Socialists and PP agree to renew Spain's top judicial body after five-year deadlock

Lack of agreement between majority political parties has prevented renewal since 2018

Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, with Spanish Presidency and Justice Minister, Félix Bolaños, and deputy secretary for the PP's institutional action, Esteban González Pons
Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, with Spanish Presidency and Justice Minister, Félix Bolaños, and deputy secretary for the PP's institutional action, Esteban González Pons / European Commission
Catalan News

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June 25, 2024 05:57 PM

June 25, 2024 09:03 PM

Spain's ruling Socialists and the conservative People's Party (PP) have reached an agreement to renew the country's top judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ). 

The agreement, sealed after five months of negotiations mediated by the European Commission, ends more than five years of deadlock

In 2018, the current members of the body reached the end of their terms but have since continued to hold their posts as the Socialists and the PP, the only parties which can combine the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority, have been unable to agree on their successors. 

Félix Bolaños, the Spanish presidency and justice minister, and Esteban González Pons, the PP's deputy secretary for institutional action, signed the agreement in Brussels on Tuesday. 

The deal also includes the creation of a new law on the judicial power and the appointment of a new judge of the Constitutional Court.

Legal reform

The new law of the judiciary council will regulate the statute of the body.

The legal reform includes a list of incompatibilities for future members of the judiciary council, preventing them from taking a place on the board if they have held public positions of a political nature in the previous five years.

In addition, they will have to appear before a commission of appointments in the legislative chamber that must validate them. A qualification committee will also be created within the collegiate body to "guarantee an objective assessment of the candidatures."

Regarding prosecutors, the legal reform will prohibit a minister or secretary of state from being state attorney general, as happened with former Socialist minister Dolores Delgado.

Political reaction 

After revealing the agreement, Věra Jourová, the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, said the agreement was "very good news."

"I am very happy that Spain works to implement the recommendations issued by the Commission in 2022 and 2023. The agreement has been possible because both parties have shown commitment," she added. 

The PP negotiator, González Pons, said the deal met their "objectives" and celebrated that the composition of the new CGPJ is "absolutely balanced."

"Today, the Spanish judiciary is more independent than it was yesterday, and begins the journey to a life away from politics," he added.

Minister Bolaños said it was "a great day for democracy," and celebrated that the deal ended an "anomaly" in the judiciary. 

The Socialist minister also announced that the new CGPJ could take office in July

Meanwhile, the leader of the People's Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, said the deal shows his party knows how to distinguish "between opposition to the government and loyalty to the state."

"Neither our negative view of the government nor our responsibility to big issues has changed," he said in a press conference in Madrid, before adding that he is not optimistic.

Spokesperson for pro-independence Junts in the Spanish Congress, Míriam Nogueras, warned that the agreement leaves promises of democratic regeneration made by Pedro Sánchez without effect.

"The Socialists and the People's Party have done what they have done for the last 40 years. They talk about the separation of powers, but here what has happened is a distribution," Nogueras claimed.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Rufián of pro-independence Esquerra Republicana affirmed that the agreement means the Socialists are taking a step towards the conservatives.

"We see that the Socialists have today announced a new partner: the People's Party. Today we can welcome the great coalition, which is what Félix Bolaños and González Pons have 'de facto' signed," he said from the Congress building on Tuesday.

Rufián also criticized that Pedro Sánchez has recently railed against the "mud machine" of the judiciary and has ended up agreeing the judiciary council with the People's Party, and called the agreement "a mistake."

Failed negotiations and ultimatums

In the more than 2,000 days since the CGPJ's term expired, the conservatives have broken the negotiations several times. 

First, because of the Socialists' agreements with left-wing Podemos. Second, when they reached agreements with Catalan pro-independence parties, and most recently because of the amnesty law

The conservatives have demanded a reform that would give the judges more power to elect the members of the CGPJ, instead of as it is now, where the Congress and the Senate, the legislative power, have more influence. 

To break the deadlock, the Socialists threatened to make a reform that would reduce the majority needed in Congress to appoint the CGPJ.

Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez recently issued an ultimatum to the PP to reach an agreement or face reform.

With this reform, the Socialists wanted to change the required majority from the current three-fifths of the chamber, which favors the PP, to an absolute majority, where the Socialists would not need the PP.

How appointment of judges' governing body works in Spain

The CGPJ is in charge of appointments, promotions, and transfers of judges, as well as inspecting how courts work and "staunchly safeguarding the independence of the judiciary," protecting it from the other powers. 

Yet, it is the Congress and the Senate, the legislative power, that appoints the members of the CGPJ leadership. Both chambers require three-fifths majorities to appoint a new team when the five-year mandates in CGPJ expire. 

In December 2018, the current members of the governing body reached the end of their terms, but continued since then to hold their posts since the Socialists and the People's Party – essential for the three-fifths majority – were unable to agree on successors.