The European Commission will address in Madrid the blockade of the leadership of the Judiciary

The European Commission produces an annual report on the state of the rule of law in Spain. The next one is published in July and, weeks before its publication, the Community Vice President for Values ​​and Transparency, Vera Jourová, undertakes a three-day trip to Spain, from Monday to Wednesday, to talk about the rule of law, the future Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And among all the concerns, a permanent one is the renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary, in office since December 2018 due to the blockade of the PP.

"It is a normal visit to a country to which the vice president has not yet traveled," community sources explain: "She will talk about everything that has to do with her portfolio, from Ukraine, the rule of law, and the CGPJ. We are writing the report on the rule of law that should be published in July, so the visit will also be in this context because, of course, Spain participates in this exercise. So I think that these types of debates will take place. For example, there has been no Once the appointment of the new judges of the General Council of the Judiciary has been resolved, there will be some coherence in this aspect between last year's report and the new one. Therefore, it is a question of speaking of the Rule of Law in general".

Although community sources defend that Jourová's trip is ordinary, they also acknowledge that he will not necessarily visit the 27 Member States: "Spain is an important, large country, it will assume the presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2023, there is good cooperation with the government, but there are some problems like the ones we are talking about.

Vice President Jourová will also meet with representatives of civil society related to violence against women. "Spain is progressing quite well in terms of equality," explain the community sources.

A year ago the second report of the European Commission on the Rule of Law in the 27 was published. And the evaluation of Spain abounded in what was already collected on the previous occasion: the lack of renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary, due to the blockade of the PP, is a problem.

In its report, Brussels affirmed that the Spanish judicial system continues to drag "challenges", specifically "the lack of renewal of the CGPJ", which "continues due to the lack of agreement in Parliament to renew the constitutional bodies". Indeed, the PP did agree to renew RTVE or the Ombudsman, for example, but has refused to do the same with the judicial leadership.

Brussels, in any case, welcomed "the withdrawal of the reform project for the election of the CGPJ" which reduced the majority necessary for its renewal from three-fifths to a simple parliamentary majority. Something that, according to the European Commission, "would have increased the perception that the Council is vulnerable to politicization."

In this context, the European Commission asked to establish an election system for the CGPJ in which judges participate “in line with European standards. It is important that European standards are taken into account and that all affected parties are consulted”.

The CGPJ "has been exercising its functions on an interim basis since December 2018," Brussels recalled, "which prolongs the concern that it may be perceived as vulnerable to politicization, as already mentioned in the Report on the rule of law of 2020”. And it added: "The Council of Europe recalled that European standards establish that at least half of the members of the Council must be judges elected by their peers from all levels of the judiciary."

Thus, the European Commissioner for Justice already pressed after the publication of that report for the Judiciary to be renewed after meeting in Brussels with the main associations of Spanish judges. The Belgian Didier Reynders demanded, in addition to the renewal of the constitutional bodies, a reform in the system of electing judges "that complies with the recommendations of the Council of Europe"; that is to say, that more than half of the governing body, the CGPJ, be elected directly by the judges. The pressure for the renewal of the CGPJ is something that already appeared in the last two reports on the rule of law in Spain, as well as for the "appearance of partiality" of the justice that, in the opinion of the European institutions, transfers the current system election of the governing body.

Brussels in its reports has also warned that "elements of concern have appeared related to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in relation to the criminal responsibility of senior officials [aforamientos] and the regime of incompatibility of judges and prosecutors [las idas y venidas de la política de algunos de ellos]”. Having said that, the European Commission does recognize that several measures have been "adopted or planned to improve the quality of justice, such as the reforms of the ex officio shift and of the Criminal Procedure Law, as well as three drafts on procedure, organization and digital efficiency. The digitization of justice is progressing, and there are efforts to address justice backlogs, such as the creation of new courts, but the low number of judges per inhabitant is a problem.”

Brussels, in addition, reiterates a recurring criticism: “The autonomy of the Prosecutor's Office in relation to the Government is worrying. As mentioned in the 2020 Rule of Law Report, the coincidence in the mandate of the Attorney General and the Government can affect the perception of independence.”

In relation to freedom of the press and pluralism, “the Government is taking steps to address the problems of access to information, although they continue to exist in relation to the transparency of media ownership and the independence and resources of the audiovisual regulator are of concern. as a result of the transposition of the audiovisual media services directive”.

During his visit to Madrid, Jourová will meet on Monday with José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the future Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2023, as well as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Next, he will meet with Teresa Jiménez Becerril, deputy ombudsman, to discuss fundamental rights and the rule of law.

On Tuesday, Jourová will participate in a conference on press freedom organized by Forum Nueva Economía. She will then speak before the Justice Commission of Congress, and will participate in a debate on issues related to the rule of law, justice, the media and disinformation.

In the afternoon, the community vice-president will meet with Félix Bolaños, minister of the Presidency, to deal, once again, with issues related to the rule of law. She will also meet with Nadia Calviño, economic vice president, to discuss the Digital Bill of Rights and the EU digital framework in general, as well as the implementation of sanctions against Russia.

Later, also on Tuesday, Jourová will meet with Pilar Llop, Minister of Justice, to discuss issues related to the rule of law, justice and data protection. Later, she will speak about gender violence with a group of civil society organizations.

On Wednesday, the vice president will meet with Pedro González-Trevijano, president of the Constitutional Court, and Carlos Lesmes, president of the General Council of the Judiciary, on the rule of law and the relationship between supreme and constitutional courts.

He is then scheduled to meet with Irene Montero, Minister for Equality, to discuss equality in the EU, including the European Commission's initiatives on violence against women, salary transparency and equality bodies, as well as the priorities of the future Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2023 in this area.

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