Politics of Spain

Politics of Spain

Politics of Spain takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy, whereby the Monarch is the Head of State and the President of the Government is the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is vested in the government. Central legislative power is vested in the two chambers of parliament.The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political developments

Parliamentary democracy was restored following the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the President of the Government (equivalent to Prime Minister) responsible to the bicameral Cortes Generales ("Cortes") elected every 4 years. On 23 February 1981, in an event known as "23-F", rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal and constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to put down the bloodless coup attempt.

In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe González Márquez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate, winning an absolute majority. González and the PSOE ruled for the next 13 years. During that period, Spain joined NATO and the European Community. Spain also created new social laws and large scale infrastructural building, as well as programmes in Education, Health and Work. Liberalization policies were heavily contested by trade unions but largely implemented. The country was massively modernized in this period, becoming an economically developed, culturally shifted, contemporary open society.

In March 1996, José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) received more votes than any other party, winning almost half the seats in the Congress. Aznar moved to further liberalize the economy, with a program of privatizations, labor market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets, principally telecommunications. During Aznar's first term, Spain qualified for the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union. During this period, Spain participated, along with the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. Spanish planes took part in the air war against Serbia in 1999 and Spanish armed forces and police personnel are included in the international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia (IFOR, SFOR) and Kosovo (KFOR).

Prime Minister Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000, obtaining absolute majorities in both houses of parliament. This mandate allowed Aznar to form a government unencumbered by the coalition building that had characterized his earlier administration. As Prime Minister, Aznar was a staunch supporter of transatlantic relations and the War on Terrorism. For the March 2004 elections the PP named First Vice President Mariano Rajoy to replace him as the People's Party candidate.

However, in the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist bomb attacks in Madrid, the PP lost the 2004 elections to the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and its leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Rodríguez Zapatero was appointed Prime Minister after having secured the support of a few minor parties. He nominated the first Spanish government ever to have the same number of male and female ministers. In this period the Spanish economy continued expanding, while new social and cultural laws were passed, and a more pan-European way was adopted in foreign politics.

In the 2008 general elections, Prime Minister Zapatero and the PSOE got reelected by a plurality, short of a majority. He was elected Prime Minister April 11 by 169 votes to 158, with 23 abstaining. The Economic crisis of 2008 took a heavy toll on economy in the following months.

The Crown

Article 1.3. of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that "the political form of the Spanish State is that of a Parliamentary Monarchy"". [ [http://www.casareal.es/laCorona/laCorona-iden-idweb.html Article 1.3. of the Spanish Constitution of 1.978 lays down that "the political form of the Spanish State is that of a Parliamentary Monarchy"] ]

Art. 56 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that:

*1. The King is the Head of State and Supreme Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the symbol of its unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular working of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with those nations belonging to the same historic community, and performs the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the law.

*2. His title is King of Spain, and he may use the other titles appertaining to the Crown.

*3. The person of the King is inviolable and shall not be held accountable. His acts shall always be countersigned in the manner established in Article 64. Without such countersignature they shall not be valid, except as provided under Article 65,2.

Art. 57 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that:

*1. The Crown of Spain shall be inherited by the successors of H.M. Juan Carlos I de Borbon, the legitimate heir of the historic dynasty. Succession to the throne shall follow the regular order of primogeniture and representation, in the following order of precedence: the earlier shall precede the more distant; within the same degree, the male shall precede the female; and for the same sex, the older shall precede the younger.

Art. 62 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that it is incumbent upon the King:

*a) to sanction the laws and promulgate them;

*b) to summon and dissolve the Cortes Generales and to call elections;

*c) to call a referendum;

*d) to propose a candidate for President of the Government and, as the case may be, appoint him or remove him from office;

*e) to appoint and dismiss members of the Government;

*f) to issue the decrees agreed upon by the Council of Ministers, to confer civil and military employments and award honours and distinctions;

*g) to keep himself informed regarding affairs of State and, for this purpose, to preside over the meetings of the Council of Ministers whenever he deems opportune;

*h) to exercise supreme command of the Armed Forces;

*i) to exercise the right to grant pardons;

*j) to exercise the High Patronage of the Royal Academies.

