Carles Puigdemont, former head of government of Catalonia, left the prison in the north of Germany after a regional court ruled against his extradition.
At the gate of the Neumünster prison in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Puigdemont thanked the German authorities for their correct and respectful treatment. Shortly before 2 p.m., he issued a brief statement demanding the release of his colleagues in Spain. According to him, it’s a disgrace that there are political prisoners in Europe. He and his companions fought not only for Catalonia’s independence, but also for democratic rights, which were not guaranteed in Spain. “We are continuing on our Catalan road to non-violence, stronger and more determined than ever before,” Spanish media quoted the 55-year-old.
The day before, the Higher Regional Court of Schleswig-Holstein had approved Puigdemont’s extradition to Spain on charges of embezzlement of public funds, but had suspended the associated arrest warrant against conditions. According to Spanish reports, the two Catalan separatist associations ANC and Omnium Cultural raised the bail of 75,000 euros.
Consternation in Madrid
The press in Madrid shows incomprehension and indignation about the German judiciary. Satisfaction prevails in Barcelona. In general, the ruling is seen as a serious setback for Madrid’s strategy against Catalan separatism.
“The German judiciary does not live up to its expectations,” the conservative Madrid newspaper ABC says. It fears that this setback will shake up the entire strategy of the Spanish government and the Spanish judiciary against Catalan separatism if the (formal) leader of the rebellion – thus the accusation of the Spanish prosecuting authorities – cannot be prosecuted for rebellion. In the worst case, Puigdemont, Catalonia’s former head of government, would be re-elected. This scenario is now attracting more attention again.
It is also argued that failure by Germany – but also by Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland – to enforce a European arrest warrant or extradition request amounts to disregard for the sovereignty of Spain. Polemically, there is talk of “paradises of justice”. The conservative “El Mundo” expresses a similar position: By refusing to extradite according to the Spanish application, the court is supposedly showing that it mistrusts the Spanish judiciary. Apparently, according to El Mundo, in Germany’s view the Spanish courts are “not of European standing”. If European solidarity, however, were not sufficient to ward off coups d’état, then the EU would be a failed project.
“El País” reports that circles of the Supreme Court in Madrid do not understand at all the court decision in Schleswig-Holstein that Puigdemont can only be prosecuted for embezzlement of public funds, but not for rebellion (or treason). According to them, it is not possible to explain how a second-level provincial court in a distant German federal state came to judge events in Spain without knowledge of the evidence available to the Spanish examining magistrate – here the issue of the use of force in connection with the illegal independence referendum was at the centre. It is further reported that the Spanish Supreme Court will probably waive an appeal in order to bring Puigdemont to justice in Spain as quickly as possible, even if the charge of rebellion had to be dropped.
Satisfaction in Barcelona
Satisfaction, on the other hand, prevails in Barcelona. “La Vanguardia” – the newspaper has always spoken out against the separatists’ course, but has also sharply criticised the actions of the government and the judiciary in Madrid – notes that the Spanish supreme court is now in a lonely position with its charges of rebellion. The German court in Schleswig-Holstein has now found that the accusation of rebellion goes too far in view of the non-violent actions of the Catalan separatists. The newspaper also points out that the Spanish criminal prosecution authorities have just waived their claim for rebellion in the proceedings against the Catalan police leadership, with an explicit reference to the lack of violence.
The Catalan-language and separatist-friendly newspaper “Ara” writes that at least Germany is still a country of law. The decision in Schleswig means a turnaround for all the court proceedings in Spain. It is hard to imagine that several leaders of separatism would be accused and convicted of rebellion, but not the head of the alleged rebellion.