Enrique Arnaldo being sworn in, with King Felipe VI in the backgronud. / EFE

A judge of character

One of the new Constitutional Court judges isn't as upright as you might expect, allegedly receiving almost a million euros in commissions

MARK NAYLER

Never give lessons to anyone again." So said a member of centrist Ciudadanos to leftist Podemos last week, when it emerged that the Socialist-led government and the opposing Conservative Popular Party (PP) had struck a deal to appoint four new judges to Spain's Constitutional Court. The most controversial is PP-nominated Enrique Arnaldo, whose promotion has rocked an already-fragile coalition and demonstrated that corruption and favours remain at the heart of Spanish politics.

Given that he's ascending to one of Spain's top legal jobs, Arnaldo isn't as upright as you might expect. He's alleged to have received almost a million euros in commissions from PP-led regions when he was a magistrate, a practice that's expressly forbidden. Also, as a former law professor and seasoned chum of the PP's national leader, Pablo Casado, he's said to have played a role in the composition of Casado's questionable CV. Pedro Sánchez was quick to announce that he's not a fan of Arnaldo's, but nevertheless wanted to "renew [Spain's] constitutional institutions", as per the Socialists' prior agreement with the PP.

For its role in propelling Arnaldo to the Constitutional Court, Podemos has been harshly criticised by the Spanish opposition. Edmundo Bal, the Ciudadanos member quoted at the start of this column, said it was ironic that the anti-establishment party supposedly entered politics to "regenerate" it, but has instead ended up in a "pantomime" still dominated by the Conservatives and Socialists.

Podemos has changed, certainly. It was born from 2011's '15-M' protests in Madrid, which voiced popular outrage at widespread political corruption. But its galvanising force, former leader Pablo Iglesias, quit politics shortly after the party attained national power. Podemos was left to flounder under the Socialists, frequently making concessions to the right and centre.

Yet it's not just Podemos that's struggling to perform the (perhaps impossible) task of de-corrupting Spanish politics. Bal's centrist force Ciudadanos, which rode to prominence on a similarly purist ticket, isn't in a position to sneer at its leftist counterpart. It has squandered chances to enter government as a junior partner - also with the Socialists - and recently suffered a series of heavy electoral defeats. Gone are the heady days of August 2016, when Ciudadanos, in its role as potential kingmaker, forced the PP to agree to strict anti-corruption measures.

When that pact was signed, a PP spokesman gushed that it signalled the "beginning of a love affair". Maybe - but it's now an unhappy relationship in which the senior partner has returned to gambling and theft, crushing the optimism of their cowed younger lover. The once-blissful affair has turned sour; after all, you can't force someone to change if they don't want to.