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MEP: Spain’s socialist, centre-right parties undermine the rule of law

Majority parties PSOE (S&D) and Partido Popular (EPP) are undermining the rule of law in Spain by playing a “card trading game” with the country’s judiciary, public institutions and the public media, Renew Europe MEP Maite Pagazaurtund?a (Ciudadanos) told EURACTIV in an interview.

The General Body of the Judiciary (CGPJ), governing Spain’s judicial branch and safekeeping its independence, has been under fire since 2018 due to the failure of Spain’s major political parties to renew the body’s members, whose mandate expired five years ago.

Members of the body are chosen by the two biggest parties in parliament, with the Senate and Congress picking 10 each. Such a system, according to Pagazaurtund?a, has given the socialists (S&D) and centre-right Partido Popular (EPP) “the temptation to hoard beyond what parties should control”.

Instead of agreeing on neutral and independent profiles, this method has ensured PSOE and Partido Popular have dominated the judiciary since the 1980s, “using their majorities in parliament as a card trading game to put people at their whim”, Pagazaurtund?a warned.

She added that this situation “has been degenerating and has reached a point where the two parties are now locked in a stalemate, blaming each other for something that is extremely contentious”.

Controversy also exists about the Prosecutor General. “It is not very aesthetically pleasing that the last Prosecutor General has been so closely linked to the PSOE and the government in recent times”, Pagazaurtund?a highlighted.

Legal – and cultural – reform needed

Acknowledging the issues at the judiciary, the Commission’s rule of law reports since 2020 have urged Spain to renew the CGPJ and reform how members are appointed.

The July 2022 report also includes recommendations regarding the independence of the prosecutor general. “We are concerned about the coincidence of the two mandates, the mandate of the government and this figure [Prosecutor General]”, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in October 2022.

These reports help review lackings in the rule of law since they have “a leverage effect because nobody, no state, likes to be portrayed badly, and having standards of comparison can also help in a positive way”, Pagazaurtund?a said.

However, as helpful as the rule of law reports may be, “first we have to think that this is a question of political culture that we need in our country”.

“Political parties need to understand that the separation of powers is something necessary and that criticising the other party when they do exactly what they criticise generates an enormous distrust in citizens and also lowers the quality of the rule of law itself”, she said.

Interference in public media and other bodies

The politicisation of public institutions and the “card trading game” between the PP and PSOE go further than the judiciary, Pagazaurtund?a warned.

The PP and PSOE agreed a priori on the new leadership of the Spanish Data Protection Agency without the required public selection process in October 2021. “The government, scandalously, has violated the principle of transparency, impartiality and independence. We have seen the same thing so many times in the Court of Auditors and in other bodies that should be independent”, she said.

Pagazurtundua also highlighted the numerous complaints that RTVE’s staff has filed due to the politicisation of the institution by both PP and PSOE, which “little times have resisted the temptation to tie RTVE up short”, workers from RTVE’s news programmes said in a press release in September 2022.

“It was also these two parties, with the support of PNV [Vasque Nationalist Party/Renew Europe] and Podemos [leftist governing partner/The Left], which shelved the public competition to elect the Presidency and the Board of Directors of this corporation, preferring to install a system of quotas and partisan distribution in RTVE, a decision enormously detrimental to the interests of this institution and the citizens themselves”, RTVE’s workers wrote.

In its 2022 rule of law report, the Commission does not acknowledge Pagazurtundua’s concerns regarding RTVE and AEPD.

In reference to RTVE, the report states that “a regulatory environment sustaining independent and impartial public service media is in place”, whereas, for the AEPD, the report briefly mentions the appointment of its leadership without going into detail.

“We have to try to make them as accurate as possible”, said Pagazaurtund?a, referring to the rule of law reports. (Max Griera EURACTIV.com)

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