Catalan candidate not included in initial agreement for Spanish Constitutional Court's renovation

After more than 3 years of negotiation, the Conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) have finally agreed on a replacement procedure for the Constitutional Court magistrates who currently have expired mandates. The Constitutional Court has had 4 magistrates with expired 9-year mandates since 2007. The Senate should have already appointed new magistrates, but the two main parties, especially the PP, have been blocking the process.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll / Sarah Garrahan

September 30, 2010 12:19 AM

Madrid (ACN).- The two main Spanish parties have reached a common agreement to replace key positions in several State institutions, the most important being the Constitutional Court. 4 new magistrates should have been appointed by the Senate in 2007 but a lack of agreement made new appointments impossible. This caused incumbent magistrates to see their constitutional 9-year mandates extended 3 more years. Next November, the Spanish Parliament will have to appoint 4 more magistrates who are facing expired mandates. The situation is absolutely unsustainable as the Constitutional Court has a total of 12 magistrates, one being deceased since 2008 and neither replaced. The agreement reached by the PSOE and PP has several parts. The first part is the Court’s renovation by the appointments made by the Senate, which has historically appointed one of four magistrates respecting the pluri-national concept of the Spanish state. The Constitutional Court’s succession process will not respect in a first place Catalan sentiments of a pluri-national Spanish state. There will be a wait of 2 more months for the Spanish Parliament to appoint 4 new magistrates, when a Catalan-friendly magistrate would be appointed. However, the agreement to appoint new magistrates may not be respected in 2 months. The agreement between the two main Spanish parties, the PSOE and PP, has taken Catalan candidates out of the first part of the agreement. The Constitutional Court succession procedure was not possible because the Conservative and Spanish-Nationalist People’s Party (PP) refused to put aside their candidates to foster consensus.

The agreement reached between the PP and PSOE involves both the magistrates whose mandates expired 3 years ago and those whose mandates are expiring this November. The PP has put aside its Senate candidate, Enrique López. He was a member of the maximum authority ruling the judicial power, the General Council of Judicial Power (CGPJ). López was feared by the rest of the parties for his positions, considered by some to be far too right-wing, even extreme right-wing. However, the agreement says that López will be a candidate again for next succession period scheduled in less than 2 months by the Spanish Parliament, in November.

With the agreement, the PSOE has ensured that the Court’s majority will be closer to its political sensitivity. The agreement also involves other positions, such as the Spanish Ombudsman and the president of Spanish public TV and Radio.

The candidates proposed by the PP for the Constitutional Court were seen by all the other parties as far too conservative and too far from the transversal spirit that Constitutional Court magistrates need to have. The agreement has been postponed for more than 3 years but is now more urgent than ever before since 4 more magistrates will see their mandates expire next November. The Constitutional Court has 12 magistrates. Out of those, 1 passed away in 2008 and has not been replaced, 4 others are in the 12th year of their 9-year mandates –a period fixed by the Spanish Constitution– and 4 others will complete their 9-year mandates this November. The situation would be even more dysfunctional than it has already been. In fact, as a result of this dysfunctional situation, the Court has seen its legitimacy and capacity seriously affected.

A proof of this was the debate on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. This organic law was approved by the Spanish and Catalan Parliaments and by a binding referendum by the Catalan people in 2006. However, after the Court’s 4-year debate on the issue, they finally trimmed the Statute in June of 2010. As a result, relations between Catalonia and Spain are now more complicated than they were in 2006. The current agreement between the PP and PSOE does not seem to take enough into account candidates who could contribute to bridge this clash.

The current agreement postpones Catalan sensitivity to a pluri-national Spain entering in the Constitutional Court, which is an essential institution for Spain’s governance and for the respect for plurality. However, the Court seems to act in a politicised way, divided into two groups: one close to PSOE’s interests and the other close to PP’s ones. The Court seems to be closer in the last years to centralist positions, reinterpreting the Spanish Constitution and the political pact that made it possible. Pluri-national or federalist political sensitivities present in the Constitutional pact seem to be more and more marginalised. Considering how the main parties have fought on this issue, not having a Catalan representative in the first part of the agreement increases the possibilities of not having one in the second part. Despite being agreed on, main Spanish parties may still not respect this.

The Catalan candidate is Eliseo Aja, the current President of the Catalan Statue Guarantees Council, a sort of Catalan constitutional body with no binding powers. The agreement is between the Catalan Government, the Catalan Right-Wing Nationalist Party (CiU) and the PSOE. In two months it will be seen if the PSOE and PP implement this pact.