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The acting president of the Spanish Supreme Court, Francisco Marín, has affirmed that the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has been received "with satisfaction" by the Supreme Court and that the ruling "gives support" to the Spanish courts in their efforts to achieve the handover of the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and the ex-ministers in exile. Marín gave this evaluation, after a judicial graduation ceremony today at which Spanish king Felipe VI presided over the entry into the profession of 215 judges, at the Fòrum de Barcelona.

The president of the Supreme Court affirmed that "the Belgian courts will not be able to oppose the Spanish courts' European Arrest Warrants" because, he said, in the Spanish state "there is no systemic problem" - the existence of such a problem being part of the grounds that the ECJ had identified for exceptionally refusing extradition. With regard to a second possible warning flag that the European court identified, when the legal rights of "an objectively identifiable group" are infringed, Marín was not so definitive and affirmed that every court will have to interpret the phrase. He also admitted that further resolutions from the European courts are still required before the Catalan pro-independence politicians in exile can be reclaimed by Spanish justice.

Opposing interpretations

The Supreme Court's celebration of today's European justice ruling as a triumph is, paradoxically, also shared by the Catalan pro-independence politicians and their lawyers, but based on completely the opposite interpretation. The independentists regard it as a milestone that the European court has added that, to refuse the arrest warrant, not only must a systemic or general violation of legal rights be shown to exist, but also that it must seen to be aimed at a particular group - an argument which the independence activists' lawyers, Gonzalo Boye, Andreu van den Eynde and Benet Salellas, had defended in the hearing in the Luxembourg court last April.

Asked if it is necessary to ask the EU court for clarification on what the phrase "objectively identifiable group" means, the president of the Spanish court replied that the European court thinks very hard about how it expresses things and if it "didn't want to be more specific" it must be for a reason.

Specifically, the ruling released today, responding to questions raised by Spanish judge Pablo Llarena after Belgian justice refused to hand over former minister Lluís Puig, warns that an EU member state cannot, "in principle", refuse to execute a European warrant, but it can apply a national provision which provides that the arrest warrant can be refused when it "results in the infringement of a fundamental right". The European Court of Justice adds that European arrest warrants can be refused, if it concludes that there are deficiencies in the judicial system "that affect the judicial protection of an objectively identifiable group of people to which the person concerned belongs". This is the major new element introduced by the Luxembourg court today.