Spanish Premier’s Plans Could Hinge on Catalan Extradition Case
(Bloomberg) -- Carles Puigdemont, who has been a fugitive from Spain since his role in 2017’s failed push for Catalan independence, faces an extradition hearing on the Italian island of Sardinia on Monday.
At the time of his flight, he was serving as president of the region that includes Spain’s second-biggest city Barcelona.
If the Italian court rules against him, it could be highly disruptive for Spanish politics and spell trouble for Pedro Sanchez. The Socialist prime minster relies on one of the leading Catalan independence parties to get laws through the national parliament in Madrid.
A three-strong panel will review a request by Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena to extradite Puigdemont to face trial in Spain for the crimes of sedition and malfeasance.
A decision may come Monday or take days, and the ruling could be appealed. If the Italian judges decide to extradite him, and Puigdemont doesn’t appeal, he will be flown to Madrid for trial. If the decision is delayed, Puigdemont has said he plans to leave Italy to attend a session of the European Parliament, where he holds a seat.
Puigdemont, who has been living outside Brussels, isn’t new to extradition hearings. He already beat two previous attempts by Llarena to have him sent to Spain, once in Germany and once in Belgium. In both cases, courts rejected the request, claiming it lacked legal basis.
An attempt to have another fugitive Catalan leader extradited from Scotland also failed.
Why does it matter?
Ever since the botched attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain in 2017, the political crisis it set in motion has impacted Spanish national politics. The region is Spain’s second-most populous and is one of the two main economic centers alongside Madrid.
Sanchez leads a weak coalition government that relies on occasional support from an array of smaller parties. In this context, one of the two main Catalan separatist parties, ERC, has at times played a kingmaking role. An extradition of Puigdemont is likely to derail any collaboration between the Catalans and the central government, just as Sanchez needs their backing to pass next year’s budget.
The independence movement is mired in internal bickering, mainly between ERC and Puigdemont’s own party, Junts per Catalunya, which opposes working with the Sanchez administration. But differences between the two would likely be set aside in situations where they have common cause, such as this one.
How did we get here?
After failing to win independence in October 2017, Puigdemont fled by car to France and then to Belgium. He subsequently won a seat in the European Parliament.
Other separatist leaders were arrested and sentenced to prison. Nine were pardoned by the government in June, in a bid by Sanchez to defuse tensions and secure backing for his agenda.
Puigdemont has meanwhile continued to travel around Europe, even after his European Parliament immunity was suspended in July -- a move which is currently being reviewed by the European Court of Justice.
The suspension prompted the latest attempt to have him extradited. Puigdemont’s lawyer has argued it’s illegal because the immunity was lifted on condition that Spain suspend all arrest warrants. It’ll be up to the Italian judges on Monday to decide who is right.
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