March 26, 2018
On the run no more
The Catalan crisis was last year's big political hurricane that deflated into a subtropical depression once Carles Puigdemont left his troops behind and set off on his grand European tour. His road trip ended yesterday with his arrest at a petrol station at the northern German town of Flensburg. The news of this provoked violent protests in Barcelona.
While Germany extradite him? The answer is far from clear. FAZ tells his us this morning that the legal issues are unusually complicated in his case. If it happens, it is more likely to happen on a technicality than on the main accusation on which his European arrest warrant is based. The decision lies entirely with the German courts, and there is no possibility of a political override in either direction.
A regional German court is now obliged to decide on the Spanish government's extradition request, and will proceed in two steps. The first is to check whether the accusation is part of a list of crimes for which extradition is automatic. This list includes fraud and corruption, but crucially not rebellion. The court will rule whether the fraud charges, which relate to the alleged misuse of public funds for an illegal referendum, fall under this category. What matters here is the German legal definition of fraud, not the Spanish one. If in doubt, the court could refer the case to the ECJ.
The other accusations listed in the warrant are not on the list. For those, the German court will have to decide whether they are considered criminal under German law. German law has no criminal offences of rebellion or insurrection. Germany does have a law against high treason. Germany also has a law to support the integrity of the state, similar to that of Spain. Another issue the court will need to address is whether Puigdemont is being pursued for his political views. If the court believes that this is so, it will either not extradite or, again, refer the case to the ECJ.
A local north German newspaper, Kieler Nachrichten, reported that Puigdemont was considering an application for asylum, which would be immediately rejected as is always the case for EU citizens. And, in any case, an extradition case always supersedes an asylum case. We think this is probably a legal delaying tactic.
The issue is not a highly politicised one in Germany. Germany's new justice minister Katarina Barley said on TV last night this was a matter for the courts - for now. The German media took a greater interest in her hostile statements towards Facebook than in the Puigdemont case.