Art. 63 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 lays down that:

*1. The King accredits ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives. Foreign representatives in Spain are accredited to him.

*2. It is incumbent on the King to express the State's assent to the entering into of international commitments through treaties.

*3. It is incumbent on the King, after authorization by the Cortes Generales, to declare war and to make peace.

Executive power

(Prime Minister) who is nominated by the King, confirmed by a vote of the lower house of parliament and then appointed by the king. After a candidate has been nominated he must win a majority of the votes of the lower house, failing which, a second vote will be held where he only needs a plurality of votes. The Prime Minister designates the rest of the members of the Council who are then appointed by the king. He directs the activities of the government as a whole. The President of the Government can also designate various vice presidents (although it is not mandatory). There is also a Council of State that is the supreme consultative organ of the government.

Legislative branch

On the national level, Spain directly elects a legislature, the Cortes Generales ("literally": General Courts), which consists of two chambers, the Congress of Deputies ("Congreso de los Diputados") and the Senate ("Senado"). The Congress and Senate serve concurrent terms that run for a maximum of four years.

There are two essential differences between the two houses. The first is by way of electoral practice. Both are elected on a provincial basis. The number of seats in Congress is allocated in proportion to population. However, this is only done after each province (with the exception of Ceuta and Melilla) has been given two members. The result of this is a slight over-representation for the smaller provinces. For example the smallest province, Soria, with an electorate of 78,531, elected 2 members of congress (or 1 for every 39,265 voters) while Madrid, the largest, with 4,458,540 voters, elected 35 members of congress (or 1 for every 127,387 voters). In the Senate the members are elected on a provincial basis [ [http://www.electionresources.org/es/index_en.html#ASPECTS General Aspects of the Electoral System] ] . The electoral system used is different with proportional party closed lists being used for Congress and the Senate elected by partial bloc voting. Additionally some senators are designated by the Autonomous legislatures. The second difference is in legislative power. With few exceptions, every law is approved with the votes of Congress. The Senate can make changes or refuse laws but the Congress can ignore these amendments.

Political parties and elections

Spaniards started voting in the Spanish general election, 2008on March 9 2008, after a divisive campaign dominated by a cooling economy and concerns over immigration but jolted by a last-minute killing by suspected Basque separatists (ETA). [http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/03/09/spain.election.ap/index.html]


The Spanish Judiciary is exercised by professional judges and magistrates and composed of different courts depending on The Jurisdictional Order and what is to be judged, the highest ranking court of the judicial structure in Spain is the Supreme Court. The role of the judiciary is governed by the General Council Of the Judiciary Power of Spain whose Chairperson is also the Chairperson of the Supreme Court. See also "Audiencia Nacional".

Administrative divisions

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities ("comunidades autónomas", singular - "comunidad autónoma"); Andalucía (Andalusia), Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears (Balearic Islands), Canarias (Canary Islands), Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalunya (Catalonia), Comunidad Valenciana (Valencian Community), Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra (Navarre) and País Vasco (Basque Country).
"Note:"There are five places of sovereignty near Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla are administered as autonomous cities, with more powers than cities but fewer than autonomous communities; Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera are under direct Spanish administrations.


The 1978 constitution authorised the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries and the Balearic Islands had passed a Charter of Autonomy. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest nationalist movements. Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of the 17 regions.

The central government continues to devolve powers to the regional governments, which might eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs. This process is limited by the exclusive powers of the state in article 149 of the Spanish Constitution.

All autonomous communities are ruled by a government elected by a unicameral legislature.

Spain is, at present, what is called a "State of Autonomies", formally unitary but, in fact, functioning almost as a Federation of Autonomous Communities, each one with different powers (for instance, some have their own educational and health systems co-ordinated by the Central government, co-official language and particular cultural identity) and laws. There are some differences within this system, since power has been devolved from the centre to the periphery asymmetrically, with some autonomous governments (especially those dominated by nationalist parties) seeking a more federalist kind of relationship with Spain, now the Central Government is dealing with autonomous governments for the transfer of more autonomy.This system of asymmetrical devolution has been described as a coconstitutionalism and has similarities to the devolution process adopted by the United Kingdom since 1997.At the same time, integration in the European Union causes the succession of powers from the State to the European institutions.


