In any legal matter, judges must be impartial. Of course. Impartiality presupposes an absence of prejudice towards the parties and their respective interests. It is a fundamental principle, its respect must be scrupulous. In the Vincenzo Vecchi case, the Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union must issue an essential opinion on March 31. Law is not a science. They are people who judge, formulate opinions, lodge appeals, pronounce indictments.
However, the Vincenzo Vecchi case has an important political component. Indeed, the incrimination, for which Vincenzo Vecchi is claimed by Italy, concerns his participation in the demonstrations against the G8 in Genoa, in 2001. These are anti-globalization demonstrations, the context is therefore entirely political. Vincenzo Vecchi was sentenced to 12 years in prison under an Italian law dating from the fascist period, which allows the sentencing of very heavy sentences, without proof of criminal acts, of a person simply present in a demonstration where the courts consider that public order has been seriously disturbed. This Mussolinian law is intended to repress any demonstration.
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“Vincenzo Vecchi case: the spirit of the law”, by Eric Vuillard
For eleven years, Vincenzo Vecchi has lived in France. But in August 2019, he was arrested. Two European arrest warrants have been issued against him. The first relates to his participation in the demonstrations against the G8 in Genoa in 2001, the second relates to his participation in a demonstration against the extreme right in Milan in 2006. He calls for justice against the two mandates. He will remain in prison for three months. In November 2019, the Rennes Court of Appeal rendered a favorable decision and he was finally released: the arrest warrant relating to the demonstration in Milan was aimed at a sentence that Vincenzo Vecchi had already carried out in Italy. Italian justice therefore lied to French justice, claiming a man on the basis of a sentence already served.
Regarding the second arrest warrant, the Rennes Court of Appeal will demand the immediate release of Vincenzo Vecchi three months later, but the prosecutor will appeal to the Court of Cassation. After the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Rennes was quashed, the case was retried before the Court of Appeal of Angers, which once again agreed with Vincenzo Vecchi, but the prosecutor appealed again. Finally, the Court of Cassation today asks the Court of Justice of the European Union for an opinion before rendering its judgment. Before this opinion is given, the advocate general of this court must give his opinion. This is where we are, after almost three years of proceedings, two favorable decisions, a real judicial harassment.
“Vincenzo Vecchi cannot be delivered on the basis of a law dating from Mussolini”, by Eric Vuillard
The Advocate General who will deliver his opinion is not reducible to its function, it is a person; let us therefore see what is involved in its impartiality. Athanasios Rantos has been in office for two years. He comes from a family of high magistrates. He was judge of the High Hellenic Administrative Court, the Council of State, for forty-two years, successively auditor, master of requests, adviser, vice-president, then president. He also taught for twenty years at the School of Magistracy. His career is exemplary. He was appointed in 2020 to the post of President of the Council of State just a few months before retiring. But during this short term, he had to deal with an important matter in which he seems to have taken a position in favor of a questionable choice of the Mitsotakis government. It should be remembered that Kyriákos Mitsotakis, as Prime Minister, chose to take the oath on the Bible rather than on the Constitution. Like the campaign he led on nationalist themes, and the appointment to his government of personalities from the neo-fascist movement, this signals him very far to the right in the political spectrum. However, Judge Rantos is also reputed to be a believer and, according to the Greek press, quite xenophobic.
During Judge Rantos’ very short stint as head of the Council of State, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis dissolved the board of the Competition Commission, an independent authority, well before his term expired. , which has been widely interpreted as a move to replace its president. In the new council of the Competition Commission, we then find the daughter of Athanasios Rantos, while the Council of State, whose president was Rantos himself, rejected the appeal of the previous council against its dissolution. Of course, Rantos formally abstained, since the case involved his daughter, but his passage of only a few months as President of the Council of State remains marked by this painful incident. It was after this that he was appointed to the Court of Justice of the European Union, this incident having not harmed his brilliant career.
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Therefore, can we believe that Judge Rantos, convinced Orthodox, of liberal opinion, appointed by a very right-wing government, will be “impartial” to judge a demonstrator who participated in the movements against the G8 in Genoa? And when answering an interview for a journalist, who is actually a colleague, since she too is a lawyer at the Court of Justice, he claims to have “learned to proceed as an impartial magistrate to provide suitable solutions in cases…”one can legitimately wonder what he calls suitable solutions.
Was the dissolution of the Board of the Competition Commission a suitable solution? Is it appropriate for a high magistrate to participate in an ultra-liberal forum? Will a convinced orthodox and liberal, supporter of order, be able to impartially judge an anti-liberal demonstrator, accused of having caused disorder? Athanasios Rantos and Vincenzo Vecchi are in reality individuals that everything opposes.
A judicial soap opera: “The Vincenzo Vecchi affair”, by Eric Vuillard
When asked if the Advocates General have a real power to influence the way in which a judgment of the Court of Justice is delivered, Rantos replies that this is the question he asks himself most often. Rantos then invokes the statistics, which would show that, in more than eighty percent of cases, the Court would follow the conclusions of the Advocate General. It’s strange to be infatuated above all with efficiency, for a task that primarily concerns justice! It would be necessary to rewrite “the Pleaders” or “the Wasps”, it would need a satirical theater making play of the injustices of our time.
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But let us hope that between the religious icons, which can be seen in a photograph of his office, and the minerals he collects, Judge Rantos falls from his chair, like Saint Paul once on horseback, and, suddenly illuminated by the justice, hope that he forgets the percentages, neo-liberalism, efficiency, and hope that he considers that an incrimination contrary to fundamental rights, and stemming from Mussolini’s law, cannot serve as a point of support for a European arrest warrant; finally, let us hope that Judge Rantos forgets his personal prejudices against the demonstrations opposed to the G8, and gives a fair opinion.
Vincenzo Vecchi case: a conviction without proof, by Eric Vuillard
Eric Vuillard, organic express
Born in 1968 in Lyon, writer and filmmaker, Eric Vuillard is notably the author of “The Battle of the West” (2012), “Sadness of the Earth” (2014), “The Order of the Day” (Goncourt Prize 2017), “The War of the Poor” (2019) and most recently from “An honorable exit” (2022). All his latest books are published by Actes Sud.