Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Peace talks between the government and the Basque separatist group ETA broke down in January 2007 after a December 2006 bombing in Barajas Airport. The Supreme Court subsequently banned hundreds of candidates from running in local elections in May due to their supposed links to ETA. In November, a rare visit by King Juan Carlos to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast caused an uproar in Morocco, which claims the territories as its own.
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 had been lost in wars or revolts by the end of the 19th century. The Spanish Civil War of 1936–39 led to the deaths of more than 350,000 people and 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 activity. 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.
During the March 2004 parliamentary elections, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) won more than 43 percent of the vote, capturing 164 seats in the Congress of Deputies, the parliament’s lower house. The conservative Popular Party (PP), which had been in power for 11 years, was reduced to 148 seats. Other parties winning seats included Convergence and Union (CiU), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the United Left (IU), and the Canarian Coalition (CC). Lacking an outright majority, the PSOE relied on the regionalist parties to support its legislation. In the Senate, the PP led by winning 102 directly elected seats, while the PSOE took 81.
The elections came only three days after multiple terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed close to 200 people. Shortly after the bombings, the conservative government blamed ETA, a factor that angered voters when it was discovered that the perpetrators were instead linked to Islamic fundamentalists. The attacks allegedly came in response to the conservative government’s staunch support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Shortly after becoming prime minister, the PSOE’s Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled Spain’s contingent of 1,300 troops out of Iraq.
In March 2006, the parliament passed an autonomy plan for the northeastern region of Catalonia despite resistance from the opposition PP. Catalonian voters in June approved the plan, which gave the region national status within Spain and greater control over taxation, judicial matters, and immigration.
Peace talks between the Spanish government and ETA broke down in January 2007, after the separatist group claimed responsibility for a December 2006 bombing in a parking garage at the Barajas Airport. Negotiations had begun in July 2006, after ETA announced its first permanent ceasefire in March of that year. The Supreme Court banned hundreds of candidates from participating in May 2007 local elections in the Basque region, accusing them of links to ETA. In October, the authorities arrested 17 members of Batasuna, ETA’s political wing, for holding an illegal meeting and having links to a terrorist organization. Batasuna, which had previously garnered between 5 and 10 percent of the regional vote, was banned in 2003.
In April 2007, a Spanish judge charged three U.S. soldiers with homicide and a crime against the international community for the shooting of a Spanish journalist and his Ukrainian colleague in Iraq in 2003. The two journalists had been in Baghdad's Hotel Palestine when it came under fire during the U.S. invasion.
A roadside bomb hit a UN convoy in Lebanon in June 2007, killing three Spanish soldiers. Spain had 1,100 peacekeeping troops participating in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was reinforced after the 2006 conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah.
In October 2007, a Spanish court handed down long prison sentences for 21 of the 28 defendants charged in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, including a sentence of 43,000 years for each of the two men who supplied the explosives. Seven of the accused were acquitted.
A November visit by King Juan Carlos to the country’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla was met with considerable opposition by Morocco, which maintained claims to the territories. The enclaves had been ruled by Spain for 500 years and were a major entry point for illegal immigrants into Europe.
The number of African migrants attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands fell to 15,000 in 2007, from 31,000 in 2006. The migrants typically depart in small boats from Senegal and other sub-Saharan African countries and many perish during the journey. The migration has been thwarted in part by a new EU surveillance system, with aircraft and ships posted off the coast of Africa. The EU has also been active in trying to set up job centers in Africa to regularize the migration. In 2006, Spain and Senegal signed a cooperation deal that would discourage illegal migration while organizing the recruitment of legal workers. The Spanish government also began an advertisement campaign across West Africa to dissuade potential migrants.
Spain is an electoral democracy. The Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the National Assembly, has 350 members elected from party lists in provincial constituencies. The Senate has 259 members, with 208 elected directly and 51 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 National Assembly. The country’s 50 provinces are divided into 17 autonomous regions with varying degrees of power, in addition to the two North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
People generally have the right to organize in political parties and other competitive groups of their choice. The main political parties are the PSOE, the PP, the CiU, the ERC, the PNV, the IU, and the CC. The Basque separatist Batasuna party was permanently banned in 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.
Spain was ranked 25 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. The U.S. State Department’s 2008 Human Rights report found that by September over 80 people had been charged in connection with a 2006 investigation into the Marbella local government. The charges include real estate graft, bribery, and embezzlement.
The country 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 are often targeted by the group. Internet access is not restricted.
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 the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons) have no such agreements. The government does not restrict academic freedom. However, ETA has sought to silence academics who criticize its political goals.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. People are free to demonstrate and speak publicly. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without government restrictions. With the exception of members of the military, workers are free to organize and join unions of their choice and also have the right to strike. About 15 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there have been concerns about the functioning of the judicial system, including the impact of media pressure on sensitive issues like immigration and Basque terrorism. There have been reports of police abuse of prisoners, especially immigrants. Police can also hold suspects of certain terrorism-related crimes for up to five days with access only to a public lawyer. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.
Spanish law allows judges to try suspects for crimes committed abroad if they are not facing prosecution in their home country. In July 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that former Argentine general Ricardo Cavallo would stand trial in Spain for crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War of the 1970s and 1980s, in which the military government targeted suspected dissidents.
The parliament in 2005 enacted legislation that legalized same-sex marriage and allowed gay couples to adopt children. 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. The current prime minister has made the protection of women’s rights and gender equality a centerpiece of his administration.
In March 2007, the Spanish parliament passed a law requiring that political parties run women candidates in at least 40 percent of the seats that they contest. The law also orders larger companies to institute “equality plans” that promote women and grants 15 days of paternity leave to new fathers. Women won 36 percent of the seats in the lower house in the 2004 elections, marking a 7 percentage point increase from the previous elections in 2000.
Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains a problem. However, in its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. State Department found that the country made a strong effort to combat trafficking through law enforcement, which helped to break up 177 sex-trafficking networks and 63 labor-trafficking rings. The country also continued to offer assistance to trafficking victims and made efforts to reduce the demand for prostitution. Two major police raids during the year led to the arrests of over one hundred people for suspicion of involvement with child pornography.