The hammer blow delivered by Germany has provided an opportunity for all those involved in Catalonia’s independence process to rethink their position. The German court’s decision not to recognize the crime of rebellion, as part of President Carles Puigdemont’s extradition request, puts Spain in an awkward position in the eyes of its European neighbours. Spanish justice, at the hands of Judge Pablo Llarena, has made the wrong move against a true democracy where those in power do not wield their influence through the courts, nor through university rectors (1) and sympathetic politicians. Spain’s loss of face concerns the ongoing cases in Germany, Belgium and also in Switzerland, where one would have to be truly naïve to believe the surprise decision to act on the European Arrest Warrant for Hervé Falciani is a mere coincidence. The Spanish police arrested Falciani when they needed someone extradited from Switzerland (2).
Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein court decided to release the President of the Generalitat and it now needs to decide whether to extradite him for misappropriation of public funds. While the German Justice Minister covers her back by pre-emptively showing her support for judicial decisions, Madrid has threatened to take the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union. It’s a stand-off between Spain and Germany.
The court’s decision complicates Justice Llarena’s case, exposing its political bias. Meanwhile, Puigdemont, the ministers in Brussels, Marta Rovira and Anna Gabriel remain free; and Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sànchez, Carme Forcadell, Josep Rull, Jordi Turull, Dolors Bassa, Joaquim Forn and Raül Romeva remain behind bars, hundreds of kilometres away from their families. The same day as the president’s extradition was thrown out of court, Major Josep Lluís Trapero, an exemplary public servant, as demonstrated on 17 August [the terrorist attacks on Barcelona and Cambrils and its aftermath], was charged with the sort of crimes you would expect from the Mafia or a terrorist organisation.
You don’t have to be brave to be a politician, but conducting politics takes bravery.
The German court’s decision means Spain can change its strategy, while those who favour independence, who up until now have been forced to improvise, can make long-term plans. However, recognizing new political circumstances calls for courage in assessing the situation.
To begin with, Spain’s justice will have to review the charges brought against the Catalan leaders and the PP government will have to decide whether its priority is winning the war against the Ciutadans party in the council elections next year or facing up to the inevitable normalization and recognition of the independence movement as a key player in Catalan, Spanish and European politics. Rajoy’s government now has more problems on its hands than it realises and it would have us believe. Germany has no desire to have internal problems and Chancellor Merkel is unlikely to contradict her Justice Minister in order to appease Spain, her European partner. As for the PP, however, Spain’s Foreign Minister has slammed the German minister and the PP leader in Catalonia played down the court’s significance, accusing it of being “regional”.
Spain’s bilateral relations with its European partners will become increasingly strained and its reputation affected by evidence of the politicization of justice, influence peddling and abuse of power. Spain can still boast of its economic growth in recent years, but this is tempered by warnings that its public pension system is unsustainable. The economic gains are overshadowed by its management of Catalonia and the problem continues to grow.
Internally, Rajoy has begun to see his potential successors showing their hand. He will have to choose between digging his heels in or engaging in politics and negotiating. Unfortunately, nothing makes one think he will choose the latter option.
In the pro-independence camp, the court’s decision has boosted its collective morale. The humiliation of seeing the President of the Generalitat extradited has been delayed or perhaps vanished altogether. The strategy of appealing to help from abroad is taking shape and the internationalization of the process is becoming a reality. Puigdemont’s insistence on calling for talks with Spain “with no red lines” and with “mutual respect”, and his claim that “independence is not the only possible solution”, ought to lower the risk that the boost of confidence gained this week might lead to deadlock. The struggle continues and Jordi Sànchez is the third candidate for the presidency since the election on 21 December. The Spanish government could play smart and accept the decision. But they won’t. Once they have shown their contempt for the political rights of the winning parliamentary majority following the elections, they will need to choose whether to go to the polls once again or initiate plan D.
The tools of those who favour independence continue to be a civic-minded spirit and democratic majorities.
(1) [This is a reference to the latest scandal involving the ruling PP, in which the President of the Madrid region has been accused of having falsely obtained an MA].
(2) ERC leader Marta Rovira recently fled to Switzerland.
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