Up to the mid-1980s, the only notable differentiated ethnic group in Spain was that formed by the 600,000 gypsies living in the country. In the late 1990s, immigration underwent a very sharp acceleration, and by September 2012, the number of foreigners with legal residence in Spain was 5,363,688, which represents 11% of the population. The largest groups are from Morocco, Romania, Ecuador and Colombia. The rapid rise in immigration poses new challenges to Spanish society, including increasing risks related to discriminatory practices. Some 80% of Spaniards say that they are Catholics (mostly non-practising), 2% say that they are members of other religions (chiefly Islam and Protestantism) and 16% say that they are non-believers or atheists.
In the political sphere, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 laid down the legal framework of a coexistence governed by democratic principles, making equal treatment and non-discrimination one of the basic pillars of a non-confessional state. Although few actions are brought before the courts, discriminatory practices occur relatively often, on various grounds. These discriminatory processes chiefly affect certain migrant groups and gypsies.
Directives 2000/43 and 2000/78 were jointly transposed in Law 62/2003 (30 December), on fiscal, administrative and social measures. This law came into force on 1 January 2004. They were transposed with no debate in society and no political or parliamentary debate.
There are several specific social and employment programmes for combating discrimination on various grounds. There are also positive action programmes to combat discrimination in fields such as gender and disability. All these programmes are of value, but not very effective in their overall impact.
The Great Recession suffering Spain since 2008 and the policies that governments are implementing to address it, have led to a marked change in policy priorities. The struggle for equality, that had a strong momentum in 2005-2010, has slowed. The Comprehensive Bill on equal treatment and non-discrimination has been withdrawn. Social dialogue about discrimination has also stopped.