To Mariano Rajoy, in his day, this idea of "judicializing politics" - managing a political problem, such as that of Catalonia, through the courts - seemed a good one. Probably, he opted for the path knowing full well that, on the one hand, the public prosecutors could help him to "fine tune" his propositions, and on the other, that the political establishment could, to paraphrase a famous leaked message, control the key courts "via the back door." However, what never occurred to him was that the situation might get out control because a group of madmen would cross the Pyrenees and engage him in battle on a level playing field and with an impartial referee.
Thinking they had everything under control was not only an error but also reflected a very provincial vision of the true environment in which we move. The rules of the game are no longer, exclusively, those norms that they were usually able to manipulate to suit their interests, but rather, in the solution of legal problems - not political ones - other rules also come into play, and these, despite being there in plain sight for all to see and make use of, turn out to be unfamiliar and odious.
Throughout the last decades, Spain has paid little attention to the judicial environment that surrounds it and as a result, it is seriously difficult for many of those involved to understand how they will end up solving some of the key legal problems arising from this insanity of judicializing politics.
The first clash with European legal reality, in the current Catalonian conflict, was when Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena became nervous and, for the first time, withdrew the European arrest warrant that another judge, Carmen Lamela, now in the Supreme Court herself, had filed against Catalan president Puigdemont and his also-exiled ministers Ponsatí, Comín, Puig and Serret.
Having to face this reality head-on is becoming constant, as was demonstrated when the court in Schleswig-Holstein established that the events which the Spanish Supreme Court is now judging once again were not only not criminal, but also represented an exercise of rights and liberties that every democracy must tolerate if it wants to remain one.
It was also humbling - or a new wake-up call from legal reality - to discover that a Spanish judge could be sued in Belgium for his actions if they were contrary to EU norms, as happened when the current lawsuit against judge Llarena was presented before the Belgian courts. Thereupon all kinds of things were said in response, we were threatened in a range of ways and we were drenched in a shower of unfounded legal complaints, based only on patriotic ardor.
President Puigdemont can stand for the European elections in May because it's his right
The new surprise, the next clash with reality, then took place when President Puigdemont announced his intention to stand for the European elections in May. The reactions have been the same as before: he can't do it, it won't work, he'll be stopped as soon as he sets foot on Spanish soil, he's nothing more than a madman, etcetera, and so the stories will continue until it's understood what's really happening.
President Puigdemont, and any of the other exiled politicians, can stand for the European elections in May because it's their right and because the rules that regulate the calling of elections are not the ones that some believe apply. Undoubtedly, Spain's Organic Law of General Electoral Regime is a basic norm to be taken into consideration, but the rules contained therein cannot be interpreted or applied separately from those which give origin to the right to vote, and to be voted for, to become part of the European Parliament.
Our legislation is no longer a set of territorially limited rules, but rather, part of a larger set that regulates a series of rights and freedoms that can neither be fine-tuned by the prosecutor nor controlled via the back door. This and nothing else is the basis of what has been done so far, and the many more actions that will be taken in the future: Spain plays in Europe and, therefore, local rules have to be interpreted in the light of European rules.
Independence trial judge Marchena may try to influence a defence witness's statement indicating what the penalties would be for not testifying in the way the prosecutor wants, but this act should be analyzed not from the heart, but from the legal perspective established in the European Human Rights Convention. The same will apply with regard to the constant limitations placed on the right to a defence and, above all, in the criminalization of the right to protest, the freedoms of expression and assembly, and even the right to self-determination, which is certainly not a crime.
Llarena may or may not impose a third European Arrest Warrant, but such a warrant would have to be analyzed from the perspective of the EU directive regulating this European cooperation instrument in relation to a series of other European agreements that Spain has signed and ratified and that, therefore, are part of the Spanish legal system.
If the judge opts for a third warrant, he will have accept its result and if he doesn't, he must also accept that his choice will then entail other legal consequences which he will not like. That is, whatever he does, he will be bound, not by what he believes is the right to be applied, but rather, by what really must be applied as a right.
They may try to arrest an elected MEP, but they won't be able to argue that this is in accordance with the norms governing the immunity of all European parliamentarians
Spain's Central Electoral Board may prohibit the display of yellow ribbons and Catalan estelada flags while it also allows a political party that is standing in the elections to promote itself via the courts, by mounting a private prosecution. It may do that, but it will have to assume the legal consequences that this will have in EU law.
Similarly, the Board's members may simultaneously judge the Catalan politicians in the morning and, in the afternoon, resolve the controversies that arise in the middle of the election campaign which they are tasked with regulating impartially. What they cannot avoid, though, is that this has consequences, and its implications are subject to the European Human Rights Convention.
They'll be able to continue saying that there is "state immunity" that prevents a Spanish judge from being judged outside Spain but, in the meantime, they'll have to continue defending that position in a Belgian court, and worse, they'll discover, sooner rather than later, that this controversy has already been resolved by the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
They'll try to arrest - they may even go through with arresting - an elected MEP, but they won't be able to argue that this is in accordance with the norms governing the immunity of all European parliamentarians and, even more importantly, they won't be able to avoid the consequences of their own actions.
They'll be able to say and do many things, but as long as they fail to assume that being a member of a certain club, such as the European Union, has its obligations, they won't understand that a political conflict cannot be resolved in court and that, if they try, they'll find that the rules of the game can't be fine-tuned by the prosecutor nor controlled via the back door.
Things are a little more complex and, no doubt, they'll gradually learn this, because here we are not improvising, and the decision to play the game on a level playing field and with an impartial referee has been, is and will be the best of decisions. Watch out, Europe is coming and I'm going to get some popcorn.