Democracy and rights
Following the death of dictator Francisco Franco
in 1975, Spain quickly developed into a functioning
democracy, with free elections and peaceful shifts of
power. Legal security is generally good and civil rights
are usually respected. In recent years, however, Spain
has introduced several new laws that have been
criticized for restricting freedom of expression. The
country has also been shaken by several major corruption
deals with ramifications into politics. Several
high-ranking politicians have been convicted of
The ever stronger independence movement in the
Catalonia region has put strong strain on the political
system (see below and Current policy).
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Spain, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
Freedom of speech and assembly is enshrined in the
constitution, which also contains guarantees that human
rights are respected and that all Spaniards are equal
before the law. Anyone born Spanish cannot be deprived
of his Spanish citizenship.
Political elections are conducted according to
democratic rules of the game and citizens are free to
form political parties. In recent years, a number of
reforms have been implemented to strengthen, among other
things, the rights of women, children, LGBTQ persons and
minorities (see Social conditions). However, the Council
of Europe has noted that Spain, alongside San Marino, is
the only one of the organization's 47 member states that
does not have a special body to fight racism.
After the April 2019 parliamentary elections, 47
percent of members of Congress were women, which is the
highest proportion in the EU, ahead of both Finland and
Sweden. In the Spanish Socialist Party government that
took office in June 2018, eleven out of 17 ministers
were women (see Social conditions). When it comes to
regional governments, about 40 percent of ministers are
Freedom of expression and media
During the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975), the state
exercised strong control over the mass media. When the
freedom of the press was written in the 1978
constitution, many new newspapers were started. The
press is now independent, while some of the etheric
media are still politically controlled. The newspapers
have played an important role in revealing high-level
corruption deals in society.
In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for
2020, Spain came in 29 out of 180 countries, which was
seven positions higher than seven years earlier (for
list, see here). The Freedom House organization
describes the media situation as free.
The economic crisis of 2008–2014 hit the media hard,
not least because of a shrinking advertising market.
Several hundred mass media were forced to close and over
12,000 journalists lost their jobs. The media market was
deregulated in 2009 and is today dominated by a few
large companies. Many media companies survive with the
help of government support and money from banks and
large companies. At the same time, the problems of
self-censorship have increased.
New legislation from 2015 has raised criticism that
Spain limits freedom of expression. In July that year,
the Civil Protection Act was passed, which is often
called the Monk Breeding Act (Ley Mordaza).
This means that people who are considered to interfere
with the public order - through house occupations, in
connection with clashes with police or protests at
"socially important places (such as the Madrid
Congress), can be sentenced to fines (from € 30 up to €
600,000). Even people who protest against evictions,
lack respect for the Spanish flag or demonstrate without
permission can be fined. It is also prohibited to
photograph / film police if it could pose a danger to
them or their relatives. The media also does not have
the right to publish such photographs / films. PSOE,
which in opposition directed harsh criticism of the law,
seemed to want to retain some sensitive parts of it in
the fall of 2018.
In 2015, the Criminal Code was also tightened, and
according to Law 578 it was forbidden to "pay homage to
terrorism" and "humiliate victims of terrorism". Anyone
who violates the law can be sentenced to fines and
imprisonment and denied employment in the public sector.
From 2015 to April 2017, 49 of 54 convictions were about
the glorification of the Basque separatist movement ETA.
One of the most notable cases concerns rapper José
Miguel Arenas, best known as Valtònyc, who was sentenced
to over three years in prison for defamation of the
royal house, glorification of terrorism and threats
posed in song lyrics. However, he had left the country
before the sentence fell.
In an Information Act ("Transparency Act") of 2014,
access to information is no longer generally regarded as
a fundamental right - including, for example, certain
information that comes from the government. A
supervisory authority was also created whose
independence is not guaranteed by law. The law has drawn
criticism both within Spain and from international
organizations such as the OSCE and campaigns are
underway to change it
El País is still the most important newspaper,
despite falling editions. In recent years, a number of
small and independent media, many of them web-based,
have been created that reach a comparatively large
audience (most important being El Confidencial and
The Congress (parliament's lower house) appoints the
board of the state radio and television company
Radiotelevisión Española (RTVE). During the bourgeois
government 2011–2018, control over the state television
was sharpened. The head of RTVE has been elected by a
simple majority in Congress since 2012, with support
from two-thirds of Congress members previously required.
The process of appointing a new board was in the spring
of 2019, but it stopped because of the new election in
April of that year. There are also a number of
independent TV channels.
