Madrid, 12 February 2021Access Info’s Helen Darbishire yesterday met with the new director of Spain’s Transparency Council, José Luis Rodríguez Álvarez, to discuss reform of the Transparency Law and also recent concerns about the manner by which the new appointments to the Council had been made.

During the open and constructive meeting, held by video conference, it was confirmed that there is a determination from the new leadership of the Council that it be a fully independent body, defending and promoting the right of access to information under the 2013 Transparency Law.

The Council confirmed its readiness to improve communication to, and to meet with, civil society, including members of the Coalición Pro Acceso, a platform representing 100 organisations from diverse sectors, all of whom are committed to promoting greater government transparency.

Discussing civil society’s demand for recognition of a fundamental right of access to information, there was a useful exchange of views. Possible routes to achieving such a recognition include a Constitutional Court ruling reading a right into the Current Constitution, such as freedom of expression, which could be aided by Spain’s planned ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents. Another, less likely, route, is an amendment to the 1978 Constitution.

With respect to reform of the Transparency Law planned under Spain’s new Open Government Partnership Action Plan, the priority issues discussed include strengthening the powers and independence of the Council, permitting it to issue binding decisions and to sanction non-compliance, along with increasing its human and financial resources. None of these changes require recognition of a fundamental right of access to information.

A further concern raised by Access Info is the lack of compliance on the part of some government bodies, including ministries, with Transparency Council decisions. There is an increasing trend of simply not providing information, rather than going to court to challenge the resolution. It was noted that if the Council had the power to sanction non-compliance, this should help guarantee either the provision of information or a formal legal process to obtain a final court ruling.

Access Info signed a cooperation agreement with the Council in February 2016 and it was suggested that, after five years, and with a new leadership in the Council, it would be a good moment to renew this agreement, which includes collaboration in training public officials and raising public awareness about this essential democratic right.

Participating in the meeting were Transparency Council President, José Luis Rodríguez Álvarez, the new Deputy Director for Appeals, Carmen Montero García-Noblejas, and the Deputy Director for Transparency and Good Governance, Javier Amorós Dorda. Access Info was represented by Helen Darbishire, its founder and director, Patricia Gonzalez, Legal Researcher and Campaigner, and Marta Morcuende, Research and Campaigner.