|Created by||Spanish Constitution of 1978|
|Number||17 (+2 autonomous cities)|
An autonomous community (in Spanish: comunidad autónoma, in Basque: autonomia erkidego, in Valencian or Catalan: comunitat autònoma, in Galician: comunidade autónoma) is a first-level political and administrative division of Spain created in accordance with the Spanish constitution of 1978, with the aim of guaranteeing the autonomy of the nationalities and regions that integrate the Spanish nation.
Since sovereignty resides in the nation as a whole—and represented in the State-wide or central institutions of government—and not in the communities, Spain is not a federation but a highly decentralized unitary state that has devolved power to the communities, which in turn exercise their right to self-government within the limits set forth in the constitution.
There are 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities that are collectively known as autonomies (Spanish: autonomías). The two autonomous cities have the right to become autonomous communities, but neither has yet utilised this right. This unique framework of territorial administration is known as the State of Autonomies (Spanish: Estado de las autonomías).
The autonomous communities are governed according to the constitution and their own organic laws known as Statutes of Autonomy, which contain all the competences that they assume. Since devolution was intended to be asymmetrical in nature, the scope of competences vary for each community, but all have the same parliamentary structure.
Creation of the autonomous communities
See also: Nationalities and regions of Spain
Spain is a diverse country integrated by different contrasting regions that show varying economic and social structures, as well as different languages and historical, political and cultural traditions. While the entire Spanish territory was united under one crown by the 16th century, this was not a process of national homogenization or amalgamation. The constituent territories—be it crowns, kingdoms, principalities or dominions—retained much of their former institutional existence, including legislative, judicial or fiscal autonomy in limited degrees, and exhibited a variety of customs, laws, languages and currencies.
From the 18th century onwards, the Bourbon kings and the government tried to establish a more centralized regime. Leading figures of the Spanish Enlightenment advocated for the building of a Spanish nation beyond the internal territorial boundaries.
However, unlike other European countries such as France, where regional languages were spoken in rural areas or less developed regions, in Spain, two important regional languages were spoken in some of the most industrialized areas, with higher levels of prosperity, which also had their own cultures and historical consciences, namely the Basque Country and Catalonia, giving rise to peripheral nationalisms along with Spanish nationalism.
Therefore, economic and social changes that had produced a national cultural unification in France had the opposite effect in Spain. As such, Spanish history since the late 19th century has been shaped by a dialectical struggle between Spanish nationalism and peripheral nationalisms, mostly in Catalonia and the Basque Country, and to a lesser degree in Galicia.
In a response to Catalan demands, limited autonomy was granted to Catalonia in 1913—abolished in 1920—and granted again in 1932 during the Second Spanish Republic, when the Generalitat, Catalonia's medieval institution of government, was restored. The constitution of 1931 envisaged a territorial division for all Spain in "autonomous regions", which was never fully attained—only Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia had approved "Statutes of Autonomy"—the process being thwarted by the Spanish Civil War that broke out in 1936, and the victory of the rebel national forces under Francisco Franco.
During General Franco's dictatorial regime, centralism was most forcefully enforced as a way of preserving the "unity of the Spanish nation". Peripheral nationalism, along with communism and atheism were regarded by his regime as the main threats. His attempts to fight separatism with heavy-handed but sporadic repression, and his often severe suppression of language and regional identities backfired: the demands for democracy became intertwined with demands for the recognition of a pluralistic vision of the Spanish nationhood.
When Franco died in 1975, Spain entered into a phase of transition towards democracy. The most difficult task of the newly democratically elected Cortes Generales (the Spanish Parliament) in 1977 acting as a Constituent Assembly was to transition from a unitary centralized State into a decentralized State in a way that would satisfy the demands of the peripheral nationalists. The then prime minister of Spain, Adolfo Suárez, met with Josep Tarradellas, president of the Generalitat of Catalonia in exile. An agreement was made so that the Generalitat would be restored and limited competences would be transferred while the constitution was still being written. Shortly after, the government allowed the creation of "assemblies of members of parliament" integrated by deputies and senators of the different territories of Spain, so that they could constitute "pre-autonomic regimes" for their regions as well.
The Fathers of the Constitution had to strike a balance between the opposing views of Spain, on the one hand, the centralist view inherited from Franco's regime, and on the other hand federalism and a pluralistic view of Spain as a "nation of nations"; between a uniform decentralization of entities with the same competences and an asymmetrical structure that would distinguish the nationalities. Peripheral nationalist parties wanted a multinational State with a federal or confederal model, whereas the governing Union of the Democratic Center and the People's Alliance wanted minimum decentralization; the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party was sympathetic to a federal system.
In the end, the constitution, published and ratified in 1979, found a balance in recognizing the existence of "nationalities and regions" in Spain, in the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation". While federalism was ruled out, the constitution guaranteed the right to autonomy or self-government of the said "nationalities and regions", through a process of asymmetric devolution of power to the "autonomous communities" that were to be created.
Constitution of 1978
See also: Spanish Constitution of 1978
The starting point in the territorial organization of Spain was the second article of the constitution, which reads:
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.
