Politics in Spain
Early Politics in Spain’s History
After the death of General Franco, the Spanish government evolved into a constitutional monarchy. The King’s functions consist of ratifying laws, promulgating and dissolving the legislature, and proposing candidates for the office of the Prime Minister. The arm forces are under the King’s control. The Spanish government is lead by the Prime Minister. After being proposed by the King, a candidate must be made official according to the legislature. The Spanish government has a two legislature houses, the Congress of Deputies and the Senate.
The Congress of Deputies consists of 350 seats. The members of this committee are put into office using the popular vote system. The Senate consists of 259 in which 209 of them are elected in directly. Regional legislatures appoint. The standard for terms in the legislature is four years.
The Cortes: Dual Government
The dual chambered parliament of Spanish government is called, The Cortes or Cortes Generales. It has two houses, or chambers: the Upper house or Senate and the Lower house or Congress of Deputies. This form of the Spanish parliament was first established in or around the ninth century, which evolved into a more refined modern system over hundreds of years owing to the political changes in Spain. The Cortes has been assigned powers to pass new laws and also to make changes in the constitution of Spain. In order to pass changes to the Spanish constitution, it is necessary to get a majority of the votes in both the Lower and Upper houses. The Cortes shares its governmental authority with that of the parliament of the European Union.
The two houses of the Cortes in the Spanish government execute several functions which have been bestowed upon them according to the constitution. Significant decisions are collectively decided by the Senate and Congress of Deputies working in concert. These decisions include but are not limited to making new laws, passing national budgets and questioning the ministers. Both the houses of the Cortes meet twice a year according to a regular schedule. These two sessions are from February to June and September to December of each calendar year. In some emergency situations, there could be an extra session for which both the houses of the Spanish government can meet to make a decision on the vital issue.
Any Spanish citizen having voting rights can become a member of the Spanish Parliament if they are elected. However, civil servants, military and police personnel who are in service, members and judges of constitutional or judicial courts and electoral commission personnel are not eligible for election as members of Spanish Parliament. The Spanish government pays the members of the Cortes with fixed remunerations, perks, traveling allowances, subsidies and other special privileges for their tenure as members of the parliament.
Spanish Administrative Divisions
The Creation Process
The process of creating the Autonomous Communities, or the Spanish administrative divisions, was carried out from 1979 to 1983; the process was completed in 1996 after the independence for the cities of Ceuta and Melilla was passed. These regions were created either on the basis of being “historic nationalities,” possessing common historical characteristics, possessing a single historical and regional identity, or for being insular territories like the Canary and Balearic Islands.
The purpose of the Spanish administrative divisions was to check and balance the forces of separatism which, after Franco´s death, threatened to tear the country apart. The Spanish administrative divisions are, however, forbidden by the Constitution to merge with one another.
Branches of the Spanish Administrative Divisions
The Spanish administrative divisions consist of fifty provinces, grouped into seventeen autonomous communities, and two autonomous cities. The autonomous communities are Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre and Valencia. The autonomous cities consist of Ceuta and Melilla. The islands of the Islas Chafarinas, Penon de Alhucemas, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera off the African coast are under direct Spanish administration.
The Spanish administrative divisions enjoy a high degree of autonomy. They have their own elected parliaments, governments, public administrations, budgets, and resources. Health and education systems are managed regionally, and besides, the Basque Country and Navarre also manage their own public finances.
Catalonia and the Basque Country employ their own police force. The Spanish central government accounts for just 18% of public spending, while the Spanish administrative divisions manage 38% of the spending, the local councils 13% and the social-security system the rest.
The Spanish administrative divisions have their own government based on a division of powers. The government comprises the Legislative Assembly, whose members must be elected by a majority vote, a Government Council with executive and administrative functions and headed by a president who is elected by the Legislative Assembly and nominated by the King of Spain, and a Supreme Court of Justice, under the Supreme Court of the State, which heads the judicial organization within the autonomous community.
Autonomous communities is composed of provinces In turn, the provinces are divided into municipalities. These municipalities are granted autonomy to manage their internal affairs, and provinces are the territorial divisions designed to carry out the activities of the State. The autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla can enact regulations to execute laws, but they are denied the privilege of making their own laws. Spain is, therefore, recognized, to be one of the most decentralized countries in Europe, along with Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.
Spanish Autonomous Communities
The configuration of the Spanish State into Autonomous Communities is one of the salient aspects of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The Spanish autonomous communities were created in order to maintain the unity of the Spanish Kingdom, which was in serious danger in the days following Franco´s reign.
The Constitution assured the diverse peoples of Spain the right to sovereignty within the Kingdom of Spain. The Spanish autonomous communities share authority with the state as regulated by the Constitution. The Spanish autonomous communities have been allotted rights for public spending of 38%, while the central government has a share of only 18%.
