The former president of Spain's Constitutional Court, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, has failed to win any support in his quest for a senior European judicial role, because of his poor language skills in English and French, indispensable requirements in the position he was applying for. At the proposal of the Spanish government, Pérez de los Cobos presented his case to become a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on January 12th. And, as the specialized legal newspaper Confilegal reported, he received zero votes (of a possible ten) from the Council of Europe's Committee on Election of Judges, for his inability to speak either English or French.
Pérez de los Cobos submitted himself to an oral interview on 12th January in Paris with the 10 members of this commission, together with the other two candidates nominated by the Spanish government: José Martín y Pérez de Nanclares, director of the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry's International Juridical Consultancy, and María Elósegui, Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the University of Zaragoza. These two candidates received seven and five votes respectively.
According to Confilegal, when the oral interview started, in English and French, Pérez de los Cobos replied: "Could you ask me in Spanish?" Sources close to the judge say that he was surprised because he had expected that the interview would be Spanish. A month before, all three Spanish candidates had been given a preliminary interview at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There it had already become clear that the ex-president of Spain's highest court did not have the level of English or French necessary, despite presenting a CV declaring that his level of spoken English was "good" and his spoken French "very good", as Confilegel reveals.
The committee's recommendation "by a large majority" was Martín y Pérez de Nanclares, who speaks both required languages. The appointment will now be voted on by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly next Tuesday, and the Spanish government faces a dilemma: forcing its political allies to vote for Pérez de los Cobos or allowing the nomination of Martín y Pérez de Nanclacres to go forward.
If Pérez de los Cobos were selected, he would need to be accompanied by a translator, which would be unprecedented in the European Court of Human Rights, and did not seem to be an issue initially, given that the judge had declared that he had good levels of proficiency in both languages.
It is not the first time Pérez de los Cobos has caused controversy through his candidacy for a judicial role. In 2013, after he had already taken up the role of President of the Spanish Constitutional Court, it emerged that he had been a paid-up member of Spain's Popular Party in previous years, and had failed to declare this in the hearings prior to his appointment to the key Spanish judicial position.