Capital: Madrid
Population: 49,916,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


In 2009, government plans to liberalize abortion laws were met with criticism from groups including opposition conservatives and the Catholic Church. The Basque parliament voted in a non-nationalist government in May for the first time in 30 years, sparking a bombing spree by the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).

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 were lost in wars or revolts by the end of the 19th century. The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 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 activities. 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 2004 parliamentary elections, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) defeated the conservative Popular Party (PP), which had been in power for 11 years. However, lacking an outright majority, the PSOE relied on regionalist parties to support its legislation. The elections came only days after multiple terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed almost 200 people. The conservative government blamed ETA, which angered voters when it was discovered that the attacks were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in response to the conservative government's support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. After becoming prime minister, the PSOE's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled Spain's troops out of Iraq. In 2007, a Spanish court handed down long prison sentences for 21 of the 28 defendants charged in connection with the 2004 bombings; seven of the accused were acquitted. In 2008, a key suspect in the bombings was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

ETA announced its first ceasefire in March 2006, but peace talks with the Spanish government broke down in January 2007, after the separatist group claimed responsibility for a December 2006 bombing in a parking garage at the Barajas Airport. The Supreme Court banned hundreds of candidates from participating in 2007 local elections in the Basque region, accusing them of links to ETA.

Parliamentary elections held in March 2008 returned the PSOE to power. The PSOE, which had focused on liberal reforms, such as gender equality and same-sex marriage, won 43.5 percent of the vote in the lower house, followed by the PP, which captured 40.1 percent.

For the first time in 30 years, the Basque Nationalist Party lost its absolute majority in the Basque parliament election in March 2009. The new coalition of the PSOE and the center-right PP pledged to focus on security and economy and not press for regional autonomy.

ETA carried out at least 17 violent attacks throughout 2009, marking the 50th anniversary of the group's founding. In June, a senior police officer was killed in a bomb attack in Bilbao, the capital of the Basque region. The resort island of Majorca was hit with a series of bombings in July, including an explosion that killed two police officers, the deadliest attack by ETA since 2007. In October, French authorities arrested two leaders of ETA, including Aitor Elizaran Aguilar, who had allegedly replaced Javier Lopez Pena, a senior ETA commander captured by French police in 2008.

In September, the government released plans to liberalize abortion laws in Spain, making the procedure "on demand" for the first time in this primarily Catholic country. The move was met with criticism from the opposition conservatives and the Catholic Church. A massive anti-abortion protest in mid-October sponsored by 40 religious and civic groups called on the government to repeal the bill. In December, the bill was passed by the Congress of Deputies, and final approval from the Senate was expected in early 2010.

In October, parliament passed a controversial law that increases the time illegal immigrants can be held before deportation from 40 to 60 days and imposes restrictions on parents joining their immigrant children.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

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 Basque separatist Batasuna party, which had previously garnered between 5 and 10 percent of the regional vote, was permanently banned in 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.

Spain was ranked 32 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index. In July, the country's espionage chief stepped down after being accused of using taxpayer money to fund his exotic vacations.

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. ETA carried out a bomb attack in January 2009 near a TV repeater station in Guipuzcoa Province and another in November in front of a local newspaper office in Pamplona. In December, two Spanish journalists were given suspended sentences of one year and nine months for revealing state secrets by publishing the names of people implicated in a registration scandal involving the Popular Party; they were also barred from practicing journalism during the period of their suspended sentences. 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 Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons) have no such agreements. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations operate without government restrictions. With the exception of members of the military, workers are free to organize and join unions of their choice and to strike. About 15 percent of the workforce is unionized. In February 2009, almost half of all magistrates went on strike for 24 hours to protest their working conditions, stressing the need for 1,000 additional judges to bring the country up to European standards.

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 such as immigration and Basque terrorism. Baltasar Garzon, the most controversial judge in Spain, faced the Supreme Court in September 2009 on charges by a right-wing group that he had overstepped his judicial powers with his 2008 inquiry into the atrocities committed by General Francisco Franco. The case had not gone to trial by year's end.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.

Spain's universal justice law allows judges to try suspects for crimes committed abroad if they are not facing prosecution in their home country. However, in June 2009, Spain's lower house voted in favor of limiting the universal justice law to cases involving either victims with Spanish citizenship or some other link to Spain, as well as cases where the alleged perpetrators are in Spain. Prior to this change, the country's attorney general in April rejected an attempt to bring top U.S. officials to trial for torture allegations at Guantanamo Bay, saying the case had no merit as the defendants were not present at the time of the crimes.

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. Women hold 36 percent of the seats in the lower house. Legislation enacted in 2005 legalized same-sex marriages and allowed gay couples to adopt children. Trafficking in men, women, and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor remains a problem in Spain. However, the government prosecuted 135 trafficking cases in 2008, 33 more than in 2007.

*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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