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In Spain, PM’s travel expenses remain a secret thanks to Franco-era law

Government cites security as the reason not to provide details about Pedro Sánchez’s official trips

Pedro Sánchez on an official trip to the Mediterranean Games.
Pedro Sánchez on an official trip to the Mediterranean Games.

The cost of the trips made by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is classified information. How much taxpayers are paying for them remains a secret, regardless of whether the trips are for official or private purposes.

Nor is any information ever disclosed about who else travels with him on the Dassault Falcon 900 jet aircraft used by the 45 Air Force Group to transport Spanish royals and high-ranking government officials.

There is an objective expense: how much it costs to operate a plane, and this is not a security issue no matter who is flying in it

Juan Mestre, Valencia University

The Socialist Party (PSOE) administration is falling back on Franco-era legislation to conceal this information: the 1968 Official Secrets Law.

But legal experts say that this zeal over the PM’s security does not justify the lack of transparency regarding his travel expenses.

Two law professors contacted by EL PAÍS said that it is one thing to reveal the prime minister’s security detail – how many police officers are traveling with him, for instance – and quite another to disclose the global cost of that trip, or the reasons for going to a specific destination.

Pedro Sánchez and his wife Begoña Gómez at the FIB festival.
Pedro Sánchez and his wife Begoña Gómez at the FIB festival.

Sánchez was criticized by the opposition last summer after it emerged that he took a trip on the Falcon 900 to Benicàssim, on the Mediterranean coast, where he attended a concert by The Killers at the FIB music festival. Government sources said Sánchez flew there to meet with the mayor and with the regional premier, and that the concert was a side activity.

The government has refused to disclose information about the cost of the Benicàssim trip to EL PAÍS and to other media outlets that filed requests under Spain’s Transparency Law. Later, authorities said that €282.92 had been spent on protocol. Sánchez’s official agenda did not include the music concert.

Although the Popular Party (PP) has been very vocal about demanding this information, no details were ever disclosed about the cost of the trips made by former PM Mariano Rajoy while he was in power. At the time, the PP invoked the same legal principles as the PSOE to avoid making those figures public.

Transparency vs security

“It makes sense to treat information about movements and protection plans as a secret, because it could in fact put state security at risk,” says Emilio Guichot, a professor of administrative law at Cádiz University. But this does not include information about travel expenses “if it is provided as a global figure, not as an itemized list, so that no information may be extracted from it and be used to compromise security.”

The former Popular Party administration did not disclose any information about the trips taken by Mariano Rajoy

The government is falling back on a ministerial agreement made more than 30 years ago under former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González. This agreement in turn used a 1968 law passed under Franco to award “secret” status to reports about the movements of military aircraft and to authority protection plans.

Juan Mestre, a professor of administrative law at Valencia University, says that this is a case of a clash between the concepts of security and transparency. “In general, transparency should get preference,” he says. “Otherwise, everything that the PM does could be considered a secret, since everything could be tied to his security.”

“There is an objective expense: how much it costs to operate a plane, and this is not a security issue no matter who is flying in it, whether it’s the prime minister or anybody else,” he adds.

Neither the Rajoy nor the Sánchez administrations have reviewed the old ministerial agreement in order to improve government transparency, even though it falls within their power. One of the PSOE’s campaign promises was to force all public officials to disclose things such as “the trips they make using taxpayer money, and the purpose of the same.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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