Freedom in the World 2017 - Spain

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Spain’s parliamentary system features competitive multiparty elections and peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. The rule of law prevails, and civil liberties are generally respected. Although political corruption remains a concern, high-ranking politicians and other powerful figures have been successfully prosecuted. Restrictive legislation adopted in recent years poses a threat to otherwise robust freedoms of expression and assembly, and peaceful separatist movements in some regions represent an ongoing challenge to the country’s constitutional system and territorial integrity.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP) was sworn in as prime minister in October, ending a lengthy impasse that began when the divided parliament was unable to agree on a new government following December 2015 elections, necessitating new elections in June 2016. Rajoy’s new government still lacked a legislative majority.
  • Carles Puigdemont of the Catalan separatist party Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) became president of the Catalonia region in January 2016 following regional elections in late 2015. In October, the Catalan parliament voted to hold a referendum on independence in September 2017, despite warnings issued by the Constitutional Court and the Catalonian High Court.
  • In September regional elections, the PP won an absolute majority in Galicia, while in the Basque region, the incumbent center-right Basque Nationalist Party secured the presidency with support from the Basque Socialist Party, having outpolled the left-wing separatist party EH Bildu.
Executive Summary: 

Spain lacked a government for most of 2016 after two rounds of parliamentary elections left no single party with a majority. Either the PP or the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) have typically held a majority in recent decades, but the success of two new parties—the left-wing Podemos and center-right Ciudadanos—in the December 2015 elections triggered months of fruitless coalition talks, followed by fresh elections in June 2016. The PP emerged with 137 seats in the 350-seat Chamber of Deputies, followed by PSOE with 85, Podemos with 45, Ciudadanos with 32, and several smaller parties with the remainder.

The deadlock was finally broken in October, when members of PSOE, concerned about the ramifications of continued disarray, decided to abstain from the vote for prime minister, allowing incumbent Mariano Rajoy of PP—who had been serving in a caretaker capacity since the 2015 vote—to take office. A new cabinet was appointed in November. PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez, who opposed the abstentions, resigned his position as general secretary of the party. PSOE was set to choose a new leadership in 2017.

Meanwhile, the separatist government in Catalonia continued to push for a referendum on independence, and elections were held in Galicia and the Basque region in September. Also during 2016, the authorities actively enforced controversial public security legislation that took effect in mid-2015, issuing numerous fines for disrespect of police officers and other offenses. At least one journalist was fined for publishing unauthorized photographs of a police operation. Separately, two puppeteers were charged and briefly detained for allegedly glorifying terrorism and inciting hatred in one of their satirical performances; the case was pending at year’s end. A rap musician and a poet have faced prosecutions on similar charges.

The year featured several ongoing corruption cases, with defendants including politicians, wealthy businessmen, and members of the royal family. The PP was facing a sprawling investigation into an illicit bribes-for-contracts network that involved key political and business figures. The central trial in the case began in October 2016, but the overall probe had nearly 200 official suspects.

Political Rights

Political Rights 38 / 40 (−1)

A. Electoral Process 12 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 16 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 10 / 12 (−1)

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 56 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 15 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 11 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 15 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 15 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Spain, see Freedom in the World 2016.