Reason of Origin
The main factor considered for creating the Spanish autonomous communities was the history of each region, its cultural and economical distinctiveness, and geographic characteristics. The Spanish autonomous communities were designed to avoid any accumulation of power in a single region, which could amount to instability in the state. The process of developing the Spanish autonomous communities was started in 1979 and the majority of them were created within the next four years. It was only in 1996 that Ceuta and Melilla were awarded autonomous status, which marked the end of the configuring process of the Spanish autonomous communities.
The Spanish autonomous communities have their own government bodies, which are responsible for providing public facilities and infrastructures that include but are not limited to schools, colleges, universities, roads, parks, public health care centers, amphitheatres for cultural activities, and, in some cases, managing public security through the police department. Each Spanish autonomous community has its own Supreme Court which is governed by the Supreme Court of Spain in Madrid.
Every Spanish autonomous community has its own legislative assembly whose members are elected by a public vote. The communities also have their own government council which is headed by a President. The President of the Spanish autonomous community´s government council is elected by the legislative assembly after being nominated by the King of Spain.
Each of the Spanish autonomous communities is further divided into provinces and the provinces are subdivided into municipalities. The provinces demarcate the territory while the municipalities carry out public affairs within a specified territory. The Spanish autonomous communities today include: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre and Valencia. The newly created autonomous cities of Spain are Ceuta and Melilla.
The Council and Prime Ministers in Spain
Overview of the Monarchy
Spain is a constitutional monarchy in which the King is the titular head of the state, while the actual governmental and administrative powers are exercised by the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Minister, and the other ministers who together comprise the Council of Ministers. The offices of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in Spain were established under the Constitution of 1978.
While the King inherits the Spanish crown, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in Spain have to establish their claim to power by winning the national elections, which take place every four years. The Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people, but indirectly elected by the members of the Parliament, or the Cortes Generales, as it is known in Spain. The Speaker of a newly elected Cortes invites the leader of the winning party to become a candidate for the position of the Prime Minister. He communicates the name of the candidate to the Spanish monarch, who formally submits his name before the Cortes.
Two-Day Long Debate
A two-day long debate follows between the candidate and the legislature, in which the candidate states what his government hopes to achieve. If the candidate wins the confidence of the legislature by receiving a majority of votes (currently 176 out of 350 MPs), then the process is complete. If not, a second vote is scheduled two days later in which a simple plurality (i.e. more “yes” than “no” votes) is required. If it so happens to fail, the King becomes the electioneer and proposes candidates until one takes the advantage with a confidence vote. Two months are allotted for a candidate to win, and if one hasn’t succeeded, then new elections are issued by the King.
When a candidate wins the vote of confidence, he is officially appointed as the Prime Minister by the King. He can then appoint the Council of Ministers. As has already been mentioned, together, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in Spain constitute the highest executive body in the state. The Prime Minister’s first duty is to form the Cabinet. His second duty is to oversee the activities of the individual ministers. His third duty is to provide leadership and direction to the government.
The Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers is responsible for formulating and implementing policy. It exercises all kinds of and facilitations like the function of the military. Defense and national security are both priorities delegated to the Council. Individual ministers often have to resolve administrative conflicts within their departments. Although vested with a large amount of self rule, the ministers are under the provisions of the Prime Minister and accountable to the Cortes. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in Spain are forbidden to keep extra posts outside the government, and are prohibited from any professional and/or commercial participation.
Spain’s Foreign Policy
Establishing Foreign Relations
Spain was an internationally isolated country during General Franco’s rule. Since democratization in 1975, the aim of Spain’s foreign relations has been to resume normal relations and establish alliances with the rest of the world. Spain became a member of NATO in 1982, in its attempt to integrate itself with the major Western powers of the world. It remains a full member of the North Atlantic Council and its subordinate organizations, is an observer on the Nuclear Planning Group, is a member of the Defense Planning Committee and the Military Committee, and appoints military representatives to NATO. But Spanish forces can be commanded only by Spanish officers, and no troops can be deployed outside of Spain on a sustained basis.
Membership in the European Union, since 1986, has been crucial for Spain’s foreign policy. The membership has ensured political stability, and has boosted economic development in the country. Spain is playing an increasingly proactive role within the EU, which has improved its international standing. One of the major objectives of Spain’s foreign policy has been to prioritize relations with its erstwhile colonies in Latin America.
Economic investments, diplomatic initiatives, technical cooperation programmes and cultural exchanges are a regular feature of Spain’s foreign policy. Spain’s King and prime ministers make frequent trips to the region. A unique feature of the policy has been to treat the region as a whole instead of dealing with individual countries, emphasizing a multilateral rather than a bilateral approach. Spain’s importance in the EU derives largely from the influence it exerts in Latin America, and conversely, having European ties strengthens Spain’s role in Latin America.
Spain’s foreign policy also continues to focus attention on North Africa, especially Morocco. Cueta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa are still Spanish possessions, and a bone of contention between Spain and Morocco. Relations have been further strained by migrations, drug trafficking and debates over fishing rights along the Moroccan coast. Spanish sympathy for the Sahrawi population of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony under Moroccan control since 1975, is another cause of friction between Spain and Morocco. Yet Morocco continues to enjoy preferential treatment from Spain. Spain continues to provide initiative in its previous province, Equatorial Guinea.
