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MIAC President, Jose Maria Alonso: “The Spanish authorities fully support MIAC’s positioning as a global arbitration player”

Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas / Unsplash

This month, as part of its ongoing series of interviews with leading figures in the field of international arbitration, TAO is pleased to publish an interview with Mr José María Alonso – President of the Madrid International Arbitration Center (MIAC).

Mr Alonso was elevated to the MIAC presidency on 3 January 2023, following an election by the institution’s Plenary in October 2022. Over the course of his 30 years’ experience in the practice of international arbitration, Mr Alonso has served as President of the Madrid Bar Association as well as the managing partner of major law firms such as Baker & McKenzie and Garrigues. He takes over the MIAC Presidency from interim President Juan Serrada.

Given the commotion surrounding Mr José Antonio Caínzos’ sudden resignation as MIAC President, Mr Alonso wished to explain, from the outset, that “the matter was exaggerated by the media. The MIAC has always continued to function correctly, without being affected by that resignation.” Expressing gratitude on behalf of MIAC for Mr Caínzos’ service as President, Mr Alonso says that “it is now time for MIAC to look ahead in order to continue strengthening the common project of the Spanish arbitration community.”

MIAC is the result of the merger of the international branch of the Madrid Court of Arbitration, the Civil and Commercial Court of Arbitration, and the Spanish Court of Arbitration, with the participation of the Court of Arbitration of the Madrid Bar Association as a strategic partner.

To this end, Mr Alonso says that all main arbitration courts finance the MIAC, and have committed themselves to refer all international arbitrations to it, thus avoiding any conflict between the competences of the different arbitration institutions that make up the MIAC. He explains that “MIAC has an International Commission, whose task is to issue guidelines establishing the criteria for determining when an arbitration is to be deemed international and, therefore, referred to MIAC.”

“Whilst the question of what would happen in case of doubt as to the internationality of the dispute was explored, and it was considered whether it was appropriate to establish that in such a case the internationality of the dispute would always stand,” Mr Alonso reports that, in the end, it was agreed that “a case by case analysis should be carried out, and that a general criterion cannot be established for all cases where there was doubt as to the internationality of the dispute.”

As for the Madrid Bar Association’s role as a strategic partner, Mr Alonso points out that “one of the main tasks of this institution – which has the largest membership of any bar association in Europe – is to hold courses on international arbitration and, more importantly, to make lawyers aware of the importance of arbitration as an alternative means of resolving disputes.” He hopes that the courses will encourage lawyers to include arbitration clauses in the contracts they prepare in their capacity as lawyers.

As far as MIAC’s functioning is concerned, Mr Alonso reiterates that “this institution has all the features and services offered by the most important international arbitration administration centres in the world.”

Mr Alonso explains, for example, that the role of the Arbitrator Appointment Committee – which has the function of confirming the arbitrators proposed by the parties and of appointing arbitrators when the parties do not agree  (with the support of the Secretariat of the Centre) “is chaired by the President of MIAC, and has four external members, of great international prestige, appointed by the Plenary, who are totally independent and receive no remuneration for their work.”

Meanwhile, MIAC’s Committee for the Preliminary Examination of Awards, reviews awards before they are rendered by the arbitrators in order to strengthen and reinforce their enforceability – “always in accordance with the Rules and the Guide for the Preliminary Examination of Awards issued by the Committee” reiterates Mr Alonso.

While it should be noted that the Committee for the Preliminary Examination of Awards examines the formal aspects of the award (the reasons for the award, the merits of the dispute, the determination and the apportionment of costs), “the Centre will always preserve the arbitrators’ decision-making freedom.” Thus, once the preliminary examination of the award in question has been completed, the tribunal or sole arbitrator, as the case may be, must incorporate the comments issued by the Committee, which the tribunal or sole arbitrator deems fit, as soon as possible, and in any event within five working days. Mr Alonso makes it clear, however, that “the fact that MIAC carries out a preliminary examination of awards does not mean that it accepts liability for the content of the award.”

Regarding mediation, Mr Alonso mentions that the Centre has a Mediator Appointment Committee, whose purpose is to appoint mediators when the parties cannot agree. “Although the Centre promotes the use of mediation as an alternative means of conflict resolution, its emphasis is on international arbitration.”

On a more general note, Mr Alonso told iarbnews that one of his main goals for his presidency is to further improve the positioning of Spain and, more specifically, of Madrid as a hub for international arbitration at a global scale.

“Spain has definitively left behind an eminently ominous period,” Mr Alonso admits in reference to the series of rulings by the Superior Tribunal of Justice of Madrid which cast doubt on Madrid’s suitability as a friendly place to host and enforce arbitration proceedings. Through those rulings, which have since been set aside by Spain’s Constitutional Court, the Superior Tribunal expanded the limits of public policy as a basis for the annulment of an arbitration award. Nowadays, however, the judicial decisions of the Spanish courts are typically deferential to the arbitrators as to the merits of their awards.

[Read more about this ominous period, as well as the decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court to rectify the situation, in iarbnews interview with international arbitrator Professor José Carlos Fernández Rozas here.]

“Latin America is also a major partner that will contribute to the promotion of Madrid as a global arbitration hub.” However, Mr Alonso cannot hide his disappointment with the fact that the majority of arbitrations between parties from countries whose official language is Spanish are still carried out in venues such as Zurich, Geneva or Paris. “The Spanish seat, Madrid, should be the natural venue, and that it is pure logic that this should be so.”

Mr Alonso is nevertheless encouraged by the fact that, in addition to the common language and sense of identity, a large number of Latin American law firms have set up offices in Spain. “This has contributed to strengthening ties with Latin America in the field of arbitration and, consequently, has awakened a great interest in the parties to international arbitration proceedings – from Latin America or Spain – in pursuing the proceedings in their own language. This brings great advantages for the parties and their lawyers, who will no longer have to argue in a language that is not their own, and at the same time this situation will also have an impact on reducing the costs of the proceedings by eliminating the language barrier.”

On the issue of reduced costs, Mr Alonso explains that lower costs are not only the result of the elimination of the language barrier, but also that “fees charged by lawyers in Spain are generally lower than in other major international arbitration centres, such as London, Paris or Geneva.” This, he says, is true for both the arbitration itself as well as any proceedings before the national courts, such as annulment or enforcement and recognition proceedings. He also points out that “Madrid offers lower costs in terms of transport, travel, daily allowances and accommodation in addition to being a very safe city and a highly attractive cultural destination for its visitors.”

Mr Alonso considers the strengthening of MIAC’s collaboration with Spain’s local and national public administrations as key to helping position MIAC as “a global player in the field of arbitration capable of competing on an equal footing with venues such as Paris, Geneva or London.”

In the same vein, Mr Alonso told iarbnews that the Spanish authorities are well aware of the impact that positioning Madrid as an international arbitration hub may have on the economy as a whole, and that the Spanish authorities fully support MIAC’s positioning as a global arbitration player. He added that one of the priorities on his agenda is to make contact with the countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region, and in particular he intends to approach the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to make them aware of the benefits that the positioning of MIAC as a major international arbitration hub will entail for both the Latin American region and Spain, given that this will ultimately serve the interests of all the stakeholders involved in the field of international arbitration.

Finally, he points to Madrid’s selection as the venue for the ICCA Congress in 2026 – which he suggests “will greatly contribute to the promotion of Madrid as a new international arbitration hub.”

[For a ‘behind the bid’ look at Madrid’s selection as host of the 27th ICCA Congress in 2026 see the iarbnews report here.]