Exiled Catalan leader has Europe-wide arrest warrant dropped

What to know about Catalonia’s push for independence
Nov. 2, 2017: The Spanish state prosecutor has asked for an arrest warrant to be issued for ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont after he failed to appear in court.

Spanish prosecutors have dropped a European Arrest Warrant for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont over his part in last October’s controversial independence referendum.

Five other separatists wanted by Madrid also had their Europe-wide warrants dropped, effectively meaning they are free to move around the EU.

Spanish arrest warrants for the six still stand, so they can be arrested if they return to the country, the country’s prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.

Spain wants to try the separatist leader for rebellion in light of his push for Catalan independence, but a German court refused last week to extradite him on that charge. The German court did say he could be extradited to face a corruption charge.

Puigdemont has been living in Germany since May, when he was initially detained after crossing into the country from Denmark.

The former Catalan leader says that dropping the Europe-wide warrant was “proof of the immense weakness” of the case against him and the other Catalan separatists, he wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

He also repeated his call for Spanish authorities to release the members of his government who remain in jail.

“Today is a day to demand, with more strength than ever, the freedom of the political prisoners,” he said in the tweet. “To revoke their arrest on remand would be the demonstration that Spanish judiciary is beginning to act like the European.”

Puidgemont’s lawyers in Germany called the decision “reasonable” and a consequence of their efforts over the past weeks, they said in a statement to CNN on Thursday.

“Spain’s European-wide persecution of Carles Puigdemont has therefore ended,” the lawyers said. “As we have said since the beginning of the procedure: political conflicts of a state must be carried out politically, not by the means of criminal law.”

Detained crossing the border

Protests broke out in Barcelona earlier in the year after news that the separatist had been detained in Germany while en route to Belgium from Finland. He was detained after crossing the border from Denmark.

Prior to his detention, he had lived in self-imposed exile in Belgium since October, after spearheading Catalonia’s referendum on whether to secede from Spain.

The independence drive plunged the country into its worst political crisis in decades, with Madrid denouncing the referendum as illegal and calling for Puigdemont’s arrest.

Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia after the regional parliament unilaterally declared independence in October, thereby stripping the autonomous region of many of its administrative powers. The situation remains unresolved.

The political calculus in Spain shifted significantly following the election of Catalan separatist President Quim Torra in May and socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, in June, following a no-confidence vote that ousted the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy.

Sánchez’ minority government relies on support of the anti-austerity Podemos, Catalan pro-independence parties and the Basque Nationalist Party.