Shooting oneself in the foot

February 23, 2009

Mariano Fernández Bermejo, ministro de Justicia.preview

This is the scenario: Judge Baltasar Garzón initiates an investigation into systematic corruption in the Partido Popular (PP) of Madrid and other important cities. Arrests are made and heavy bails are set. Plenty of PP bigwigs are allegedly involved, some of whom are aforados, including a President of an Autonomous Region governed by the PP and several national and regional deputies (and more to come, apparently).The excrement hits the fan and the PP, which is under its own investigation for spying among its own ranks in Madrid, is in retreat.

When you’re cornered, you attack, don’t you? Mariano Rajoy, the Leader of the Opposition, says that Garzón, who was once, for a short time, a high-up elected PSOE parliamentarian and now sits as one of sx judges on the National Criminal Court ,  is persecuting his, Rajoy’s, party. Like manna from heaven, rather than excrement, for the PP, the Minister for Justice, Mariano Fernández Bermejo (PSOE, photo), is discovered to have gone on a weekend hunting jaunt with the famous Judge Garzón – not very cleverly at the northern Andalucía estate of a member of the PP. To make matters worse, the Minister of Justice did not have the right gun licence for Andalucía, so was hunting illegally.

This scenario turned out to be ideal for both parties: they are able to raise smokescreens of cross accusations instead of dealing with the economy, which neither party seems able to do. Indeed, the PP scored a victory today: Bermejo resigned his Ministry “but I will continue to work from my position as a Deputy”. He had presented his resignation last week but Zapatero didn’t accept it. Until he had to, obviously (See my article: The need to be right, below.)

Bermejo was on a roll until then. He was ‘renovating’ the judicial system, which badly needs it. (The budget for this phase of the renovation is €20 million, and the budget for handing out free long-life light bulbs throughout the country is €40 million.) But he was not well liked by those he was supposed to be renovating: there have been strikes by court officials, court Secretaries and even an unprecedented and allegedly unconstitutional strike by judges. His successor is Francisco Caamaño, who is known as a deft negotiator and well respected. It will take a lot of negotiating to unravel this mess.

In the meantime, the PP licks its chops – though not for long if Garzón has his way. But then, they’re all in an electoral battle in Galicia and the Basque Region, so they may be otherwise occupied.

But one thing must be said: Bermejo is one of very few Spanish politicians to have resigned for a misdeed. This brings to mind the non-resignation of several PP ministers of the Aznar era, who should have resigned for much more serious things, including the mishandling of the Prestige environmental catastrophe, the Yak-42 aircraft accident that killed 62  Spanish soldiers on their way back from Afghanistan – or indeed, Aznar himself, who got his country into the Iraq disaster in the first place, though he was elected out before he could do any more damage.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009