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Spanish political class must become more transparent, accountable

Political party influence threatens role of public watchdogs

Spain’s economic crisis may deepen without an overhaul of political parties’ internal workings and their ability to influence independent watchdogs, warned Transparency International Spain today in a report on corruption risks in the country’s institutions.

The report on Spain´s national integrity system, titled Spain´s Institutional Integrity Framework: Current situation and recommendations (El Marco de Integridad Institucional en España: Situación Actual y Recomendaciones), warns that instruments of integrity already in place are not enforced because bodies like public spending watchdogs are pressured by political parties defending short-term interests over long-term reform.

“Spain scores well on governance, meaning that the support of the Spanish institutions to the governments could provide for effective leadership. However, in practice this is no guarantee considering that we have identified weaknesses in the system of representation and checks and balances”, said Jesús Lizcano, President of the Board of TI Spain.

Trust in politics is low

Demonstrations in Spain are yet another sign of low trust in politics. Political parties are seen as the country’s most corrupt institution, according to a 2011 Transparency International survey. Despite currently being in the process of adopting a law on access to information, the fact that today Spain is the only EU country without a law granting the public a right to access state information exacerbates the gap between the state and public, the report warns.

Transparency International Spain called for immediate action:

  • Legislators should adopt a national strategy to fight corruption
  • Rules obliging more transparency in the financing of political parties
  • Electoral reform that makes political parties more representative
  • Depoliticise of the supreme bodies of the judicial power and the constitutional court.

Action needed to avert further economic problems

The control of Spain’s supreme audit institution, an important public spending watchdog independent in law, over the public sector is weakened in practice by political party influence, Transparency International Spain’s report warns.

Spain’s local governments, which racked up more than €200 billion of debt, are forced to cut back and at the same time the need to know how local authorities account for their spending increased. Earlier this year, half of the country’s local governments scored less than 50% on a Transparency International Spain transparency index. Nearly 90% of the Spaniards believe that there is corruption in Spanish local institutions, making them among Europeans most likely to believe their local politicians are involved in widespread corruption.

“Given the important role of the political parties in Spain, the fight against corruption and the promotion of integrity should take place in the political arena. Considering the weak institutional framework in Spain, an absolute political majority guarantees almost absolute control over public institutions, and this creates a great risk for abuse of power”, said Manuel Villoria, the lead researcher of the study.

Political parties themselves are independent but their internal organization lacks transparency and is not open to citizens. They depend mostly on public funding, which creates inequalities among them. The level of transparency in the management and control of budgetary resources is low.

Among the strongest institutions in Spain are the law enforcement agencies, which stand out for their neutrality, professionalism and strong accountability when it comes down to addressing corrupt and unethical behavior. However, according to the report, the system is characterized by a risk of politicization, which should be minimized. While there has been success in prosecuting several high-profile corruption cases, these have also raised public attention through extensive media coverage. As a result, the perception of corruption increased.


Today’s report assesses the strengths and weaknesses of 12 Spanish institutions: legislative, executive, judiciary, public sector, law enforcement agencies, political parties, supreme audit institution, the ombudsman, the electoral management board, civil society, media and corporate sector.

It is part of the first ever comprehensive assessment of the ability of 300 national institutions across 25 European countries to fight corruption. The project is part-funded by the European Commission.

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