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Spain must break two-party influence on institutions, warns Transparency International

PP and Socialists need to loosen grip on state organizations, says anti-corruption agency

Major changes are needed to loosen the grip the two major Spanish parties — the Popular Party and the Socialists — have on state institutions, including on the judiciary and oversight agencies, in order to “guarantee order, efficiency, stability and justice,” states a new report on Spain by Transparency International (TI).

In a long list of recommendations, the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog says Spanish parties must unlock their electoral slates so that constituents can vote for their own representatives, as well as change party financing law to obligate them to publish their accounts in a “detailed, timely and easily understood” fashion.

The 14-page report released on Friday also calls for the de-politicization of the legal system, especially the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) watchdog, and said efforts should be made to make the Attorney General’s Office more independent, particularly when it comes to corruption cases. The Audit Court should also be obligated to release annual public audits covering the financial state of and effectiveness at all public agencies, TI says.

“The influence of the two major political parties on the legislative, executive and, to a certain degree, the judicial branch can be strong whenever their interests are at stake,” states TI. “Accountability mechanisms might complicate government’s strategic behavior and improving this could go against certain party interests.”

Sided journalism

TI has also called for a bigger role for the State Council for Audiovisual Media so that it can “effectively regulate” and enforce ethical integrity for all media in the country. “Precisely because of the pervasiveness of bipartisanship, it is common to find forms of ‘advocacy journalism’ in which journalists tend to position themselves according to two main political dividing lines.”

The study, entitled The Spanish Institutional Integrity Framework: current situation and recommendation, is part of a National Integrity System assessment carried out by TI in 25 countries across Europe and funded by the European Commission. “This is the first time that it has been carried out in so many countries,” said Mike Beke, spokesman for the Spanish chapter of TI.

While the Spanish government has not yet given any official reaction to the recommendations, Beke said a host of former Spanish officials, including judges, assisted TI in compiling this report. While the report also notes that Spanish civil society is weak in its capacity to control government and has limited influence in politics, it places the main blame for murky dealings on the powerful two-party structure. A TI report issued in September said that nearly 90 percent of Spaniards believed that corruption ran rampant in local institutions. Political parties are perceived as Spain’s most corrupt institutions, according to another TI survey conducted last year.

“The smaller regional parties, often deeply rooted in nationalism, are only able to influence decision-making when one of the two major parties fails to win an absolute majority. This combined with closed and blocked voting lists, favors a system in which the party leaders maintain strong control over the representative bodies on the national, regional and local level,” states Friday’s report. “Whoever controls the party also controls the representatives, which in turn incentivizes strong party discipline.”