29 July 2011: On the same day that it announced early elections, the Spanish government released to Access Info Europe a proposed access to information law, finally taking a step towards fulfilling an electoral promise first made in 2004.
There is little chance of the law being adopted during this legislative period, but it raises the stakes for the campaign running up to the 20 November elections.
Formally presented to civil society for the first time on the evening of Friday 29 July in a message sent directly from Minister of the Presidency, Ramón Jáuregui, the draft law is a significant improvement on earlier versions.
Access Info has been campaigning for a transparency law in Spain since 2006, along with the 54 NGO members of the “Coalición Pro Acceso” which has a ten-point set of principles that must be included in any law, including that the law must recognise a fundamental right to information and must establish an independent oversight body.
The campaign was given a boost recently when the call for “A transparency law now!” became one of the demands of the “15 May” protest movement which camped out in Madrid’s main square for one month calling for democratic reform and an end to Spain’s endemic corruption which has aggravated the economic crisis.
Responding to these demands, the current government of the ruling Socialist Party promised on 21 June to present a transparency law before the summer. An earlier draft elaborated by the Prime Minister’s office during 2009-2010 had been kept secret and the only public version was one leaked to Access Info Europe in September 2010.
The opposition Popular Party also recently and for the first time committed to a transparency law when it presented a proposal the parliament on 29 June 2011. For more information on the strengths and weaknesses of this draft click here.
Improved draft fails to apply to all information held by public bodies
The Spanish government’s new draft law published today shows that it has taken on board the findings of a public consultation run by Access Info Europe and the critical analysis from civil society in Spain and globally. Indeed, in the letter sent today to Access Info’s Executive Director Helen Darbishire, Minister Jáuregui recognises the role of civil society in promoting a stronger law.
As a result, the new version has a number of strong points, including that it recognises the right of all persons and applies to all levels of government, including the legislative and judicial branch, and private bodies exercising administrative power.
Improvements are still needed however. A serious weaknesses in the draft law include that it does not apply to all information, excluding background information to decision making such as the opinions and reports, and also does not apply at all to archives, registers and statistics, which means that a large amount of information will remain inaccessible to the public.
One of the significant shortcoming of the law is the lack of an independent oversight body; the proposed body does not have binding powers and is directly attached to the Prime Minister’s Office (Ministry of the Presidency). The draft also fails to establish explicitly that access to information is a fundamental right protected by the constitution