The Government in Spain


Under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who essentially ruled the country from 1936 until his death in November of 1975, Spain was a fascist country, ruled by an authoritarian regime that took control of Spain from the government of the constitutionally liberal democratic Second Spanish Republic during and after the Spanish Civil War.
 
Following Franco’s death, Spain began what would be a three-year transition to democracy; a transition that culminated with the ratification of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.  The process leading up to the new constitution was not an easy one.  While growing Impatient with the slow pace of necessary democratic political reforms in 1976 and 1977, Spain’s new King Juan Carlos, a man known for his intimidating personality, dismissed then Prime Minister Carlos Arias Navarro and appointed a known reformer, Adolfo Suarez, to that position.  The resulting general election in 1977 convened the Constituent Cortes (the Spanish Parliament, in its capacity as a constitutional assembly) for the purpose of drafting and approving the Spanish Constitution of 1978.  Following a national referendum on December 6, 1978, 88 percent of voters approved the new constitution.
 
Due in large part to the provisions laid out in the new constitution, Spain now consists of 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities.  Although the constitution explicitly insists upon the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation, each of these new autonomous communities/cities was granted varying degrees of autonomy-- politically, organizationally, etc.  The constitution also makes clear the fact that Spain no longer has a state religion (Roman Catholicism was the state/official religion of Spain under Franco) and that every citizen is free to practice and believe as they wish.

The Branches of Government in Spain

Monarchy and Executive Branch

As it is with many European countries, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch, currently Juan Carlos I, and a bicameral parliament known as the Cortes Generales, or General Courts.  The executive branch of the government is led by the Prime Minister, currently Mariano Rajoy Brey, who presides over the Council of Ministers of Spain.  The Prime Minister is nominated and appointed by the sitting monarch and confirmed by the Congress of Deputies following legislative elections.  Since the ratification of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, King Juan Carlos I, adhering to a custom that he himself established, has only nominated people hailing from parties who maintain a plurality of seats in the Congress. 
 
Juan Carlos I King of Spain and Head of State. Currently, the executive branch of the government is structured as follows:
  • Head of State.
    • King Juan Carlos I (serving since November 22, 1975)
  • Head of Government.
  • Prime Minister of Spain (Presidente del Gobierno, literally President of the Government): Mariano Rajoy Brey, elected November 20, 2011.
    • Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Presidency: Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.
  • Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros), designated by the Prime Minister.
  • Cabinet.
Legislative Branch

Much like the United States, Spain’s legislative branch of government consists of two bodies:  the Congreso de los Diputados, or Congress of Deputies; and the Senado, or Senate.  The Congress of Deputies consists of 350 members.  They are elected, for four year terms, by popular vote in the regions they represent.  The Senate in Spain consists of 259 members, of which 208 are directly elected by popular vote.  The remaining 51 seats are filled by appointees named by regional legislatures.  Like members of Congress, Senators in Spain serve four-year terms.

Administrative/Political Divisions in Spain

Congress of Deputies Building. As mentioned briefly in the introduction, Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities, with both of these groups being the highest or first-order administrative division in the country.  The country is further broken down into provinces, 50 in total, spread among the various autonomous regions.  These provinces are then integrated by municipalities.  In the Catalonian region, two additional administrative divisions exist: comarques, which are aggregations of municipalities, and vegueria, which are aggregations of comarqes, both of which have administrative powers.  While comarques technically exist in all of Spain’s autonomous regions, in all but Catalonia they are really nothing more than historical or geographical subdivisions.
 
Autonomous Communities and Cities
 
Spain is a multicultural country, and as such, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 aimed to create an organizational structure (autonomous communities and cities) that would recognize the right to self government for the “nationalities and regions” of the country.  Since these changes/divisions were implemented, Spain has become one of the most decentralized countries in Europe, along with Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.  Autonomous Communities and Cities have their own elected governments, parliaments, public administrations, budgets and resources.  Health and educational programs and facilities are also managed at the regional level.  What’s more, in the Basque Country and Navarre regions of Spain the autonomous community also manages its own public finances based on floral provisions, and in Catalonia and the Basque Country, a fully-staffed autonomous police force handles a good portion of the duties and functions that are usually deemed the responsibility of the State or National police.
 
In total there are 19 autonomous regions in Spain—17 communities and 2 cities (Ceuta and Melilla, both exclaves located on the northern African coast).  These are integrated by adjacent provinces—provinces with cultural, economical and historical traits in common.  This organizational structure, based on decentralization, is known in Spain as the “State of the Autonomies.”

Every autonomous region in Spain is governed by its Statute of Autonomy.  This institutional law acts somewhat like a guideline for each respective region, establishing not only the name of the community according to its historical identity, but also its territorial limitations, the name and structure of its institutions of government and the rights of the people under the statute.
 
Like the central government, the government of Spain’s autonomous communities and cities rely on a division of power that ensures the necessary checks and balances within the system.  This organizational structure of these communities is (usually) as follows:
  • Legislative Assembly.  Legislators in this Assembly are elected by popular vote according to the system of proportional representation.  By statute, all regions of the community must be fairly and adequately represented to protect the interests of the people.
  • Government Council.  The Government Council in each of Spain’s autonomous communities is headed up by a president—someone nominated by the King of Spain and elected by the Legislative Assembly.
  • Supreme Court of Justice.  Every autonomous region has a Supreme Court of Justice, a court under the National Supreme Court that presides over all judicial organization within the autonomous community.
The distribution of power within each autonomous community can differ somewhat depending on each region’s Statute of Autonomy.  This is largely because devolution or deregulation was intended to be asymmetrical.  Recently, however, amendments to existing Statutes of Autonomy and the creation of new Statutes have reduced the asymmetry between the powers and brought a greater degree of uniformity to the autonomous communities.
 
Provinces and Municipalities in Spain
 
The current provincial structure in Spain is, for the most part, based on the 1833 territorial division carried out by Javier de Burgos.  Today, each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities are subdivided into provinces—regions which initially served as territorial building blocks when forming the communities—based on their history, culture, economy, etc. These 50 provinces are then further subdivided into municipalities
 
Provinces and municipalities, while not always protected and guaranteed by the various Statutes of Autonomy, are protected and guaranteed by the Spanish Constitution of 1978.  The duties/functions of these two subdivisions can vary, but generally, provinces are seen as territorial divisions designed to carry out the work of the state, while municipalties are granted autonomy to manage their own internal affairs.
 
Military of Spain

The armed forces of Spain, known as the Fuerzas Armadas Españolas, are led by their Commander-in-Chief, the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I.  The Spanish Armed Forces are divided into three branches:  Ejército de Tierra, or Spanish Army; Armada, or Spanish Navy; and Ejército del Aire, or Spanish Air Force.

Spanish Foreign Policy

Following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 and the resultant return to democracy, the main priorities of Spain lied in breaking free of the diplomatic isolation of the Franco era, expanding diplomatic relations in Europe and overseas, entering and engaging with the European Community and defining security relations with the West, particularly the United States.  Spain became a member of NATO in 1982, and has since entrenched itself as an important player in the international community.

As a former colonial leader, Spain has maintained an amiable relationship with Latin America and the Philippines.  Due in large part to commonalities in language, commerce, history and culture, Spain consistently emphasizes the notion of a global Iberoamerican community—a renewal of the “historically liberal concept of Hispanidad or Hispanismo,” which has sought to link the Iberian Peninsula to Hispanic America.18.

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