Breaking news- Joaquín Almunia to be next EU judge
Very trustworthy sources in Spain confirmed to us last night that rumours were true, and that former competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia is poised to be a judge at the EU General Court. The news has now also been confirmed by at least M-Lex and Bloomberg.
The appointment would take place within the timely addition to the Court of 12 more judges, just when the existing ones had managed to clear the backlog.
Chillin’Competition has been able to talk to Mr. Almunia via a former intern at his cabinet. Mr. Almunia has acknowledged that he will indeed take up this new role, which he considers as a new challenge that comes at the right moment of his life, given that his stint at DG Comp has provided him with a unique viewpoint that is different from that of his colleagues to be. The former Commissioner and Judge-to be also noted that his background in economics might contribute to shifting the case-law towards a more economics based approach.
An economist and lawyer by training, Mr. Almunia will be able to join the General Court pursuant to a controverted provision included in the new Spanish Law regulating the selection procedures for candidates to EU judgeships (see here). This provision states that politicians having held office in EU institutions for more than 8 years, as well as former national ministers who do not find a suitable occupation within 12 months of leaving office, could now be considered for a post at the Constitutional Court. Whereas some claim this may be a legal subterfuge conceived only to enable them to be appointed to EU Courts (indeed the EU rule is that candidates are suitable when they can be appointed for the highest judicial role in their Member State), the Spanish Government has replied that in reality this provision only codifies, and even narrows down, previous practice, adding that customs and precedents are also sources of law. A government spokesperson is quoted today by Lewis Crofts in M-Lex stating as well as in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo Today stating that “Chancellor Merkel supports us on this one, so we are not concerned”.
In his new job Mr. Almunia is very likely to encounter some of the cases that he dealt with as Competition Commissioner. Asked about the risk of any possible conflicts of interest, Mr. Almunia responded that, “as rightly noted by Professor Nicolas Petit, fortunately there are no public rules on how conflicts of interests are dealt with at the Court, so I cannot speak about that yet. However, I see no possible conflict of interest. If you are referring to the Google case, people are wrong to believe I was closely associated to the investigation. I had nothing to do with it; that said, I would have solved it all had I had a few months more in office” (N.B. the translation from Spanish is ours).
Mr. Almunia also wondered whether we had any question for him concerning Greece and the monetary union, but we did not.
Mr. Almunia’s predecessor as Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has complained to Aoife White, from Bloomberg, that the merits-based system for EU Court appointments used in The Netherlands (and that led to the appointments of Sacha Prechal and Marc van der Woude) does not offer equal chances to valuable and experienced politicians and should hence be replaced. “If we are going to have a more political Commission, I don´t see why we cannot have a more political Court”, she added.