Saturday

1st Oct 2022

Spain under EU fire for non-functioning judiciary

  • Spain's National Council for the Judiciary has been exercising its functions on an interim basis for several years now (Photo: PromoMadrid/Max Alexander)
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Spain must urgently renew the country's most senior judicial body, European Commission vice-president Věra Jourová has warned.

The National Council for the Judiciary (CGPJ), the body that ensures the independence of courts and appoints some magistrates to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and other judiciary high bodies, has been exercising its functions on an interim basis for years — prompting concerns over the rule of law in Brussels.

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In a letter sent on Friday (9 September) to the president of the CGPJ, Jourová voiced concerns over the "dire situation" in which the Spanish judiciary finds itself after four years of "institutional abnormality" caused by the blockade of the institution's members renewal.

The council consists of the president of the Supreme Court, plus 12 judges or magistrates and eight lawyers or other jurists of "recognised prestige".

The appointment of these 20 members is subject to a qualified majority of three-fifths in parliament (congress and senate), but no consensus had been reached since 2018 — with experts warning that any prolonging of this situation could discredit the institution.

In this summer's EU rule of law report, the commission stressed the importance of reducing the influence of legislative or executive power over the judiciary in order to strengthen judicial independence.

The chapter on Spain addressed the renewal of the CGPJ, urging Madrid to reach an agreement and, immediately after the renewal, to initiate a reform on the way its members are appointed "taking into account European standards".

"The absolute priority is … that the Spanish judiciary recovers its full institutional normality" in order to carry out the democratic task it is responsible for, Jourová said.

Four-year standoff

Jourová's letter comes just a few days after the president of the CGPJ, Carlos Lesmes, whose mandate has already been extended for nine years, threatened to resign if the governing Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and the main opposition Popular Party (PP) do not reach an agreement to renew the council in the coming weeks.

Lesmes has repeatedly slammed both the main Spanish parties, pointing out that the blockade of the CGPJ renewal is "devastating" to the Spanish judiciary.

Echoing the same message, Jourova said that a prolonged blockade affecting the correct functioning of essential initiations such as the CGPJ is "harmful" to the rule of law.

Ordinarily, it is Hungary and Poland who have been in Brussels' sights for rule of law breaches.

"The correct functioning of all institutions … should not be part of the political debate, even less should it be taken hostage by that debate," she noted.

The commission vice-president has urged both political parties to act "in a spirit of mutual loyalty and sincere cooperation" having only the interest of citizens and democracy in mind.

But the standoff continues.

Following Lesmes' threats, the lead PP negotiator over the CGPJ renewal, MEP Esteban González Pons, offered the government to renew the members of the council under the current system — but with certain conditions.

The Spanish justice minister Pilar Llop, for her part, has rejected the proposal arguing that the council renewal could take place right now if the opposition party would "really" want to unblock the current deadlock.

The PP party, however, has sent a letter to Jourová and EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders explaining its proposal to draw their support.

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