Five urgent points after it's emerged that Pablo Llarena, a judge of Spain's Supreme Court, has revoked the European Arrest Warrants that were hanging over Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and ministers Toni Comín, Lluís Puig, Meritxell Serret and Clara Ponsatí.
First: Llarena has acted intelligently given what has been clear since Monday: the Belgian court was going to strike down, completely or partially, the request presented by Carmen Lamela, a judge of Spain's National Audience court, with her national, European and international arrest warrants for the extradition to Spain of president Puigdemont and the four ministers exiled with him in Brussels. Llarena has, clearly, backed down, and avoided a legal blow for Spain, which would have revealed the politicisation of Spanish justice. In the best case for Spanish interests, extradition would only have been approved to face the charge of misuse of public funds, which entails a much smaller penalty than those on the table for rebellion and sedition. A retreat in time is a victory, said Napoleon.
Second: President Puigdemont's strategy to place the focus of media attention on Brussels after the suspension of autonomy ordered by Mariano Rajoy and the orders to imprison the Catalan government has proved successful politically and legally speaking. The Catalan case has acquired international momentum and is on the international agenda as never before. In the legal sphere, the choice of Belgium has been right and the independence of its judges is what one expects of a country with greater guarantees for individuals and which is extraordinarily respectful of any topic related to human rights.
Third: Llarena's move, initially disconcerting, has more political depth than it seems. If Carles Puigdemont maintains his current condition as president in exile, the withdrawal of the international arrest warrants doesn't prevent his freedom of movement. If he returns to Spain he will be arrested and tried for all the crimes which entail penalties of up to 30 years in prison. Llarena, today, seems to be inviting him to choose between permanent exile and abandoning all political activity in Spain or going to prison if he returns to the country. In fact just yesterday, in his order confirming the continuance of preventive detention for vice-president Oriol Junqueras, the judge suggested that it could be reconsidered if Junqueras had the intention to abandon politics. As such the Spanish government's comment from September saying they were discounting Puigdemont and Junqueras as interlocutors for the future gains strength, a comment repeated by Mariano Rajoy some weeks ago on the COPE channel when talking about a hypothetical new pro-independence government.
Fourth: The justice system again introduces a new factor into the most important election campaign in recent decades and which has had a start very different to usual. Puigdemont can remain in Brussels or move his general headquarters as close as possible to Catalonia now that no restrictions remain on his movement. As such he could, for example, set up his new operations centre in Perpignan, just over the border in France. He would lose the international visibility Brussels gives him, but would be at a stone's throw from Catalonia. In any case, his mobility has theoretically multiplied like that of the four other ministers. We would be talking about something provisional and closely linked to the Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and ERC (Catalan Republican Left) election campaigns.
Fifth: If vice-president Junqueras, minister Joaquim Forn and the Jordis, Sànchez and Cuixart remaining in prison was already completely incomprehensible and injust, this situation only amplifies this even more. The preventive detention without bail of candidates in an election process is, in the end, nothing other than a way to hijack the campaign. To change it. Especially because preventive detention is an exceptional mechanism, very debatable in a situation like the current one and about which many prestigious legal scholars have already openly disagreed with. The fact is that the mix of justice and politics always ends up benefiting and harming the same people.