Spain takes important step in increasing government transparency

by Lorraine Williamson
government transparency

MADRID – The Spanish government will broaden the Spanish Transparency Act and may amend the Official Secrets Act. However, it will not be possible to implement these changes this year, but hopes are high for 2022. 

The Spanish Government signed a binding agreement on November 23. This agreement allows requests for information to be anonymous and also to cover internal government reporting.

However, in order to comply with the international standard of the Council of Europe Convention, also known as the Tromsø Council, the government will have to amend the transparency law passed in 2013. The Council of Europe’s binding ‘Access to Official Documents’ convention was opened for signature back in 2009. It imposes more transparency obligations and openness for public services than the current Spanish regulation.  

Consequently, the Tromsø Convention is the world’s first binding treaty on access to information and entered into force on 1 December 2020. Furthermore, it has been signed by 11 countries, including;

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  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Montenegro
  • Norway
  • Moldova
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine

The most recent signature was that of Iceland, on 10 February 2021,’ reports Access Info, -a Madrid-based group campaigning for access to information in Europe. 

More rights for citizens 

The agreement signed by Spain on November 23 explains that citizen requests can be made anonymously, except in exceptional cases. It also states that public administrations may not ask for the reasons for the request. Also, the requester has the right to receive the documentation in the desired format, where possible. And, furthermore, that the Transparency Act should also apply to internal communications resulting from decision-making processes within the administration. Something that does not happen today.  

What will change in Spain?  

According to Access Info Europe, the agreement was signed by Spanish diplomat Manuel Montobbio, Spain’s representative to the Council of Europe. ”The top priority now is to ensure that the right of access to information applies to all information held by all public authorities, which could be part of the reforms being discussed in the current Government Transparency Action Plan,” explains Helen Darbishire, director of Access Info. The Spanish government promised to ratify the Tromsø Convention by December 31, 2021. Unfortunately, it will not be able to do so, but it could work on reforming the law and parallel ratification in 2022′. 

Will all government documentation be made public?  

For example, the agreement endorsed by Spain considers all ‘recorded (archived) information, in whatever form, produced or received, and in the possession of public authorities’ to be publicly accessible. The text still leaves out, for example, disciplinary investigations within the government. ‘The parties will examine the possibility of establishing time limits after which the limits referred to in paragraph 1 will no longer apply,’ the agreement said, which would also include an amendment to the Spanish Law on Official Secrecy. 

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