Spain Government and Politics
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.
According to AllCityCodes.com, 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 election.
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 nationalist parties.
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 government.
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 majority.
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 regional parties.
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 affiliation.
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 country’s constitution.
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 votes.
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|
|1474-1516||Ferdinand II 1|
|1474-1504||Isabella I 1|
|The house Habsburg|
|1504-55||Johanna the Mad 2|
|1504-06||Philip I 3|
|1516-56||Karl I 4|
|The house bourbon|
|The house Bonaparte|
|1808-13||Joseph Bonaparte (Joseph I)|
|The house bourbon|
|1869-71||Francisco Serrano y Domínguez 5|
|The house Savoy|
|1873||Estanislao Figueras y Moracas 6|
|1873||Francisco Pi and Margall 6|
|1873||Nicolás Salmerón y Alonso 6|
|1873-74||Emilio Castelar y Ripoll 6|
|1874||Francisco Serrano y Domínguez 7|
|The house bourbon|
|1931-36||Niceto Alcalá Zamora 8|
|1936-39||Manuel Azaña and Díaz 8|
|Franco’s Head of State (Jefatura del Estado)|
|1939-75||Francisco Franco and Bahamonde 9|
|The house bourbon|
|1975-2014||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
|1973||Luis Carrero Blanco|
|1973-76||Carlos Àrias Navarro|
|1981-82||Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo|
|1996-2004||José María Aznar|
|2004-11||José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero|