Freedom in the World
In response to declining opinion polls following the introduction of unpopular austerity measures, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in October introduced the most significant changes to his cabinet since taking power in 2004. In September, the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) called another ceasefire, though a bomb was detonated shortly thereafter in the Basque region by ETA sympathizers.
Peninsular Spain’s current borders were largely established by the 16th century, and after a period of great colonial expansion and wealth, the country declined in relation to its European rivals. Most of its overseas possessions were lost in wars or revolts by the end of the 19th century. The Spanish Civil War of 1936–39 ended in victory for General Francisco Franco’s right-wing Nationalists, who executed, jailed, and exiled the leftist Republicans. During Franco’s long rule, many countries cut off diplomatic ties, and his regime was ostracized by the United Nations from 1946 to 1955. The militant Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Fatherland and Freedom, was formed in 1959 with the aim of creating an independent Basque homeland, and went on to carry out a campaign of terrorist bombings and other illegal activities. After a transitional period following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain emerged as a parliamentary democracy, joining the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union (EU), in 1986.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) defeated the conservative Popular Party (PP), which had been in power for 11 years. However, lacking an outright majority, the PSOE relied on regionalist parties to support its legislation. The elections came only days after multiple terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed almost 200 people. The PP government initially blamed ETA, sparking anger from voters after it was discovered that the attacks had been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in response to the government’s support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. After becoming prime minister, the PSOE’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero pulled Spain’s troops out of Iraq. In 2007, a Spanish court handed down long prison sentences to 21 of the 28 defendants charged in connection with the 2004 bombings; seven of the accused were acquitted. In 2008, a key suspect in the bombings was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
ETA announced its first ceasefire in 2006, but peace talks with the Spanish government broke down in January 2007 after the separatist group claimed responsibility for a December 2006 bombing in a parking garage at Madrid’s Barajas Airport. The Supreme Court banned hundreds of candidates with alleged links to ETA from participating in 2007 local elections in the Basque region.
Parliamentary elections in March 2008 returned the PSOE and Zapatero to power. The PSOE—which had focused on liberal reforms, such as gender equality and same-sex marriage—won 44 percent of the vote and 169 of 350 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The PP placed second, with 40 percent and 154 seats. In the Senate, the PP captured 101 of 208 seats up for election, while the PSOE claimed 89. In March 2009, the Basque Nationalist Party lost its absolute majority in the Basque parliament elections for the first time in 30 years. The new coalition of the PSOE and the PP pledged to focus on security and the economy in the Basque region, and not press for regional autonomy.
In March 2010, ETA was accused of shooting a police officer in Paris in the group’s first killing of a French officer. ETA called its fifth ceasefire in September,which was met with skepticism from the Spanish government. The separatist group had broken its previous ceasefires with bombings and other attacks. Shortly after its ceasefire declaration in September, a small bomb attributed to ETA sympathizers was detonated in an industrial area of the Basque region, though no casualties were reported.
In February 2010, the Senate approved a measure liberalizing abortion laws to allow for the termination of a pregnancy on demand during the first 14 weeks. The law went into effect in July. The effort to liberalize abortion laws had been met with criticism from the opposition conservatives and the Catholic Church.
Prime Minister Zapatero received low popularity ratings in the lead-up to his party’s defeat in regional elections in Catalonia in November.The decline in support was attributed to the country’s economic difficulties—including a 20 percent unemployment rate—and government efforts to push through austerity measures, such as increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67. In response to his party’s waning popularity, Zapatero in October reduced the number of cabinet posts and replaced seven cabinet ministers with people closer to his left-wing base.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Spain is an electoral democracy. The Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament, has 350 members elected in multimember constituencies, except for the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which are each assigned one single-member constituency. The Senate has 264 members, with 208 elected directly and 56 chosen by regional legislatures.Members of both the Senate and Congress serve four-year terms. Following legislative elections, the prime minister, known as the president of the government, is selected by the monarch and is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition. The candidate must also be elected by the Parliament. The country’s 50 provinces are divided into 17 autonomous regions with varying degrees of power.
People generally have the right to organize in political parties and other competitive groups of their choice. The Basque separatist Batasuna party, which had previously garnered between 5 and 10 percent of the regional vote, was permanently banned in 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.
In September 2010, the largest corruption trial in the country’s history began in the summer resort town of Marbella. The 95 defendants—including two former mayors and 15 town counselors—were accused of participating in a widespread system of graft, with local businesspeople bribing town officials for favorable decisions, primarily in city planning. Spain was ranked 30 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Spain has a free and lively press, with more than 100 newspapers covering a wide range of perspectives and actively investigating high-level corruption. Daily newspaper ownership, however, is concentrated within large media groups like Prisa and Zeta. Journalists who oppose the political views of ETA have in the past been targeted by the group. Newspapers objected to a proposed government regulation announced in July that would prohibit advertising prostitution in the classified section. The explicit advertisements bring in over €40 million (approximately $57 million) annually for the newspaper industry, which is struggling economically. The law had not been passed by year’s end.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed through constitutional and legal protections. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion and enjoys privileges that other religions do not, such as financing through the tax system. Jews, Muslims, and Protestants have official status through bilateral agreements with the state, while other groups (including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) have no such agreements. The government does not restrict academic freedom. The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations operate without government restrictions. With the exception of members of the military, workers are free to strike and organize and join unions of their choice. About 15 percent of the workforce is unionized. Workers went on strike in September 2010 to protest possible austerity measures, which were eventually passed in early December, sparking a new round of protests across the country.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there have been recent concerns over the functioning of the judicial system, including the impact of media pressure on sensitive issues such as immigration and Basque terrorism. In May 2010, Baltasar Garzón, the most controversial judge in Spain, was suspended on the grounds that he overstepped his judicial powers with his 2008 inquiry into the atrocities committed by former Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco. Garzón had not faced trial by the end of 2010. Police abuse of prisoners, especially immigrants, has been reported. Those suspected of certain terrorism-related crimes can be held by police for up to five days with access only to a public lawyer. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.
Spain’s universal jurisdiction law allows for the trial of suspects for crimes committed abroad if they are not facing prosecution in their home country. However, in June 2009, Spain’s lower house voted in favor of limiting the universal jurisdiction law to cases involving either victims with Spanish citizenship or some other link to Spain, as well as cases where thealleged perpetrators are in Spain.
Women enjoy legal protections against rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment in the workplace. However, violence against women, particularly within the home, remains a serious problem. Women hold 36 percent of the seats in the lower house. Legislation enacted in 2005 legalized same-sex marriages and allowed gay couples to adopt children. Trafficking in men, women, and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor remains a problem in Spain. However, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, Spain fully complies with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking and had introduced a number of initiatives aimed at prevention.