In the communities with more than one province the government is held by the "diputación provincial" (literally Provincial Deputation). With the creation of Autonomous Communities, deputations have lost much of their power except for those single-province communities, where deputations have been absorbed by the Autonomous power, and in the Basque Autonomous Community where the power of deputations remains very strong. The members of provincial deputations are indirectly elected by citizens according to the results of municipal elections, and all of their members must be councillors of a town or city in the province, except in the Basque Provinces where direct elections take place. Some Spanish politicians have called for the abolition of provincial deputations.

Provincial Deputations are considered by law as Local Administrations and are regulated by the Regulating Act of the Bases of the Local regime of 1985.


Spanish municipal administration is highly homogeneous, most of the municipalities having the same powers, such as municipal police, traffic enforcement, urban planning and development, social services, municipal taxes and civil defence, and the same rules of membership and leadership.

Most Spanish municipalities are ruled in a parliamentary style, where citizens elect the municipal council, that acts as a sort of legislative body, that is responsible for electing the mayor who can appoint a board of governors out of councillors of his party or coalition as an executive. The only exception for this rule is in municipalities of under 50 inhabitants, which act as an open council, with a directly elected mayor and an assembly of neighbours as control and legislative body.

Membership of Municipal councils in Spain is chosen in municipal elections held every four years at the same time over Spain, and councillors are allotted using the D'Hondt method for proportional representation, with the exception of municipalities of under 100 inhabitants where bloc voting is used. The number of Councillors is determined by the population of the municipality, the smallest municipalities having 5 and Madrid (the biggest) 55.

The nationality debate

In order to understand the political forces and debates in Spain two dimensions have to be considered: the Right vs. Left dimension and the Nation State vs. Plurinational State dimension. The political parties' agendas and the individual citizens' opinions can only be understood when looked at on both dimensions. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Spain states that 1) it is a Nation and 2) that it is formed by Nationalities and Regions. This statement is a contradiction (since Nationality and Nation essentially mean the same thing in political theory), but it was an agreement that struck a balance between the political parties advocating the nation state and those advocating the plurinational state. The territorial organization of Spain into Autonomous Communities of Spain is the administrative realization of this constitutional balancing act.

Historically, parties advocating the Nation State claim that there is only one Nation and favour a State with a highly-powered government (with some degree of regional decentralization). Nationalist Catalan, Basque and Galician political parties claim to represent their respective 'nations', different from the 'Spanish nation'. These political parties share the belief that the Kingdom of Spain is a state formed by four 'nations', namely the Catalan nation, the Basque nation, the Galician nation and what might be called the Castilian-Spanish nation (for lack of better word, since they would simply call it Spain). Some of these parties often mention Switzerland as a model of Plurinational State shared by German, French, and Italian nationalities, while others advocate independence. Notice that these nations/nationalities are related to, but different from the current administrative borders of the Autonomous Communities of Spain.

The current situation can be understood as the sum of two historical failures: 1) the Nation State parties were unable to build a unified Nation State such as France, the model that the political and territorial organization of Spain has followed, while 2) the "national resistance" movements (specially Catalans and Basques) were also unable to break free from the Spanish state.


The Government of Spain has been involved in a long-running campaign against Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), an armed secessionist organization founded in 1959 in opposition to Franco and dedicated to promoting Basque independence through violent means. They consider themselves a guerrilla organization and are considered internationally as a terrorist organisation. Although the Basque Autonomous government does not condone any kind of violence, their different approaches to the separatist movement are a source of tension between the Central and Basque governments.

Initially ETA targeted primarily Spanish security forces, military personnel and Spanish Government officials. As the security forces and prominent politicians improved their own security, ETA increasingly focused its attacks on the tourist seasons (scaring tourists was seen as a way of putting pressure on the government, given the sector's importance to the economy) and local government officials in the Basque Country. The group carried out numerous bombings against Spanish Government facilities and economic targets, including a car bomb assassination attempt on then-opposition leader Aznar in 1995, in which his armored car was destroyed but he was unhurt. The Spanish Government attributes over 800 deaths to ETA during its campaign of terrorism.

On 17 May 2005, all the parties in the Congress of Deputies, except the PP, passed the Central Government's motion giving approval to the beginning of peace talks with ETA, without making political concessions and with the requirement that it give up its weapons. PSOE, CiU, ERC, PNV, IU-ICV, CC and the mixed group —BNG, CHA, EA y NB— supported it with a total of 192 votes, while the 147 PP parliamentarians objected. ETA declared a "permanent cease-fire" that came into force on March 24, 2006 and was broken by Barajas T4 International Airport Bombings on December 30, 2006. In the years leading up to the permanent cease-fire, the government had had more success in controlling ETA, due in part to increased security cooperation with French authorities.

Spain has also contended with a Marxist resistance group, commonly known as GRAPO. GRAPO is an urban guerrilla group that seeks to overthrow the Spanish Government and establish a Marxist state. It opposes Spanish participation in NATO and U.S. presence in Spain and has a long history of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings mostly against Spanish interests during the 1970s and 1980s.

In a June 2000 communiqué following the explosions of two small devices in Barcelona, GRAPO claimed responsibility for several attacks throughout Spain during the past year. These attacks included two failed armored car robberies, one in which two security officers died, and four bombings of political party offices during the 1999-2000 election campaign. In 2002, Spanish authorities were successful in hampering the organization's activities through sweeping arrests, including some of the group's leadership. GRAPO is not capable of maintaining the degree of operational capability that they once enjoyed. Most members of the groups are either in jail or abroad.

Armed Islamic fundamentalism in Spain

Al Qaeda has been known to operate cells in Spain, both logistically to support operations in other countries and with the potential to mount attacks within Spain itself. Spanish investigative services and the judicial system have aggressively sought to arrest and prosecute their members, with the most notable raid occurring in Barcelona in January 2003. In that effort, Spanish authorities arrested 16 suspected terrorists and seized explosives and other chemicals. Spain also actively cooperates with foreign governments to diminish the transnational terrorist threat.

Spain suffered a shocking terrorist attack, the March 11, 2004 Madrid attacks on its capital's commuter train network, killing 191 persons. Al-Qaeda has been blamed for this attack. Some have attributed the fall of the Aznar's government to this attack, which took place just four days before the 2004 elections. At first the Government and media accused ETA for the bombing. As the facts about its organisation by Islamic fundamentalism were appearing many voters lashed out at the public media and Aznar's government, believing the two had colluded to deceive the public since the Spanish government's support of the war in Iraq might be blamed as the trigger for the attack, a war which a considerable number of Spaniards had opposed, and therefore, many Spaniards believed Aznar's government had tried to deceive the public because of the elections.

One of the first moves of Prime Minister Zapatero was to pull all Spanish troops out of Iraq, but at the same time he increased the amount of soldiers in Afghanistan, believing that the nation represented a clear terrorist threat.

Political pressure groups

* Business and landowning interests (CEOE, CEPYME);
* Free labour unions (authorised in April 1977, which meant the legalisation of previous clandestine unions and the creation of new ones). The most powerful unions are the Workers' Commissions or "CC.OO." and the Socialist General Union of Workers or UGT. There are many others, in which workers unionise according to their trade or their ideology: Workers Syndical Union or USO, Solidarity of Basque Workers (ELA, Basque), Galician Inter-Unions Confederation (CIG, Galician).
* Catholic Church and other religious organisations (such as Opus Dei)) campaign to influence governments' policies.
* Armed rebellion: Basque Country and Liberty or ETA and the First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Group or GRAPO use violence to oppose the government. They are considered terrorists by the state and most of the population.

International organization participation

Spain is member of AfDh, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, CCC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECLAC, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, LAIA (observer), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNTAET, UNU, UPU, WCL, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee


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