In Catalonia, tensions between those who want the
region to become an independent state and those who want
it to continue to be part of Spain have affected media
reporting. RTVE was criticized in 2017 for being biased
in its monitoring of the referendum in Catalonia. The
criticism also came from the own journalists and the
company's news council. Journalists from both sides were
subjected to harassment and threats of violence,
according to Reporters Without Borders.
Press freedom organizations have also criticized the
authorities for not respecting the source protection,
including when the police seized two journalists'
computers and mobile phones in the fall of 2018 to
detect a leak used in reporting a corruption case.
In 2018, Spain placed 41st in the organization
Transparency International's ranking on corruption in
180 countries. The following year, the country had
climbed eleven places to place 30 (for list see here).
Representatives of the major Spanish parties the
People's Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) - but
also the Catalan CiU (which has changed its name several
times and is now included in Junts per Catalunya) - have
been involved in extensive corruption deals. It's about
everything from bribery and money laundering to tax
breaks and illegal party financing. Several of the
scandals have resulted in convictions, but the legal
processes often drag on over time.
In 2013, around 50 local politicians and officials in
the Andalusian municipality of Marbella were convicted
of embezzling municipal funds and receiving bribes to
grant building permits in, among other protected areas,
award public contracts and more (see Calendar). An even
bigger corruption trial was initiated in the fall of
2016. Now, the businessmen who bribed lucrative business
contracts from politicians, especially from the PP.
About 30 people, including Luis Bárcenas, PP's treasurer
for 33 years, were sentenced in May 2018 to long prison
terms and high fines for this (see Calendar). This had
political consequences, as the convicting judges led to
the PP government losing a vote of no confidence in
Congress and being forced to resign (see Modern
History). The judgment emphasized that the testimony
given by the then Prime Minister and PP leader Mariano
Rajoy in court was not credible. In Andalucia, leading
PSOE politicians are facing trial for having lost € 855
million, which was an important reason why the Socialist
Party lost the regional elections there in 2018.
Another notable case concerns King Felipe VI's
brother-in-law Iñaki Urdangarín who in 2017 was
sentenced to prison for tax evasion and embezzlement.
The king's sister, Princess Cristina, was also
prosecuted but released from all criminal offenses.
According to the Constitution, the judicial system
must be independent, and in practice it can act
independently. However, the Council of Europe has
criticized the fact that the majority of judges in the
Judicial Council (Consejo General del Poder Judicial,
CGPJ) who oversee the judiciary and guarantee its
independence are elected by Parliament (six members are
appointed by Congress, six by the Senate and eight by
lawyers); which increases the risk of politicians
interfering in its work. Similar criticisms have also
been directed at the judges sitting in the
Constitutional Court being appointed by the Spanish
Spain abolished the death penalty in 1978.
The fall of Catalonia
The Spanish regions have considerable autonomy, but
the extent of their powers varies, which is a source of
conflict. The Constitutional Court's 2010 decision to
annul a bill that would give greater power to the
regional government of Catalonia created tensions
between Barcelona and the rulers of Madrid and
contributed to increased demands for independence for
the region (see Catalonia and Current Policy).
The contradictions increased when the regional
government held a referendum on independence for
Catalonia in October 2017. It was enforced even though
the vote had been banned by the Madrid government and
the Constitutional Court had rejected it, citing that
the process of independence violated the Constitution.
However, it brought to light that Madrid resorted to
such harsh methods to stop the referendum, not least the
national police's attempt to prevent people from voting
(see Catalonia). The authorities also blocked a number
of websites that were there to help people vote. At the
same time, the then regional government was criticized
for changing the voting rights rules before the
referendum, so that, for example, it was possible to
vote in any polling station. On October 27, 2017, the
Barcelona regional parliament adopted a unilateral
declaration of independence (see Calendar).
