January 30, 2018
Will Puigdemont be Catalan premier today?
This afternoon the Catalan parliament has scheduled a session for the appointment of Carles Puigdemont as regional premier. Will it come to pass, and how? The situation is that Spain's Constitutional Court has issued an injunction instructing the board of the Catalan parliament that the appointment of Puigdemont cannot happen if he's not present, that he needs a judge's authorisation to attend as long as there is an arrest order for him, and that the rest of the jailed or escaped MPs also cannot delegate their vote. This leaves open the possibility that Puigdemont might ultimately be appointed after receiving a court authorisation to attend the session because, despite the screams of Spanish nationalists, Puigdemont has his political rights intact so long as there isn't a firm guilty verdict for a crime punishable with a bar from public office.
Meanwhile, all the other Catalan MPs who fled to Brussels have given up their seats for alternates, so the separatists have a majority assured, for the appointment of Puigdemont or someone else if need be, as Oriol Bartomeus reviews.
The Spanish political debate is becoming a case study in putting the logic of the state before the logic of the law. For instance, in its editorial last Saturday suggesting that the Constitutional Court should take in the government's appeal against today's Catalan parliament session, El País started by recognising that Puigdemont did have his political rights intact, only to then spend the rest of the article arguing as if he didn't. By today, we already have legal experts arguing that he doesn't have those rights because he's guilty as sin - never mind that only a firm court sentence can determine that. There has even been a debate over whether Puigdemont can be arrested at all, since according to Spanish law an MP - national or regional - cannot be arrested except if caught in the act. Argelia Queralt reviews the applicable law on parliamentary immunity and discusses whether it can be considered that Puigdemont is in a continuous act of evading a prison order (as a result of his ignoring a court summons to appear in a case against him). For Queralt, parliamentary immunity does not imply the right to ignore court summons, and the judge has the right to issue the appropriate legal measures resulting from non-appearance in court. All this may become relevant if Puigdemont is stopped by police on the way to the Catalan parliament, an event we cannot exclude.
But the Constitutional court injunction from Saturday was itself extraordinary. In an urgent session, the court had to decide just whether or not to hear an appeal brought by the Spanish government against the act of calling today's Catalan parliament session. On Saturday it became known that the constitutional court's legal experts also thought the appeal should be thrown out, as did the magistrate who had been drawn by lot as rapporteur. The court deliberated for many hours, with leaks to the press during the lunch break. Government sources have admitted to El País that members of the government consulted with the magistrates during the deliberations, but don't call it pressuring the court!
In the end the court put off the decision on whether to admit the government's appeal for ten days, to give the parties time to present allegations. But it accommodated the government's intent by issuing instructions to the Catalan parliament as outlined above. Miguel Ángel Presno Linera writes that the legal justification of all this appears written by the Marx brothers.