Politics of Spain

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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 Prime Minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes Generales (Cortes) elected every 4 years. On 23 February 1981, 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 authority 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.

In March 1996, José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) was the most voted party, winning almost half the seats in the Congress. Aznar moved to 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. 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).

In a landslide victory, President 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 characterized his earlier administration. Aznar is a staunch supporter of transatlantic relations and the War on Terrorism. For the March 2004 elections Aznar named First Vice President Mariano Rajoy to replace him as the People's Party candidate.

However, the PP lost the 2004 elections to the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), and its leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Rodríquez Zapatero was elected prime minister with the votes of PSOE and a few minor parties. He designed the first Spanish government ever to have the same number of male and female ministers.


Spanish Parliament

The Spanish Parliament is called Cortes Generales and is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Congress of Deputies, the Lower House (Spanish Cámara Baja) and the Senate, the Upper House (Spanish Cámara Alta).

Local government

The 1978 constitution authorized the creation of regional autonomous governments. By 1985, 17 nationalities and regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the Canaries, and the Balearic Islands had negotiated territorial constitutions with the central government. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were held in the Basque and Catalan nationalities, which have the strongest local traditions by virtue of their history and separate languages. Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of the 17 nationalities and regions. The central government continues to devolve powers to the regional governments, which will eventually have full responsibility for health care and education, as well as other social programs.

The nationality debate

In order to understand the political forces and debates in Spain we have to consider two dimensions: 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 situated 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 favor a state with a centralized government (with some degree of regional decentralization). Catalan, Basque and Galician political parties claim to represent their respective nations, different from the Spanish nation. These political parties have in common to consider the Kingdom of Spain as state formed by four nations, namely the Catalan nation, the Basque nation, the Galician nation, and what might be called the Castillian-Spanish nation (for lack of better word, since they would call it simply Spain). Some of these parties often mention Switzerland as a model of Plurinational State shared by German, French, and Italian nationalities, while others advocate for 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 is involved in a long-running campaign against Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a terrorist organization founded in 1959 and dedicated to promoting Basque independence. Initially ETA targeted primarily Spanish security forces, military personnel, and Spanish Government officials. As the security forces and prominent politicians improve their own security, ETA has increasingly been involved in killings of civilians, concentrated its actions during tourist seasons, and attacked local government officials in the Basque Country. The group has 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 terrorism since its campaign of violence began. In recent years, the government has had more success in controlling ETA, due in part to increased security cooperation with French authorities.

In November 1999, ETA ended a cease-fire it declared in September 1998. Since that time, ETA has conducted a campaign of violence and has been blamed for the deaths of some 46 Spanish citizens and officials. Each attack has been followed by massive anti-ETA demonstrations around the country, clearly demonstrating that the majority of Spaniards, including the majority of Spain's Basque populace, have no tolerance for continued ETA violence. The government continues to pursue vigorous counterterrorist policy.

Spain also contends with a resistance group, commonly known as GRAPO. GRAPO is an urban terrorist 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 terrorist 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.

Neither ETA nor GRAPO maintains the degree of operational capability once enjoyed. Most members of the groups are either in jail or abroad. ETA in particular remains a serious threat but one that must be kept in perspective. Just as Spain has largely conformed to European norms in political and economic terms a quarter of a century after the death of Franco, so too has it progressed in the area of the safety of its citizens. The overall level of terrorist activity is considerably less than in the past, and the trend appears to be downward.

Al Qaeda has been known to operate cells in Spain, both logistically to support operations in other countries and potentially 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 200. Al-Qaeda has been blamed for this attack. Some have attributed the fall of the Aznar government to this attack, which took place just two days before the 2004 elections. At first the public believed ETA was responsible for the bombing. When they learned Al-Qaeda was the true culprit, many voters lashed out at the media and Aznar's government, believing the two had colluded to deceive the public.

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 nation represented a clear terrorist threat.


