Belgium is expected to decide whether to extradite the former leaders later this month. Catalonia will hold fresh regional elections on Dec. 21, called by the central government after it took direct control of the region. Many of the ministers sacked by Madrid after the referendum are standing for seats again.