Madrid, 14 June 2016 – In the run-up to a second general election in less than a year, Spanish political parties are struggling to live up to their pro-transparency discourse as they offer voters weak transparency agendas for the coming legislative term.
As campaigning for the 26 June elections swings into full gear, Access Info Europe is running a reality check on the state of transparency in Spain: what is being done, what isn’t, and what needs to be done to guarantee citizens’ right to know.
Second election, halved commitments
When at the beginning of the month the Access Info team sat down to analyse Spain’s five main parties’ election manifestos, they had trouble believing their eyes: many of the progressive transparency commitments made in the December 2015 manifestos had simply disappeared for the June 2016 versions.
Rather remarkably, the Socialist Party and centre-right Ciudadanos, have downgraded their commitments, inexplicably removing key proposals to improve Spain’s sub-standard Transparency Law, such as recognising the right of access to information as a fundamental right, or eliminating barriers to access such as the need for identification when asking for information. These parties also removed whistleblower protection.
Of five party manifestos analysed, only two – Podemos and Izquierda Unida – have made strengthened transparency commitments since December. The Popular Party, the current ruling party, has made no changes to its manifesto even though in December its proposals with respect to transparency were criticised for being insufficient.
The Spanish government is open… to go to court over OGP documents!
The acting Spanish government is in the meantime pursuing litigation against Spain’s Transparency Council to stop Access Info’s director Helen Darbishire obtaining documents about what Spain has been doing to implement its Open Government Partnership-related commitments. That’s right: the Spanish government is in court fighting to keep secret information on open government!
This case, in which Access Info is participating as an interested party, is only the tip of the iceberg of a government holding a poor record on its commitment to OGP core values: both action plans have been heavily criticised by Spanish CSOs for their lack of ambition and vague commitments. Access Info in 2015 presented a formal complaint to the OGP Steering Committee raising concerns around a serious lack of transparency and participation in Spain; we are still awaiting a formal response on this complaint.
In the meantime, the Government should be working on a new OGP action plan but there is no news whatsoever about this and it is likely that nothing will be done until a new government is formed.
A positive side note at the municipal level
Proving there’s always room for some good news, some of Spain’s biggest cities, most notably Madrid, are making good progress and are successfully setting a high standard for what a transparent administration should look like.
In late 2015, the Spanish capital Madrid became the first European city to sign the International Open Data Charter, acting on its commitment to embrace a culture of openness. The city has also just recently passed its own transparency ordinance which, even with the limitations imposed by the national law, is the most progressive approach to transparency in Spain to date.
Madrid’s approach to transparency looks set to have an impact inside and outide Spain: the city is one of 15 cities worldwide chosen to carry out the pilot OGP programme at a municipal level.
What needs to be done?
With corruption and fraud the second biggest concerns for Spaniards – only unemployment worries people more –and with huge levels of mistrust towards institutions and political parties, increasing transparency should be a priority and is essential to strengthening Spanish democracy.
Access Info and other organisations in the Coalición ProAcceso have a very clear agenda for the election period and beyond in order to advance towards a culture of openness and accountability. We are calling for the next government to:
- Bring Spain’s Transparency Law up to international standards;
- Introduce lobby regulation in Spain, and doing so accordingly with the International Standards for Lobby Regulation;
- Adopt measures to opening up decision making processes in key areas of democratic life so that information needed for participation is available.
- Assume a serious and rigorous commitment to the Open Government Partnership and making Spain’s next action plan an ambitious one that fully involves civil society in its creation and development;
- Recognise and follow the strong lead on transparency being taken at the sub-national level.
For more information, please contact:
Luisa Izuzquiza | Access Info Europe
Send an e-mail or call +34 913 656 558