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Spain plans new official secrets law after Catalangate, replacing Franco times one

Pedro Sánchez wants to 'modernize' legislation related to intelligence, which admitted espionage on pro-independence camp


26 May 2022 10:05 AM


Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced the introduction of a new official secrets law, replacing the one currently in force approved in 1968, during the days of the Francisco Franco dictatorship. 

For him, a new law replacing that approved over half a century ago "cannot be put off, in order to adapt to the international standards and Spanish constitution," approved in 1978.

In a statement in Congress on Thursday to tackle the espionage on the pro-independence camp revealed by CitizenLab on April 18 and also the hacking of his own phone with Pegasus software, the leader said his government will pass the bill, in an effort to "modernize" legislation related to intelligence.

Indeed, the PM also said that his cabinet will put forward another bill regulating the judicial control over the Spanish intelligence center (CNI), in order to replace the current one, approved in 2002. The amendment will be "in the same vein as the ombudsman's recommendations, with the maximum respect for individual and political rights."

"We have to strengthen the democratic control mechanisms to match it with that of the countries offering the highest guarantees," he said before MPs.

"The law cannot come behind technology," he believes. "Our intelligence requires a legal framework that evolves so that it can face the current challenges."

However, political opposition has not welcomed the decision. 

Bravery and courage "is when a Spanish PM tells [those who threaten to break Spain up] that the rule of law will be applied, that they will be tried and condemned once more, if they do it again," Cuca Gamarra, spokesperson for the People’s Party, said in Congress on Thursday.

On the other hand, Gabriel Rufián, spokesperson for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya force, expressed his worries.

"You [Pedro Sánchez] talk about things that worry me. You justify legal espionage based on blocking roads, shutting down airports, and burning rubbish bins," he said.


Aiming to calm waters with pro-independence allies

The move aims to calm the waters with the left-wing pro-independence parties that supported his bid for PM in Congress and that remain key for the stability of his mandate. 

Specifically, the Catalan government leading party, Esquerra, who has been offering key backing since the beginning of the term, has threatened to remove their parliamentary alliance, which would put at risk Sánchez's cabinet position and initiatives.

Indeed, last month in the lower chamber Esquerra rejected ratifying the measures enforced in order to withstand the effects of the war in Ukraine, including a 20-cent discount per liter of oil in all stations.

Although the measure got the votes of a majority of lawmakers anyway, this was a major swing in the Catalan party's approach to Madrid ever since the term began in early 2020.

PM avoids criticism to CNI despite dismissing its director

Yet, Pedro Sánchez avoided criticizing the role of intelligence during the alleged espionage scandal involving 65 pro-independence politicians, activists, journalists, lawyers and some of their relatives. As argued by the former CNI head in the official secrets committee a few weeks ago, Sánchez said that intelligence has only spied on 18 individuals and with judicial approval.

"The origin of the hacking of the vast majority of the phones is unknown, outside state entities," he said.

Facing criticism of pro-independence parties, he also claimed that intelligence services have always acted "within the legal framework." Sánchez praised CNI during his speech, although his cabinet dismissed the institution's director on May 10.

Indeed, he said the hacking aimed to avoid acts of "people who are willing to attack the national security, institutional stability and the public's welfare," referring to the protests that took place in the wake of the 2017 referendum leaders' prison sentence in 2019.

Filling the Sink podcast

Have a listen to our Filling the Sink podcast on Catalangate published on May 7: