Independence referendum leaders in exile: a timeline

After the 2017 vote to split from Spain, former Catalan president and ministers have fought their case in Europe

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks to the media alongside his lawyer Gonzalo Boye outside a courtroom in Brussels in October 2019
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks to the media alongside his lawyer Gonzalo Boye outside a courtroom in Brussels in October 2019 / Natàlia Segura
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona-Brussels

July 4, 2023 06:10 PM

July 5, 2023 10:22 AM

It has been almost six years since the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont last stepped foot in the country. 

Ever since October 2017, he and some of his former ministers have been living in exile in Belgium. Puigdemont, along with Toni Comín, Lluís Puig, Clara Ponsatí, and others opted to continue working towards independence for Catalonia from abroad, rather than face the Spanish courts, as some of the other referendum leaders did. 

Now, the former president faces a ruling in European courts that will be crucial for his political future. 

The European General Court are due to issue a ruling over the immunity status as MEPs for Puigdemont, Comín, and Ponsatí that will likely have repercussions over whether Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, the judge investigating the case of the independence push, will be able to go forward with arrest warrants, or whether the politicians may even be able to return to Catalonia. 

Spain has tried to have Puigdemont extradited numerous times in recent years but has so far failed. So how did we get here? Here's a timeline of events of the past six years.  

Oct 30, 2017 - Puigdemont and other government ministers arrive in Brussels after holding Catalonia's independence referendum deemed illegal by Spain

Nov 3, 2017 - The first European arrest warrants are issued by the Supreme Court against Carles Puigdemont, Meritzell Serret, Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí and Lluís Puig

Dec 5, 2017 - Judge Pablo Llarena withdraws first European arrest warrants

Dec 21, 2017 - First Catalan elections held after autonomy restored: pro-independence bloc keep majority in Catalan parliament

Jan 30, 2018 - Spain's Constitutional Court prohibits Puigdemont being invested as remote president

Mar 23, 2018 - Llarena issues new arrest warrants against Puigdemont, Serret, Comín, Puig, Ponsatí and Marta Rovira

Mar 25, 2018 - Puigdemont arrested in Germany and imprisoned for 12 days

May 16, 2018 - Belgium rejects extraditing Comín, Serret and Puig 

July 12, 2018 - Germany rejects extraditing Puigdemont for the charges of rebellion that Spain wanted to try the independence leaders for

May 26, 2019 - Puigdemont and Junqueras elected as MEPs but cannot attend swearing-in ceremony

Oct 14, 2019 - Supreme Court rule 2017 referendum leaders guilty of sedition, Llarena activates third EAW

Dec 19, 2019 - European Court of Justive grants immunity to Junqueras and accepts him as MEP-elect

Dec 20, 2019 - Puigdemont recognized as MEP 

Jan 13, 2020 - Llarena issues petition to European parliament against Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí  

Jan 7, 2021 - Belgium rejects extraditing Puig

Mar 9, 2021 - European parliament removes immunity from Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí; Llarena queries Court of Justice of the European Union about Belgium's decision not to extradite Puig 

Mar 11, 2021 - Serret returns from exile in Belgium

Jun 21, 2021  - Spain pardons referendum leaders who had been convicted of sedition 

Sep 23, 2021 - Puigdemont arrested in Sardinia, released a day later 

May 24, 2022 - CJEU provisionally restores parliamentary immunity for Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí

Jul 19, 2022 - Anna Gabriel returns from exile in Switzerland

Jan 31, 2023 - CJEU endorses the possibility of dismissing EAWs if there are "well-founded reasons" such as violation of rights

Jan 12, 2023 - Llarena modifies charges against exiled politicians in the wake of the penal code reform eliminating the law of sedition, but doesn't issue new arrest warrants 

Mar 28, 2023 - Ponsatí returns from exile in Belgium and is arrested

Jul 5, 2023 - Puigdemont loses parliamentary immunity following European court ruling