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Government, Politics and Legal Systems for Expats in Spain

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

Government and Politics

The Kingdom of Spain is a constitutional monarchy. This means that the monarch, King Juan Carlos I, is the official head of state. However, the King has no direct executive powers. He is limited to advising, or attempting to persuade the prime minister and other officials on a particular course of action. It is the prime minister and the Cabinet that decide what executive measures will be taken; willingly or otherwise, the King then gives his consent to these measures. The King and his family are meant to serve as an example to their subjects. This has not been the case recently; as a result the Spanish Royal Family is currently unpopular.

The national government for all of Spain is based in the capital, Madrid.  The head of the Spanish government is the Presidente del Gobierno, which literally translates to ‘President of the Government.’However, in English, ‘prime minister’ is generally used.The prime minister is usually the leader of the largest party in a general election. He or she selects the other members of the Cabinet (Consejo de Ministros), and together they form the Spanish executive. The current Prime Minister is Mariano Rajoy.

The Spanish legislative branch (Cortes Generales, literally ‘General Courts’) is bicameral, consisting of an upper house of 266 members, the Senate, and a lower house of 350 members, the Congress of Deputies. The Cortes have the power to change the constitution, enact laws and the Congress can, if they deem it necessary, dismiss the prime minister.

The Cortes are not by any means the only legislative body in Spain. In 1978, after Franco’s depredations, plans were started to give powers to the historic communities of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. Eventually, it was decided that a power would be devolved to all of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. Spain is now a highly devolved country with powers split between the national and regional governments. The above historic communities, together with Andalusia, have greater regional powers than the others.

The two most important Spanish political parties are the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (centre-left) and the People’s Party (centre-right.) Both of these parties are formed of coalitions of smaller parties. There are also a great number of other small parties, including many regional parties such as the Basque National Party and the Canarian Coalition.


Legal Systems

Spanish law is based on the civil system. This means that the laws and regulations laid down by the government’s legislative branch always take precedence over customs and decisions made by judges. There is not only national law, but also regional law, which is laid down by each of the 17 autonomous communities. These regional governments are responsible for areas such as education, health, culture and urban development.

The Spanish Constitution, ratified in 1978, is the supreme document in Spanish law. There is a special body, the Constitutional Court, which exists to ensure that all laws that are passed are in line with the Constitution; the Court ensures that any laws at variance with the Constitution are expunged.



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