State and politics
According to the constitution, which was approved in a
1978 referendum, Spain is a hereditary monarchy with the
king as head of state. He appoints the Prime Minister and at
the latter's advice the other members of government. The
government is responsible to Cortes Generales, a parliament
with two chambers. The Congress, the Congreso de los
Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), has 350 members elected for
four years according to a proportional method; the parties
must pass a three percent barrier to be represented in the
chamber. The Senate has 264 members, 208 of whom are
directly elected and the rest of the autonomous regions.
There are 17 autonomous regions with their own parliaments
and governments. The cities of Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish
enclaves in Morocco) were given limited autonomy in 1995.
The largest political parties in Spain are Partido
Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, 'Spanish Socialist
Party') and Partido Popular (PP; 'People's Party'),
which is a center-right party. The Left Opposition is
primarily made up of Izquierda Unida (IU; the
'United Left'), which includes the Communist Party, PCE,
among others. In 2014, another opposition party was founded
on the left, Podemos ('We Can'), which quickly grew
into one of Spain's largest parties. Since 2016, IU and
Podemos have gone to elections with a common list; the
alliance is now called Unidas Podemos.
Since 2006, there has been a social-liberal alternative
in Spanish middle politics, Ciudadanos (CS;
'Citizens'), which was started in Catalonia in response to
the growing regional nationalism. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of ES and its meanings of Spain.
One of the most notable trends in Spanish politics since
the introduction of democracy has been the increased
importance of regional parties, such as the Catalan
Junts per Catalunya ('Together for Catalonia') and the
Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya-Sobiranistes
(ERC-Sobiranistes; 'the Republican of Catalonia') left '),
the Basque Partido Nationalista Vasco (PNV;' Basque
Nationalist Party ') and the Canary Coalición Canaria
(CC;' Canary Coalition '). Regional parties have on several
occasions been allowed to act as waveguides for both right
and left governments.
Spain's most recently founded party of importance is the
right-wing populist Vox, formed in 2013 by former
members of the PP. With an anti-Muslim and
immigration-critical rhetoric and an otherwise conservative
policy, the party took a seat in Congress after the 2019
The PSOE held the government in 1982-96 under the
leadership of Felipe González. He helped to a great extent
to renew the party, which was drawn to the center and
abandoned several old socialist dogmas. PP came to power in
1996 after the PSOE suffered a series of scandals, which led
to many middle-class voters casting their votes on other
parties. PP leader José María Aznar formed government with
the support of CiU, PNV and CC. In the 2000 election, PP got
its own majority in Congress.
The 2004 election took place a few days after an Islamist
terrorist attack on Madrid's subway, which killed 191
people. The PP government was harshly criticized for its
support for the US-led war on terror, and the next election
resulted in a change of power. PSOE leader José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero became new prime minister and formed
government with the support of a number of regional
The 2008 election was a voting success for both PSOE and
PP, and Zapatero was able to form a new socialist minority
government. The inability to push down high unemployment and
increasing government financial problems caused problems for
the government. The 2011 election meant a sharp decline for
the PSOE while PP made a record choice and received 44
percent of the vote and its own majority in Congress. New
head of government became PP's party leader Mariano Rajoy.
In the elections held in December 2015, PP and PSOE
received support from just under 29 and 22 percent of
voters, respectively, while Podemos received nearly 21
percent and Ciudadano's 14 percent. Thus, neither the right
nor the left bloc gained their own majority. The election
campaign had focused on criticism of the political elites,
the social consequences of the PP's austerity policy and the
many corruption scandals surrounding the party. Government
cooperation between the PP and one of the opposition parties
was ruled out and when it became clear that there were no
sustainable coalition alternatives, the parliament was
dissolved in May 2016.
The result of the new elections in June 2016 did not
significantly change the parliamentary balance of power.
However, the PP party strengthened its position in
Parliament and, together with the central party Ciudadanos,
sought a broad agreement with the PSOE for continued
government mandate. However, the PSOE was steadfast in
voting against a PP government. However, a coalition
government with Unidos Podemos and the PSOE supported by the
Basque and Catalan nationalist parties demanded a settlement
on the Catalan demands for a referendum on independence,
something that the PSOE was also unwilling to accept.
In the end, the opposition within the PSOE for major and
Secretary-General Pedro Sánchez, who served as opposition
leader in parliament, resigned in October 2016. At the same
time, the party decided to release Mariano Rajoy's minority
Following a number of convictions for extensive
corruption within Partido Popular, Rajoy was forced out of
the post of prime minister through a vote of no confidence
in June 2018. He also resigned as party leader. New prime
minister was Pedro Sánchez, who then returned as PSOE
secretary general and who formed a weak minority government.
When the PSOE in February 2019 failed to get through its
budget proposal, new elections were announced for April.
The election led to the right-wing populist Vox, with 10
percent of the vote, for the first time in Congress. At the
same time, PSOE strengthened its position and became by far
the largest party with just over 28 percent of the vote.
Although PP made a historically poor choice and lost nearly
half of its voter support, the left parties did not get PSOE
and Unidas Podemo's majority together. This meant that the
government again needed support from regional parties.
