Monday

30th Jan 2023

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)
Listen to article

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Spain's Sanchez in storm over judicial appointments bill

Spain's socialist-led coalition has proposed changing how members of the country's top judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary, are appointed - triggering a political and judicial storm about the independence, and drawing 'double standards' complaints from Poland.

No money to Poland without rule of law, von der Leyen says

"[The commission's] three commitments must be fulfilled before any payment can be made," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said as criticism of the EU executive mounts for approving Poland's recovery plan.

Editorial

Editor's weekly digest — Saturday 17 September

The Queen of England died. Ukraine started a startlingly successful counterattack on Russian occupiers. Sweden elected a rightwing government. Hungary no longer considered a democracy by the European Parliament. A new secretary-general appointment was rushed through.

Opinion

Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters

The ECHR ruled that Russia was in "effective control" of separatist regions of Eastern Ukraine from 11 May 2014. In doing so, the court has formally acknowledged the inter-state character of the conflict and Russia's culpability for human rights abuses.

Opinion

Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency

The director of Amnesty International Greece on the political spying scandal that now threatens to bring down prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Activists and NGO staff work with the constant fear that they are being spied on.

Latest News

  1. No internet, light, heat: how war-hit Ukrainians remote-work
  2. Mars, god of war, returns to Europe
  3. Fears on migration plus Ukraine summit this WEEK
  4. Pressure mounts on EU to coordinate visas for Russian rights-defenders
  5. Dutch set to agree to US-led chip controls to China
  6. No record of Latvian MEP's 'official' Azerbaijan trip
  7. Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters
  8. Europe continues to finance Russia's war in Ukraine with lucrative fossil fuel trades

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  2. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  3. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  4. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  2. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  3. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  5. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  6. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us