Madrid, Friday 29 July 2011: On the same day that it announced early elections, the Spanish government released to Access Info Europe a proposed access to information law, finally taking a step towards fulfilling an electoral promise first made in 2004.
The draft law (in Spanish see here) is a significant improvement on earlier versions and although there is little chance of it being adopted during this legislative period, it does raise the stakes for the campaign running up to the 20 November elections.
With rumours circulating on Twitter on Friday 29 July about whether the Spanish Cabinet had nor not approved the draft law, Access Info’s Executive Director Helen Darbishire phoned the Ministry of the Presidency to ask for a copy and was told by a spokesperson that the draft would remain “confidential” until passed to the Congress “out of parliamentary courtesy.”
But a few hours later, at 7:25 pm, Access Info received an email sent directly from Minister of the Presidency, Ramón Jáuregui, with a copy of the law and a letter recognising the role of civil society in promoting a stronger law.
Access Info Europe has been campaigning for a transparency law in Spain since 2006, along with the 54 NGO members of the Coalición Pro Acceso.
The campaign was given a boost recently when the call for “A transparency law now!” became one of the demands of the “15 May” protest movement which camped out in Madrid’s main square for one month calling for democratic reform.
Earlier leaked drafts from the ruling Socialist Party fell below international standards, as did a proposal presented to parliament on 29 June 2011 by the opposition Popular Party.
Draft does not apply to all information held by public bodies
The new draft transparency law has a number of strong points, including that it recognises the right of all persons and applies to all levels of government, including the legislative and judicial branch, and private bodies exercising administrative power.
Improvements are still needed however. A serious weaknesses is that the law does not apply to all information, excluding background information to decision making such as the opinions and reports, and also does not apply at all to archives, registers and statistics. Thus large volumes of information held by public bodies will remain inaccessible to the public.
Another significant failing is the lack of an indepenent oversight body; the proposed body does not have binding powers and is attached to the Prime Minister’s Office (Ministry of the Presidency). The draft also fails to establish explicitly that access to information is a fundamental right protected by the constitution