Pedro Sánchez failed to form government, announcing
another new election until November. The election became the
fourth to be held within four years. The PSOE retained its
position as the largest party, but even in this election,
the subsequent formation of government became complicated as
neither the left nor the right bloc gained their own
In January 2020, the new government was sworn in, which
consisted of the PSOE and the left-wing coalition Unidas
Podemos. Spain, which has not had a coalition government
since Franco's dictatorship, joins the many other European
countries where government formation has been dependent on
cooperation between several parties. In addition to the
coalition parties PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the government
base also consists of the left party Más País and a group of
Basque Country and Catalonia
In sharp contrast to the centralized system under Franco,
Spain, especially under the leadership of the socialists,
has undergone a decentralization which has led to increased
powers for the autonomous regions. This process has
progressed the longest in the Basque Country and Catalonia,
which are also two of Spain's richest regions.
A major problem for a long time was the Basque separatist
organization ETA, which according to official figures
1960-2010 accounted for over 800 murders. The movement was
weakened by the Spanish police arresting several of its
leaders in 1992. Terrorist support among the Basque
population declined and in 2011 ETA announced a permanent
ceasefire to fully dissolve 2018.
Catalonia has since 1979 sought to expand its influence
and autonomy. Since 2010, Catalan nationalist parties have
demanded increased financial autonomy from the rest of
Spain, in light of Catalonia's severely weakened finances
during the financial crisis that hit hard on the whole of
Spain and drew a lot of resources from Catalonia. In 2012,
the Catalan government chose to launch an independence
process that would land in a referendum on Catalonia's
Since such a referendum is illegal under the Spanish
Constitution, in November 2014, the Catalan government
organized an unofficial "participatory consultation". Of the
33 percent who voted in the election, just over 80 percent
wanted Catalonia to become its own state.
On October 1, 2017, another referendum on independence
was held. An overwhelming majority (about 90 percent) voted
in favor of a separation from Spain. About 40 percent of the
voters participated in the election. The result was judged
by the Constitutional Court and the Spanish government,
which considered that the referendum went against the
Catalonia's regional parliament proclaimed independence
on October 27, 2017, which resulted in the Spanish
government dissolving the regional parliament. Catalan
regional president Carles Puigdemont left Spain because of
the risk of being prosecuted for, among other things,
insurgency, where the government of Catalonia was taken over
by the Spanish central government.
In the recent election held in December 2017, Ciudadanos,
who is an opponent of an independent Catalonia, received the
most votes (25 percent). However, the parties that are
positive to an independent Catalonia, mainly Junts per
Catalunya and ERC-Sobiranistes, received a majority of the
In the absence of a Catalan regional president, the
region was still ruled from Madrid. After several elections
were postponed, the regional parliament elected Quim Torra
as new president with only one vote overweight.
The legal system in Spain is mainly codified. Civil Law,
Commercial Law, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure Law and
Criminal Procedure Law. Local deviations occur, especially
in family and succession law. The judicial system consists
of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court (Tribunal
supremo) and a number of different lower courts. In
recent years, legal developments in Spain have been affected
by the country's membership of the EU. The death penalty was
abolished in 1995; the last execution took place in 1975.
Spain was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008–09. An
already vulnerable economy became even worse and in an
effort to restore confidence in the Spanish economy,
stringent austerity measures were introduced. Unemployment
shot up and, according to reports from Human Rights Watch,
the budget cuts have hit hardest against already vulnerable
groups such as children and people with disabilities.
The cuts were followed by extensive protests. There are
indications that there has been police violence in
connection with the popular mass demonstrations. Spain has
been criticized for lack of legal security for persons
deprived of liberty. There is also information that arrested
suspected terrorists have been subjected to abuse by the
police or the Civil Guard.
The police system has also been accused of not acting
sufficiently in cases of racial crimes. Impunity often
prevails for law enforcement agencies.
The UN has criticized a worsening situation for migrants
in the country. Widespread discrimination makes it difficult
for them to enter the labor market and access to healthcare
is limited. Larger refugee camps are described as having a
prison-like situation, and many of the thousands of refugees
are deported directly to Morocco where they are at risk of
abuse and police brutality. The Roma are also marginalized
in Spanish society and have poorer access to community
services, healthcare and education.
Heads of State
|The house Trastámara
||Ferdinand II 1
||Isabella I 1
|The house Habsburg
||Johanna the Mad 2
||Philip I 3
||Karl I 4
|The house bourbon
|The house Bonaparte
||Joseph Bonaparte (Joseph I)
|The house bourbon
||Francisco Serrano y Domínguez 5
|The house Savoy
||Estanislao Figueras y Moracas 6
||Francisco Pi and Margall 6
||Nicolás Salmerón y Alonso 6
||Emilio Castelar y Ripoll 6
||Francisco Serrano y Domínguez 7
|The house bourbon
||Niceto Alcalá Zamora 8
||Manuel Azaña and Díaz 8
|Franco's Head of State (Jefatura del
||Francisco Franco and Bahamonde 9
|The house bourbon
||Juan Carlos I
1 Both Ferdinand and Isabella were ruling
monarchs in both Castile (from 1474) and Aragon (from 1479).
2 Johanna the madman was queen of the name in
Castile 1504–55 and in Aragon 1516–55.
3 Co-regent in Castile.
4 The German-Roman emperor Karl V is named Karl I
as the Spanish king.
6 Prime Minister serving as President.
7 Deputy President.
9 As early as 1936, Franco was proclaimed head of
state for the nationalist S.
Prime Ministers since 1939
||Luis Carrero Blanco
||Carlos Àrias Navarro
||Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo
||José María Aznar
||José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero