A German court in the state of Schleswig-Holstein refused to extradite the Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain on a charge of rebellion. For Spaniards, this is a major blow. Last August, they watched Mr. Puigdemont and his government rise up against the Spanish state, breaking laws and using the Catalan police for their aims. And now a German court has refused extradition because it believes Mr. Puigdemont’s actions do not amount to high treason, the equivalent of rebellion in German law.
The decision may well be quite correct in legal terms, but for most Spaniards it is hard to understand. The Spanish government is trying to calm the situation, saying it will accept court decisions without further comment.
And what is happening in Germany? A wholesale politicization of the court’s decision which puts German-Spanish relations unncessarily at risk. Over the weekend, Rolf Mützenich, parliamentary deputy leader of the center-left Social Democrats, told Handelsblatt: “The Spanish government should accept that German courts make their decisions independently of political demands.”
German politician's attacks on Spain will spark a backlash, which could lead to a real political crisis.
In making this statement, Mr. Mützenich seems suggest that Spanish court decisions were somehow arrived at differently. His remarks also seem to cast doubt on the rule of law in Spain, lumping the country together with Turkey and Poland. It is both foolish and dangerous to confront a fellow EU member in this way, one with which Germany has a particularly close relationship. Foolish, because this ill-informed criticism has no basis in fact, and sounds as if Mr. Puigdemont could have written it himself. And dangerous, because attacks on Spain will spark a backlash, which could lead to a genuine political crisis.
But Mr. Mützenich is not alone. His remarks were intended to endorse previous comments made by his party colleague, federal Justice Minister Katarina Barley, who was quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as saying “The judges’ decision in Schleswig-Holstein is absolutely correct. It is what I expected.” She went on to say that talks should be held “on the political issues at stake.” Ms. Barley now claims to have been misrepresented, saying she had issued “no authorized quotations.” She will now refrain from commenting on ongoing court proceedings, the justice ministry said in a statement Monday. Ms. Barley also telephoned with her Spanish counterpart, Justice Minister Rafael Catalá, “to clarify any misunderstandings.”
But the damage has been done. On Saturday, the Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, called Ms. Barley’s remarks “unfortunate.” The alleged quotation received wide coverage in the Spanish media, prompting considerable outrage. The Puigdemont affair is not just any old lawsuit: The case has plunged Spain into a genuine national crisis.
There is no reason to cast doubt on Spain’s judges, nor to take political advantage of court decisions. The question of whether events in Catalonia should be understood as rebellion in a legal sense is, however, a quite legitimate one. Precisely that question has been the subject of fierce arguments in Spain. It now seems the Spanish judge’s extradition request will not be upheld, but that decision is a matter for the courts, not politicians. And not for German politicians, above all.
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