Spain’s state prosecutor has requested that a national high court issue a European arrest warrant for deposed Catalan president Carlos Puigdemont for his failure to return to Madrid to testify before the national court, the Guardian reported this morning.
Spain’s national court had summoned Carlos Puigdemont to testify with regards to the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence from Spain last Friday. Puigdemont and 13 members of his administration face possible charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.
On Monday, just hours after Spanish officials announced that they intended to prosecute leaders of the Catalan separatist movement on rebellion charges, the Spanish press reported that Puigdemont, along with several other Catalan ministers, had arrived in Belgium. Speculation ensued that Puigdemont intended to seek political asylum from Brussels. The ousted president refuted the claims at a Tuesday press conference.
As several senior members of his administration, among them the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and five other deputies arrived in Madrid to testify at a Thursday morning hearing, Puigdemont remained in Belgium. His attorney, Paul Bekaert, emphasized that his client would cooperate with Spanish and Belgian authorities if asked.
The Belgian government has extended no overtures to Puigdemont thus far. “He will be treated like any other European citizen,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel stressed in a statement. “He has the same rights and duties… no more, no less.” EU citizens can apply for political asylum in Belgium, but such cases are rare. Only 49 such applications were filed last year, according to the Financial Times.
Does the EAW Apply to Political Crimes?
The Council Framework Decision of June 13, 2002, the document establishing the legal basis of the European arrest warrant, states that EU Member States have an obligation to execute an EAW issued by a fellow Member State “on the basis of the principle of mutual recognition.”
The Framework Decision also notes grounds for exceptions to this obligation, however. In particular, the decision explicitly states that it does not prohibit Member States from refusing to surrender a person “for whom a European arrest warrant has been issued when there are reasons to believe, on the basis of objective elements, that the said arrest warrant has been issued for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on the grounds of his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation, or that that person’s position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.”
Puigdemont faces an uphill legal battle to demonstrate to Brussels that he would not be guaranteed a fair trial or subject to discrimination in Spain. While discrimination on the basis of political opinion may be grounds for non-execution of the EAW, serious criminal charges of a political nature, such as rebellion and sedition, are usually extraditable offenses.