THE European Commission has backed Spain on the extradition of Catalan exiles without a review on whether they will face a fair trial, in a decision which could have implications for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.

Following Belgium’s refusal to extradite former Catalan minister Lluis Puig in January 2021, Pablo Llarena, the Spanish judge overseeing the case against various leaders of Catalonia’s independence movement, sought clarification from the European Court of Justice over whether the decision to deny handing Puig over to Spanish authorities was lawful.

On April 5, the European Commission sided with arguments from the Spanish judiciary that extradition should be possible between EU member-states, provided there are no “systemic failures” in Spain’s rule of law.

European Commission lawyer Julio Baquero stated: “There is no systemic failure in Spain’s rule of law.”

The legal teams of the exiled independence leaders have nevertheless argued there are “widespread” problems with Spain’s judiciary, echoing Belgium’s initial argument that Puig could see his fundamental rights violated by an unfair trial in Spain – an opinion founded in reports from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In addition to the defence teams of the Catalan exiles, also present at the hearing were representatives of the Belgian judiciary, the Spanish solicitor general, and representatives of Poland and Romania, who submitted opinions similar to that of Spain regarding Belgium’s right to assess potential breaches in human fundamental rights.

While Italy has had an open extradition procedure against Puigdemont in effect since his one-day arrest on the island of Sardinia in September last year, the Italian judiciary has so far not submitted any opinion on the matter.

The European Commission’s decision may have implications for the future of not only Puigdemont, but five other pro-independence figures who have been in exile since the aftermath of Catalonia’s 2017 independence referendum. This could still be affected by whether or not the European Court of Justice decides three of the Catalan exiles have immunity as MEPs.

European magistrates will make their decision following a non-binding opinion from the court’s advocate general, Richard de la Tour, on July 14. However, the final decision on these extradition cases will still be made by the judiciaries of Belgium and Italy, irrespective of the opinion of European courts.