This has had legal ramifications. A well-publicized
trial was launched in February 2019 against twelve
Catalans from the Independence Camp who have been
charged with riots, embezzlement of public funds and
disobedience and where the prosecutor demanded lengthy
prison sentences (Current policy). Among the defendants
are the former Vice President of Catalonia, Oriol
Junqueras, the former President of the Regional
Parliament, Carme Forcadell, seven former Ministers of
the Regional Government and Jordi Sànchez and Jordi
Cuixart, leader of the grassroots organizations Catalan
National Assembly (ANC) and ochmnium. What has aroused a
great deal of attention is that nine of the twelve have
been prosecuted for "rebellion, when, according to the
prosecutors, they tried to break the constitutional
order to achieve independence by force. This despite the
fact that no weapons were involved and no fatalities
were required. The defense's final pleadings admitted
that the defendants had shown disobedience, but all
other charges were rejected (see Calendar). In the fall
of 2019, nine of them were sentenced to lengthy prison
sentences for rioting and misuse of public funds (see
In the fall of 2018, Amnesty International criticized
Spain for the ANC and nmnium Cultural leaders, Jordi
Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, still in custody a year after
they were arrested. The organization claimed that this
was not in proportion to the crimes they had been
accused of: that on September 20 and 21, 2017, they
should have called on protesters to gather outside the
government buildings in Barcelona to prevent the police
from searching for election material and to have
encouraged revival by participating in the referendum on
Catalan independence on October 1 of that year, despite
the Spanish Constitutional Court. The men were
prosecuted in March 2018 for, among other things,
"rebellion" and run the risk of being sentenced to 17
years in prison.
Human rights organizations have also criticized
Spanish authorities for immediately sending back
migrants and refugees who have entered the Spanish
exclaves Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco, thereby depriving
them of the opportunity to seek political asylum.
Conflicts around Spain's history
The country's conflict-ridden past divides the
Spaniards into two camps - those who want to focus on
injustice during the civil war and dictatorship and
those who want to put the past behind them. Voluntary
organizations have demanded that mass graves be
excavated and that victims' relatives be financially
compensated. In 2007, Parliament passed the disputed Law
on historical memory. It says, among other things, that
mass graves must be mapped. PP voted against the law.
In the spring of 2010, demonstrations were held in
Spanish cities and at Spanish embassies against the
freedom of prosecution introduced in 1977 for crimes
committed during the civil war. The protests also
claimed that one of the Supreme Court's judges, Baltasar
Garzón (who became famous when he tried to bring Chile's
former dictator Augusto Pinochet to trial), had been
charged with abuse of legal power. Garzón had tried to
investigate crimes committed by the Franco regime even
though they were covered by the amnesty of 1977. After
an attention-grabbing trial in February 2012, the
Supreme Court freed Garzón from suspicions of abuse of
power, but instead he was sentenced to illegal
interception in a corruption case and was deprived of
The legislation allows Spanish courts to prosecute
crimes against humanity committed in other countries.
Most notable are the attempts to bring Chile's former
dictator Augusto Pinochet to trial. In 2014, this
possibility was limited, and prosecution can now only be
brought if there is a Spanish connection to the case.
The PSOE-led government that came to power in 2018
has decided to move former dictator Franco's remnants
from a mausoleum in El Valle de los Caidos (Valley of
the Fallen) to El Pardo Cemetery in Mingorrubio, north
of Madrid. However, the process has stalled because of
protests from Franco's relatives.
For many years, the Basque separatist movement
carried out ETA terrorist acts as part of the struggle
for an independent Basque country. From 1960 until 2011,
when ETA announced a ceasefire, more than 800 people,
politicians, police and ordinary citizens were killed.
In May 2018, ETA completely dissolved. Operations to
prevent terror were built up during the time that the
Basque separatist movement ETA posed a threat (see
In August 2017, Spain was hit by two Islamist
terrorist attacks in Catalonia that claimed a total of
15 lives (see Calendar). It was the first terrorist act
in the country since 2004, when 191 people were killed
in a series of attacks against public transport in
Madrid (see Modern History). Spanish Security and
Intelligence Service said in August 2017 that they have
managed to prevent 15 planned assaults since 2011.
According to government sources, 180 suspected jihadists
have been arrested between 2012 and 2016.
About 130 jihadists who are Spanish nationals or
people who have previously lived in Spain were in
conflict areas in Syria in the spring of 2019. The
Islamic State (IS) is said to have carried out the
attacks in Catalonia (see also Foreign Policy and
Defense). The fact that the Moors (Arabs and Berbers)
took control of the Iberian peninsula in the 710s (by
1492 the Moors had lost control of Muslim Spain,
al-Andalus, and were forced to leave the country) have
been exploited by the Islamist extremist movements in
A group of twelve men, all with Moroccan roots, are
suspected of the 2017 attacks. Six of them were shot
dead by police, while four were arrested by police. Two
men are also believed to have been killed in Alcanar in
connection with the handling of explosives which it is
suspected would be used in planned assaults.
Spain and Morocco work closely on security issues.