General Information on Spain
Spain, with 505,955 square kilometres and a population of nearly 43 million
people, is in economic terms one of the 10 leading countries in the
world. Spain’s inhabitants have an annual per capita income of 15,311
euros, and a life expectancy of 78.71 years, one of the highest on the
planet. On 1st January 1986, Spain joined the European Union as a full
The Spanish political system has been defined since 1978 as a parliamentary
monarchy. The Spanish Crown is the highest institution, and H.M. King
Juan Carlos I has been Spain’s Head of State for the past 30 years. His
principal functions are to arbitrate and moderate the regular functioning of
the country’s institutions, and to act as the highest national representative
in international relations.
The Legislative Branch is constituted by the National Assembly (Las Cortes
Generales), which represents the Spanish people and controls the actions of the
Government. Parliament has two Houses: the Congress of Deputies and the
Senate. Therefore, Spain has a bicameral parliamentary system.
Deputies and senators are elected for four-year terms, although there is also
the possibility of early elections at the initiative of the Prime Minister.
The Executive Branch corresponds to the Government. The head of the
Executive Branch is the Prime Minister, elected by the Congress of
Deputies. The current Prime Minister is José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in
office since April 2004. His predecessors are: José María Aznar, Felipe
González, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, and Adolfo Suárez.
The Judicial Branch, according to the Spanish Constitution, emanates from the
people, and is administered, in the name of the King, by Judges and
The Autonomous Regions
The Constitution of 1978 established a decentralised territorial model, with a
national capital (Madrid) and a system of Autonomous Cities and Autonomous
Regions, each endowed with its own regional Parliament and Administration, and
with a series of competencies which varies from one region to another.
This singular configuration has created a channel for expressing political,
social, and cultural diversity.
Spain’s territory is divided into provinces, which are part of 17 higher
divisions, the Autonomous Regions: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic
Islands, Basque Region, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla-La
Mancha, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre, La Rioja, and
Valencia. Moreover, Ceuta and Melilla, located on the northern coast of Africa,
are Autonomous Cities. Besides the National Administration and the
Regional Administrations, the third Public Administration recognised by the
Constitution as having autonomy to manage its own interests is the Local
Spanish is the official national language of Spain. Moreover, some of the
country’s Autonomous Regions have co-official local languages: Catalonia
(Catalan), Valencia (Valencian), the Balearic Islands (the Balearic dialect of
Catalan), Galicia (Galician), and the Basque Region (Basque).