What next for Catalan separatist Puigdemont after EU court lifts immunity?

A mossos d'esquadra police officer stands behind a banner and a Catalonia independence flag with the image of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
A mossos d'esquadra police officer stands behind a banner and a Catalonia independence flag with the image of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont. Copyright Joan Mateu/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
By Laura Llach
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After an EU ruling stripped him of parliamentary immunity, Euronews explores if Puigdemont will be extradited and tried in Spain.


"Nothing is over", said Catalan MEP Carles Puigdemont, after the European Union Court of Justice announced it had lifted his immunity on Wednesday.

Puigdemont was stripped of legal protection along with two other pro-independence MEPs, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, who fled Spain in 2017 after holding an illegal referendum on whether Catalonia should break away from Spain.

The three alleged "political persecution", with the decision potentially meaning they could face criminal prosecution. 

Already their lawyers have said they will appeal the ruling. But what will happen now to the pro-independence figures? Will they be extradited and tried in Spain?

To answer these questions, Euronews spoke to Ana María González Marín, EU law professor at Madrid's Francisco de Vitoria University and Agustín Ruiz Robledo, professor of constitutional law at the University of Granada.

Francesca Salaris/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, center, gives thumbs up as he walks with Catalonia's president Pere Aragones.Francesca Salaris/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.

Will Catalan's pro-independence leaders be immediately extradited?

"Under no circumstances," both experts agreed.

"The obstacle to their extradition, which was their immunity, has disappeared. Even so, the process is not automatic", says Robledo.

The professor explains that as the politicians are not in Spain, Spanish judges have to contact the Belgian judicial authorities to ask them to hand them over.

"Now we are in a procedural phase, the Belgian judge has to review the European arrest warrant to see if he accepts it or not", he adds.

According to the expert, the process would be automatic if the crimes for which they are being tried were among the approximately 30 that are homogenised in Europe.

However, embezzlement and disobedience - the ones for which the pro-independence leaders are accused - are not on this list. "This means that there is a margin of judicial discretion on the part of the Belgian judge who assesses the European arrest warrant", he explains.

Both experts argue that, in practice, after the EU's General Court decision, the situation is back to square one. The Belgian justice system will have to review the arrest warrant.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, left, in Brussels on Jan. 24, 2018.Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.

If they appeal the ruling, could their immunity be reinstated?

Without immunity, Puigdemont has lost the protective shield he had in Europe.

Spanish judge Pablo Llarena can now reactivate a European arrest warrant and request the arrest of the pro-independence leaders.

Puigdemont could risk arrest if he leaves Belgium.

His lawyer has already announced they will appeal the decision of the EU's General Court. But will this be enough?

"At the moment, Puigdemont lawyer’s appeal can succeed as it seems to meet the requirements," says González Marín, professor of European Union law.

"The European Parliament will have the final say. If the Court of Justice of the European Union - the highest chamber of the EU's judiciary - rules that stripping them of immunity has been illegal, the European Parliament will return it to them," she adds.


Robledo argues lawyers will "probably ask for the provisional suspension of today’s ruling”. This is “usually granted in matters of fundamental rights” and will stop the enforcement of the EU's General Court ruling.

If this is not granted the European arrest warrant could be executed, although the expert emphasises that the Court of Justice will most likely grant the suspension.

What may stop Belgium from extraditing the Catalan politicians?

Belgium has always been reluctant to hand over criminals wanted by Spain.

"There is a general principle of loyal cooperation between states and this should be more than enough. However, there is what is known as the Belgian political culture of undervaluing Spanish democracy. This has been a historical problem", says Robledo.

González Marín agrees. "Belgium has no specific reason to do so, but it has always been this way. The country has always empathised with pro-independence movements because of its own political structure".


In fact, Puigdemont met with members of the conservative and nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party when he first went to Belgium, which is no coincidence. 

Although Puigdemont has a much more progressive ideology than the N-VA, they both seek autonomy for their territories.

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