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 December 2010, the number of foreigners with legal residence in Spain was 5,747,734, which represents 12% 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, adopted with a wide social and political consensus, 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. Spanish legislation clearly provides for the general principle of equal treatment in keeping with the Constitution and international treaties. However, there are major problems in its application. Although few actions are brought before the courts, discriminatory practices occur relatively often, on various grounds. Such discrimination may be institutional, especially in the application of certain legal provisions; structural, due to situations in employment, education or housing to which certain groups are driven by the market; or the work of individuals. 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, and therefore the transposition of both directives, came into force on 1 January 2004. They were transposed with no debate in society and no political or parliamentary debate. Since the general election of March 2004, social dialogue has been re-established in this field.
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.
On 16 February 2007, the government approved the Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Integration (of Immigrants) 2007-2010. One of the key points of the plan is equal treatment and the combating of discrimination.