In most cases, Spain’s foreign policy backs up Arabs in Middle Eastern policies. Arab countries and Spain both have investments in each other’s domestic goods such as: gas, oil, and other natural resources. For years, Spain was the only West European country that did not recognize Israel. That changed in January 1986, but, in the face of Arab criticism, Spain also accorded diplomatic status to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Madrid in August 1986.
Spain’s Foreign Relations with the U.S.
Laying the Foundations: Spanish-American War
The first 100 years of Spanish-U.S. relations was marked by violence and hostility. Spanish-U.S. relations began in the late eighteenth century, with conflict over Spanish possessions in America. The treaty of San Lorenzo was signed in the last years of the eighteenth century to establish friendly relations between the two countries, secure free navigation for the U.S. in the Mississippi River, and establish the Florida border. But conflicts over the Florida border persisted until the Transcontinental Treaty of 1821, when Spain surrendered the territory to the U.S. In 1898 the Spanish-American War between the two countries further soured Spanish-U.S. relations. As a result of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, and Guam to the United States and abandoned all claims to Cuba, which became independent in 1902.
Throughout the 20th Century
For the rest of the twentieth century, Spanish-U.S. relations remained tepid, with no country showing preferential treatment towards the other. However, in the twenty first century, Spain and the U.S. are strong allies in the fight against terrorism. Spain´s support to the U.S. is vital because of Spain´s geographic location on the Mediterranean. The U.S. military has two large bases in southern Spain. The U.S. Naval base is located in Rota, which is in southwestern Spain, halfway between Gibraltar and the Portugal border. The U.S. Air base is located in Moron, which is southeast of Seville and about seventy five miles northeast of the base in Rota. The bases enable mobilization for and transportation of American forces. But, the cordial relations suffered a jolt when Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero announced the withdrawal of 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq.
Cooperation and Great Relations
The closeness of Spanish-U.S. relations is exemplified by a number of treaties and agreements that have been re-ratified or have newly come into force. The agreements cover a wide variety of areas, from education and employment to scientific cooperation, space, and defense. Diplomatic visits have also been central to the bilateral relationship and have intensified since September 11, 2001. In trading terms, the two countries have a healthy relationship: during the first nine months of 2003 U.S. exports to Spain amounted to US$4,189 million, and the United States received nearly US$4,884 million in Spanish imports.
Spanish-speaking countries and the United States work well together as collaborative partners in other various fields. The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA) are both tycoons in space exploration. After Obama´s ascent to power as the President of the U.S., the Spanish Foreign Minister, Moratinos, is known to have stated that “a new stage in relations between the United States and Spain is opening that is more intense, more productive.”
Political Changes in Spain
Political Foundations of Spain
Spain started as a monarchy in the 8th century and continued to expand slowly for the next several hundred years. The two most important Spanish states until the 15th century were Aragon and Castile. These two states were consolidated by a royal marriage in the 15th century. In the late 15th century the Spanish Inquisition began. It was used to find heresy and find Jews and Muslims that had not converted to Christianity. In the 15th century many political decisions were motivated by religious beliefs.
Aftermath of Spanish Inquisition
One the major political changes in Spain sparked as the Inquisition continued and the last Muslim stronghold was overthrown Roman Catholicism became the official state religion. Shortly thereafter, Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. Though religion was used to justify the Inquisition, there were also economic factors. When the Jews were expelled, all debts to them were cancelled and Spain began an era of exploration, discovery, and colonization. During this time Spain amassed vast wealth and a huge colonial empire.
The Spanish Hapsburg monarchy became, for a time, the most powerful in the world. In the late 16th century, the destruction of the Spanish armada cost Spain its naval supremacy and allowed England to begin colonizing the Americas.
Spain’s Power Struggle
Continuing the political changes in Spain, the nation then sank rapidly in status and became a second-rate world power. Since then, Spain has never played a major part in the politics of Europe. Only one century later the the War of the Spanish Succession caused Spain to lose Naples, Milan, Sardinia, Luxembourg, and Belgium. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Spain lost its colonial empire as well.
After several centuries of declining power, Spain maintained a position of neutrality during World War I. Shortly after World War I, General Miguel Primo de Rivera became the first Spanish dictator. Seven years after his rise to power, King Alfonso XIII revoked his dictatorship, but it was too late for the monarchy in Spain. King Alfonso XIII left Spain in 1931.
The Spanish people then introduced a new constitution that made Spain a workers’ republic, created a separation of church and state, secularized schools and broke up the large estates. Again there was civil war and this time General Franco took control. He maintained his rule until his death in 1975. Three years after his death Spain once again brought forth a constitution, this time establishing Spain as the parliamentary monarchy it is today.