Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont remanded in custody in Germany

German authorities have 60 days in which to decide on Spain’s extradition request

The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has been remanded in custody in northern Germany pending a decision on extradition proceedings brought by Spain.

The German authorities have 60 days in which to reach a decision on the extradition request, which Puigdemont opposed during Monday’s hearing.

The district judge took the unusual step of criticising the content of the Spanish arrest warrant, suggesting that the extradition is not a foregone conclusion. While the warrant submitted by the Spanish government had met requirements for the former Catalan leader’s further detention, the Kiel district judge said, it was “without question that the content of the European arrest warrant offers some clues that the extradition [...] could be deemed impermissible”.

Puigdemont was detained under the European arrest warrant in the northern German province of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday morning as he journeyed by car from Helsinki to Brussels, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence last October. Spain wants to extradite him on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in relation to that declaration.

The Spanish secret services have revealed that after they learned that Puigdemont planned to make the trip from Helsinki to Brussels by car, they fitted a geolocation device to the vehicle, and the 12 agents monitoring him were thus able to tip off the authorities when he crossed into Germany.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has not commented on Puigdemont’s arrest and possible extradition, but his deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, described it as good news, and said: “No one can evade justice forever.”

The immediate benefit for the Spanish government of Puigdemont being remanded in custody is that, for now at least, he will be silenced. While other Catalan leaders have been either jailed or hushed by the threat of prison, as long as Puigdemont was at large he could continue to use his skills as a journalist and propagandist to keep the issue of Catalan independence in the headlines.

Meanwhile, Catalonia remains without a government and there is little prospect of one being formed. In an effort to appease Puigdemont’s supporters – tens of thousands of whom took to the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan cities on Sunday night – the three main secessionist groups have called for a plenary session of parliament on Wednesday to “guarantee the right of Puigdemont to be president”.

Elsa Artadi, the leader of the former president’s Together for Catalonia party, said: “We have to work to make Puigdemont a real, not a symbolic president.”

Much as he might wish to, Rajoy cannot shelve the Catalan issue, above all because he urgently needs to get his budget approved. To do so he needs the votes of the five Basque nationalist MPs in parliament, and they are withholding their approval until Madrid lifts article 155 of the constitution through which direct rule was imposed on Catalonia last October.

However, article 155 can only be lifted once a new Catalan government has been installed. When Rajoy called elections last December it was in the hope that the slim secessionist majority would be overturned. It was not, and as a result Catalonia continues to be a stone in Madrid’s shoe.

While everyone agrees that Catalonia needs a government as soon as possible, forming one seems to be as far away as ever. The grassroots separatist leader Jordi Sànchez, previously out of the running after a judge would not release him from preventive custody, has not ruled out his candidacy after the UN human rights committee issued a ruling, favourable in principle, on his right to be released for the investiture.

Meanwhile, Miquel Iceta, the Catalan Socialist party leader, has called for a “government of national reconciliation” as “an exceptional response to an exceptional situation”. He would not, however, enter into coalition with any party that pursues confrontation with Madrid, which implicitly excludes two of the three secessionist groups.

Roger Torrent, the house speaker and a member of the Republican Left party, tweeted that Catalans needed to “show unity, collective intelligence, put aside our differences and create hope”. He called for “a united front against the state”, although as speaker he is supposed to be neutral. This led the leader of the centre-right Citizens party, Inés Arrimadas, to call for his resignation.

“He is neither neutral nor objective, he acts as though he’s Puigdemont’s defence lawyer and uses the institution of parliament in the interest of secessionist groups,” she said.

The government crackdown has focused separatists’ minds, but in different ways. For the Republican Left, whose leader, Oriol Junqueras, has been in jail since October and whose secretary general, Marta Rovira, fled to Switzerland last week, the response has been to call for more dialogue and less confrontation.

Puigdemont, on the other hand, continues to advocate the so-called “train crash” policy of all-out confrontation with Madrid and defence of the republic declared last October.

Amid all the positioning and posturing, the fact remains that if there is no government in place by 22 May, Catalonia will go to the polls in July for the fifth time in seven years.

As yet there is no reason to believe the next election will be any more conclusive than the last four, and meanwhile Catalonia remains both ungoverned and ungovernable. Rajoy may have a long wait to get his budget approved.


Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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