Rajoy's Catalan Plan Hit as Germany Rejects Rebellion Charge

(Bloomberg) -- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s bid to put the Catalan independence push behind him and forge a working majority in parliament suffered a blow Thursday when a German court ordered former regional President Carles Puigdemont freed on bail.

The court in Schleswig-Holstein declined to consider a Spanish judge’s request to have Puigdemont extradited on rebellion charges but said he might still be sent to Madrid to face trial for corruption. He was ordered to pay 75,000 euros ($92,000) in bail, the court said in a statement. German prosecutors earlier this week had backed the Spanish request.

Rajoy's Catalan Plan Hit as Germany Rejects Rebellion Charge

The German ruling damages Rajoy’s strategy of painting Puigdemont’s attempt to declare Catalan independence as an act of violent rebellion and sets back his efforts to finally pass a budget for this year after months of gridlock. As well as sapping authority from Madrid’s legal argument, the decision leaves Rajoy casting around for votes in the national parliament where the divisions over Catalonia have paralyzed legislative activity. Catalonia itself has been without a government since Puigdemont was ousted in October.

“As soon as the news broke, we immediately saw the pro-independence camp claiming this as a great victory,” said Caroline Gray, a lecturer at Aston University in the U.K. who specializes in nationalist movements, by phone. “It puts Rajoy in a very difficult position, to put it mildly.”

Budget Blocked

Basque nationalists in the Spanish parliament have refused to back the budget presented by Rajoy’s minority government because they oppose the emergency powers put in place to sack Puigdemont when he tried to declare independence.

Rajoy's Catalan Plan Hit as Germany Rejects Rebellion Charge

The Spanish government isn’t aware of the exact terms of the German court’s decision and therefore can’t form an opinion about it, a spokesman said. “The government is convinced that Spanish justice will adopt the most appropriate measures in the light of these new circumstances to make sure the laws of our country are obeyed,” he added.

The German court decision threatens to overshadow the ruling People’s Party annual convention in Seville this weekend with Rajoy due to deliver the closing speech on Sunday.

The Catalan saga is just one Spanish political drama that isn’t going the PP’s way. The Madrid regional President Cristina Cifuentes is facing calls to resign amid allegations that she faked a master’s degree at Juan Carlos University. She insists the qualification is genuine and that she has no plans to quit.

Meanwhile, Catalan separatist politicians rejoiced at Puigdemont’s impending release.

“It’s very good news,” Roger Torrent, the speaker of the Catalan parliament and an ally of Puigdemont, said on his Twitter account. “The crime of rebellion is totally unfounded.”

Picking a President

“See you tomorrow. Thanks very much everyone,” Puigdemont said on his Twitter page last night alongside a photo of himself giving a thumbs-up sign.

Elsa Artadi, the spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya group in the Catalan parliament, told broadcaster TV3 that the separatist parties had agreed to nominate pro-independence campaigner Jordi Sanchez for regional president. Rajoy has said he won’t accept the nomination of any candidate accused of crimes, including Sanchez who is jail on remand as he faces prosecution for rebellion.

A Spanish Supreme Court judge reactivated an arrest warrant against Puigdemont for rebellion and misuse of public funds last month and he was held by German highway police on March 25 after he crossed into the country from Denmark.

The court refused extradition on Spain’s most severe charge by finding that Puigdemont’s alleged rebellion couldn’t be prosecuted successfully in Germany as high treason -- the rough equivalent. That’s because the “pressure” applied by Puigdemont and his independence referendum on Spain’s government was insufficient for it to feel forced to surrender to the rebels’ demands, under German standards.

“I have always said that I had full confidence in German justice,” Puigdemont’s lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas said on Twitter.

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