Country name:
conventional long form: Kingdom of Spain
conventional short form: Spain
local short forms: España (Spanish and Galician), Espanya (Catalan), Espainia (Basque)

Data code: SP

Government type: parliamentary monarchy

Capital: Madrid

Administrative divisions: 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 (Valencia), 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 administration

Independence: 1492 Conquest of Granada and union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon. But this is a debatable date as conventional as any other one. In fact, each kingdom (Castile, Aragon, Navarre) retained its separate institutions until 1715 (Decreto de Nueva Planta by Philip V of Spain. In 1812, the king Joseph I of Spain, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, and the French troops of occupation were defeated.

National holiday: National Day, 12 October

Constitution: Approved in referendum 6 December 1978, effective 29 December 1978

Legal system: civil law system, with regional applications; does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
Chief of state: King Juan Carlos I (since November 22 1975); Heir Apparent Prince Felipe, son of the monarch, born 30 January 1968
Head of Government: President of the Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (elected 14 March 2004); First Vice President (and Minister of Presidency) María Teresa Fernández de la Vega (elected 14 March 2004) and Second Vice President (and Minister of Economy and Finance) Pedro Solbes (elected 14 March 2004)
Cabinet: Council of Ministers (Spanish Consejo de Ministros) designated by the president
Note: There is also a Council of State that is the supreme consultative organ of the government
Elections: The monarch is hereditary, following the rule of Castilian Siete Partidas: the elder son is preferred to the elder daughter; president of the government (prime minister) proposed by the monarch and elected by the National Assembly following legislative elections; election last held 13 March 2004; vice presidents appointed by the monarch on proposal of the president
election results: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE) elected president of the government (prime minister)

Legislative branch: bicameral; General Courts or National Assembly or las Cortes Generales consists of the Senate or Senado (259 seats - 208 members directly elected by popular vote and the other 51 appointed by the regional legislatures to serve four-year terms) and the Congress of Deputies or Congreso de los Diputados (350 seats; members are elected by popular vote on block lists by proportional representation to serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 14 March 2004; Congress of Deputies - last held 14 March 2004
election results: see Spanish legislative election, 2004

Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Tribunal Supremo. See also Audiencia Nacional.

Political parties and leaders: Main article: List of political parties in Spain

People's Party or PP (Mariano Rajoy Brey); Spanish Communist Party or PCE (Francisco Frutos) Spanish Socialist Workers' Party or PSOE (José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, secretary general) United Left or IU (a coalition of parties including the PCE and other small parties) (Gaspar Llamazares Basque Nationalist Party or PNV (Joseba Eguibar) Canarian Coalition or CC (a coalition of five parties) (Lorenzo Olarte Cullen) Convergence and Union or CiU (Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, secretary general) (a coalition of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia or CDC [Jordi Pujol i Soley] and the Democratic Union of Catalonia or UDC (Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida)) Galician Nationalist Bloc or BNG (Anxo Quintana González); Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya or ERC (Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira) Iniciativa per Catalunya or IC (a coalition of PSUC and other parties) (Joan Saura); Basque Solidarity Eusko Alkartasuna or EA (Begoña Errazti); Aragonese Council, Chunta Aragonesista or CHA) (José Antonio Labordeta).

Political pressure groups and leaders:

  • Business and landowning interests;
  • Free labor unions (authorized 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 unionize 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 Opus Dei campaign to influence governments' policies.
  • Basque Fatherland and Liberty or ETA and the First of October Antifascist Resistance Group or GRAPO use terrorism to oppose the government.
  • University students.

International organization participation: AfDB, 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

Flag description: Three horizontal bands of red (top), yellow (double width), and red with the national coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow band. The coat of arms includes the royal seal framed by the Pillars of Hercules, which are the two promontories (Gibraltar and Ceuta) on either side of the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar

See also : Spainast:Gobiernu y política d'España

ca:Govern i política d'Espanya es:Gobierno y política de España fr:Politique de l'Espagne pl:Ustrój polityczny Hiszpanii


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