Brussels has ‘zero’ concerns on amnesty law, says Spanish minister

Félix Bolaños, Spanish justice minister, meets EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders
Félix Bolaños, Spanish justice minister, meets EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders Copyright Aurore Martignoni/CCE
By Mared Gwyn JonesAida Sanchez Alonso
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The European Commission has no concerns about the impact of Spain's controversial amnesty bill on the rule of law, Spanish justice minister Félix Bolaños said on Thursday.

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Speaking to reporters in Brussels following a meeting with EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders and transparency commissioner Věra Jourová, Bolaños said: "On the amnesty law, I have to tell you that the European Commission has zero concerns about the health and strength of the rule of law and the separation of powers in Spain - zero concerns, zero, none."

"They (the Commission) are familiar with the law that has been presented, they know that it is a bill that absolutely conforms with the constitution, with Spanish law, also with EU law. And not only with EU law but also with European values of dialogue, of mutual understanding and of building coexistence from conflict," Bolaños added.

But the European Commission rebuffed Bolaños' claim a day after the meeting, assuring that questions remained and that the dialogue with the Spanish authorities would continue.

"Our analysis is ongoing and so, in that sense, the Commission has not said yet that the amnesty law does not raise any concerns," a spokesperson on behalf of the European Commission said on Friday.

Earlier this month, Catalan separatist party Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) - led by the self-exiled Carles Puigdemont - offered seven of its votes in the Spanish parliament to back a government led by socialist Pedro Sánchez in exchange for a controversial amnesty for Catalan politicians and activists who participated in a failed attempt at secession from Spain in 2017.

The move has infuriated Spain’s opposition parties, who accuse Sánchez and the Spanish socialist party (PSOE) of flouting the rule of law for political gains. The political right had called on the EU executive to intervene by probing potential rule of law infringements.

The bloc can sanction member states for rule of law breaches under Article 7 of the EU treaties and is currently withholding funds from both Hungary and Poland for democratic backsliding.

Following Thursday's meeting with Bolaños, justice commissioner Didier Reynders said they had held a "good meeting" and that "dialogue will continue with the Spanish authorities." 

Reynders said last week that his legal team is scrutinising the bill "carefully, independently, and objectively to determine compliance with EU law," but the Commission has so far refrained from disclosing its assessment of the proposed law, and no concerns regarding the erosion of the rule of law have been raised.

Bolaños - branded 'super-minister' after being given responsibility for the Presidency, justice and relations with the parliament in Pedro Sánchez's newly-formed government - said that the Commission considered the amnesty bill to be an "internal matter for Spain."

He also claimed the amnesty would help overcome a problem that had plagued Catalonia, Spain and Europe over the past decade.

"Our clear objective is to overcome a conflict that we had in Catalonia, and that of course affected not only Spain, but also the rest of Europe," he said.

Last Wednesday, right-wing lawmakers in the European Parliament took aim at the amnesty bill in a heated debate, accusing Sánchez of flouting the rule of law for his own political gains.

But few lawmakers from other member states turned up to the debate, in a sign of what Bolaños claimed to be the bloc's acceptance of the law.

"Therefore, given that this is the situation in Brussels, I would be grateful if the Partido Popular would not aim to harm our country's reputation to fulfill their political goals," he said, referring to Spain's main opposition, centre-right party.

He also claimed that the largest part of the meeting with Commissioner Reynders was dedicated to the sore issue of the renewal of Spain's top legal body, the General Council of the Judiciary (GCJ).

A political standoff between the government and the opposition over judicial appointments means the appointment of new members to the GCJ is blocked. Bolaños accused the PP of blocking the renewal

"Next Monday it will be five years since the PP has been blocking the renewal," Bolaños said. 

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"The European Commission knows exactly who is responsible for us not being able to renew the General Council of the Judiciary," he said.

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