Change to secrets law could shed light on Franco regime

by Deborah Cater
Secrets law under reform

MADRID – The Spanish government is reforming the Franco-era state secrets law which prevents papers from the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship from being published.

The coalition government established a commission composed of the Ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs, led by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’s offices.

El País writes the objective of the centre-left government is to abolish general deadlines for the automatic publication of documents. These deadlines would be replaced with more definitive deadlines depending on the level of confidentiality of the information in question.

The move comes after several attempts to reform the law by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). Those attempts both PSOE and the conservative People’s Party (PP), blocked in parliament previously.

The committee constituted by the current government has already met, according to official sources. It discussed the needs of each department in the classification of documents and to study similar legislation in other countries.

Align Spain with other democracies

The committee’s task is to come up with a text that aligns Spain with other Western democracies. It also needs to meet criteria set by international organisations, in particular the European Union and NATO.

According to the current law, there are only two categories: ‘secret’ and ‘confidential’. There is no ‘top secret’ category. According to the same government sources, no deadline has been given for the law reform to go into effect. However, a commitment has been made to allow the law to take effect before the end of the current political term, in November 2023.

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To meet this timeline, the bill will have to be presented to parliament next year. This assumes government is not dissolved prematurely nor the adoption of the bill is delayed, as happened in the past.

The reform of the state secrets law has been underway in Spain for several years. Current legislation dates back to 1968, in the midst of General Francisco Franco‘s dictatorship.

Amended slightly in 1978 before adoption of the current constitution, it is technically outdated. One of the bodies responsible for classification of documents, Consejo del Estado Mayor Conjunto, does not even exist anymore.

The decree that preceded the law was signed in 1969 by Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was murdered by ETA during his tenure as Prime Minister in the early 1970s. The document addresses issues that are completely out of date, such as changes to combination locks on safes and the destruction of secret materials “through fire or chemical procedures.”

Some information secret forever according to current law

But the greatest anachronism of the law lies in the fact that it contains no secrecy ‘expiration dates’. This means that – with a few exceptions – they can remain out of public view forever.

As a result of the law, investigators resort to archives in other countries regarding events vital to the history of Spain. 

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