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MADRID – Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has warned that the top court’s decision to block a parliamentary initiative has sparked an institutional crisis unprecedented in the country’s modern era and among European democracies.
The socialist prime minister spoke the day after the constitutional court accepted an appeal by opposition conservatives against a government amendment to the law, halting the passage of the law by parliament.
Last week, Congress approved the amendment that reduces the parliamentary majority needed to appoint senior judges. However, the court ruling prevents the bill from going to the Senate, where it should be voted on later this week.
In a televised statement, Sánchez said he accepts the court ruling but it means that “for the first time, our legitimate representatives, democratically elected by Spaniards… will be prevented from performing their representative duty.”
He added that this situation “has no precedent in the democratic history of our country, nor in the institutional spaces of Europe”.
The prime minister blamed the clash on the conservative People’s Party (PP), which appealed the amendment after claiming it violated constitutional norms after it was included in the government’s last-minute reform of the penal code.
Sánchez accused the PP of trying to use the judiciary to exercise political power it had lost in elections.
Sánchez’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and its junior coalition partner Unidas Podemos (UP) had called for the dismissal of two judges of the Constitutional Court, arguing that their terms of office had expired and they were effectively deciding their own future. However, this claim was denied.
The court’s decision now means that a four-year impasse caused by a disagreement between the PSOE and the PP over the appointment of new judges continues. Sánchez said his government will continue to seek a solution to the standoff.
Welcoming the ruling, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo said the government had broken constitutional rules in its attempt to reform the judiciary and claimed Sánchez had strayed towards “extremist populism”.
“This is outlandish legislation that undermines our country’s democratic tradition,” he said. “The government is obsessed with controlling our state institutions.”
The court ruling does not affect other amendments approved by Congress as part of penal code reform. These include the abolition of the criminal offense of incitement to hatred and reductions in penalties for misuse of public funds in certain cases. The opposition accuses the government of supporting Catalan nationalists with both changes.