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Spain's coalition government partners PSOE and Unidas Podemos have made a decisive move in an attempt to end the latest manifestation of the country's long-running deadlocks over judicial renewal, which are now centred on the judiciary's governance organ, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) and the Spanish Constitutional Court. This Friday, the governing parties have presented two last-minute amendments on laws governing the judiciary into the reform of the Penal Code, which is also reforming a number of other areas including the crimes of sedition, public disorder, and now misuse of funds, and is about to begin its parliamentary hearings. The disputes over judicial renewal, which have gone on for four years, have in the main been centred on the inability of the two main political parties, the PSOE and the PP, to reach agreement on new appointments, but in the current deadlock, the breakdown of cooperation between conservative and progressive political outlooks is also within the judicial bodies themselves. The CGPJ, whose renewal has still not been agreed by the political parties, is itself at loggerheads over the appointment of four new constitutional judges, while the conservative majority on the Constitutional Court has also placed obstacles to the new appointments, two of whom, nominated by the Pedro Sánchez executive, are very close to the Socialist-led government. And the judges have now reacted to the executive's Penal Code move - which some see as a "threat" and "endangering the separation of powers" - by calling an urgent meeting of the CGPJ.  

The first of the two amendments which the Pedro Sánchez executive has tabled will reform the Law of Judicial Power to change the three-fifths majority that the CGPJ requires in making its choice of the two Constitutional judges currently due, to impose a new system under which the new judges can be selected by a simple majority on the governance organ. The modification includes new wording of article 599.1.1a of the judiciary law so that the process by which the Council has to nominate two constitutional judges is made watertight and given time limits. Under the new rules, the two nominations would be likely to end up as one conservative and one progressive judge. The Spanish government believes that the current blockade would be resolved in about 11 working days from the publication of the rule in the Official State Gazette (BOE). In addition, in order to protect this renewal, the coalition government has added a clause indicating that, in the event that the members or the president of the CGPJ insist on the blockade, they will incur responsibilities "of all orders, including criminal".

Removal of Constitutional Court's verification

The second amendment plans to modify the 1979 Law of the Constitutional Court so that if after the 9 years and 3 months of the mandate of the judges proposed to the court by the CGPJ and the Spanish government, "one of these two bodies had not made it proposal", the judge would then be renewed "by the body that has fulfilled its constitutional duty". This ends the debate on whether the renewal of a third of the court, which in this case involves two judges to be chosen by the Spanish government and two by the judges' governance body, should be done simultaneously; as well, the need for verification of the new judges by the Constitutional Court is eliminated. In addition, a section is added to article 19 of the Constitutional Court law which implies that the Congress, Senate, CGPJ and the Spanish government are the bodies which are obliged to verify that the elected judges meet the requirements, while also stipulating a new termination clause, according to the amendment, "for not complying with the requirements provided for in article 159.2 of the Constitution".

With these two amendments, the Spanish government seeks to ensure the end of the blockade on its own designations to the Constitutional Court, which have generated controversy due to their closeness not only to politics but to this Socialist government: one of these is Pedro Sánchez's former minister of justice and a judge of the National Audience, Juan Carlos Campo; the other, professor of constitutional law Laura Díez, who until six months ago was a senior official in the Spanish prime minister's department.

Conservative judges: government is "destroying the separation of powers"

This Friday afternoon, in response to the Pedro Sánchez executive's planned amendment, the conservative wing of the General Council of the Judiciary reacted by requesting an urgent and extraordinary plenum to vote for the candidates for the Constitutional Court positions before the proposal of the Spanish government is approved and enters into force. A proposal they see as a "threat", as Efe and Europa Press have reported. The planned reduction of the required majority on the Council from three-fifths to a simple majority is part of the objection, but the plan to be able to make CGPJ members, in the last resort, criminally responsible in the event of not carrying out the new appointments is considered by conservatives to be a form of pressure, although progressives have called it a solution to the current deadlock.

The sources consulted believe that this is "devastating interference", "blackmail" and even a "threat" with the simple aim of accepting the name proposed by the progressive sector: José Manuel Bandrés, current Supreme Court judge. This is why the conservatives say they are "bewildered" and "concerned" about the reform presented by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos. A reform that treats them "almost like criminals" in order to "dominate the institutions they do not control", and have accused the state executive of "playing with fire" because "it is about to destroy the separation of powers and the rule of law".