— Second Article of the Spanish Constitution of 1978
The constitution was rather ambiguous on how this was to take place. It does not define, detail, or impose the structure of the State; it does not tell the difference between "nation" and "nationality"; and it does not specify which are the "nationalities" and which are the "regions", or the territories they comprise. Rather than imposing, it enables a process towards a decentralized structure based on the exercise that these "nationalities and regions" would make of the right to self-government that they were granted. As such, the outcome of this exercise was not predictable and its construction was deliberately open-ended; the constitution only created a process for an eventual devolution, but it was voluntary in nature: the "nationalities and regions" themselves had the option of choosing to attain self-government or not.
In order to exercise this right, the constitution established an open process whereby the "nationalities and regions" could be constituted as "autonomous communities". First, it recognized the pre-existing 50 provinces of Spain, a territorial division of the liberal centralizing regime of the 19th century created for purely administrative purposes. (It also recognized the municipalities that integrated the provinces). These provinces would serve as the building blocks and constituent parts of the autonomous communities. The constitution stipulated that the following could be constituted as autonomous communities:
- two or more adjacent provinces with common historical, cultural and economic characteristics,
- insular territories, or
- a single province with a "historical regional identity".
It also allowed for exceptions to the above criteria, in that the Spanish Parliament could:
- authorize, in the nation's interest, the constitution of an autonomous community even if it was a single province without a historical regional identity; and to
- authorize or grant autonomy to entities or territories that were not provinces.
The constitution also established two "routes" to accede to autonomy. The "fast route" or "fast track", also called the "exception", was established in article 151, and was implicitly reserved for the three "historical nationalities"—the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia—in that the very strict requirements to opt for this route were waived via the second transitory disposition for those territories that had approved a "Statute of Autonomy" during the Second Spanish Republic. (Otherwise, the constitution required the approval of three-fourths of the municipalities involved whose population would sum up at least the majority of the electoral census of each province and the ratification through a referendum with the affirmative vote of the absolute majority of the electoral census of each province—that is, of all registered citizens, not only of those who would vote).
The constitution also explicitly established that the institutional framework for these communities would be a parliamentary system, with a Legislative Assembly elected by universal suffrage, a cabinet or "council of government", a president of such a council, elected by the Assembly, and a Supreme Court of Justice. They were also granted a maximum level of devolved competences.
The "slow route" or "slow track", also called the "norm", was established in article 143. This route could be taken—via the first transitory disposition—by the "pre-autonomic regimes" that had been constituted in 1978, while the constitution was still being drafted, if approved by two-thirds of all municipalities involved whose population would sum up to at least the majority of the electoral census of each province or insular territory. These communities would assume limited competences during a provisional period of 5 years, after which they could assume further competences, upon negotiation with the central government. However, the constitution did not explicitly establish an institutional framework for these communities. They could have established a parliamentary system like the "historical nationalities", or they could have not assumed any legislative powers and simply established mechanisms for the administration of the competences they were granted.
Once the autonomous communities were created, Article 145 prohibits the "federation of autonomous communities". This was understood as any agreement between communities that would produce an alteration to the political and territorial equilibrium that would cause a confrontation between different blocks of communities, an action incompatible with the principle of solidarity and the unity of the nation.
The so-called "additional" and "transitory" dispositions of the constitution allowed for some exceptions to the above-mentioned framework. In terms of territorial organization, the fifth transitory disposition established that the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish exclaves located on the northern coast of Africa, could be constituted as "autonomous communities" if the absolute majority of the members of their city councils would agree on such a motion, and with the approval of the Spanish Parliament, which would exercise its prerogatives to grant autonomy to other entities besides provinces.
In terms of the scope of competences, the first additional disposition recognized the historical rights of the "chartered" territories (in Spanish: territorios forales), namely the Basque-speaking provinces, which were to be updated in accordance to the constitution. This recognition would allow them to establish a financial "chartered regime" whereby they would not only have independence to manage their own finances, like all other communities, but to have their own public financial ministries with the ability to levy and collect all taxes. In the rest of the communities, all taxes are levied and collected by or for the central government and then redistributed among all.
The autonomic pacts
The Statutes of Autonomy of the Basque Country and Catalonia were sanctioned by the Spanish Parliament on 18 December 1979. The position of the party in government, the Union of the Democratic Center (UCD), was that only the three "historical nationalities" would assume full competences, while the rest would accede to autonomy via article 143, assuming less powers and perhaps not even establishing institutions of government. This was firmly opposed by the representatives of Andalusia, who demanded for their region the maximum level of competences granted to the "nationalities".
After a massive rally in support for autonomy, a referendum was organized for Andalusia to attain autonomy through the strict requirements of article 151, or the "fast route"—with UCD calling for absention, and the main party in opposition in Parliament, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) calling for a vote in favor. These requirements were not met, as in one of the eight provinces, Almería, votes in favor—although the majority—did not amount to half of the electoral census as required. Yet, in general, the results of the referendum had been clear and unequivocal.
After several months of discussion, the then prime minister of Spain, Adolfo Suárez and the leader of the opposition, Felipe González, reached an agreement to resolve the Andalusian issue, whereby the Parliament approved an amendment to the law that regulated referendums, and used a prerogative of article 144c of the constitution, both actions which combined would allow Andalusia to take the fast route. They also agreed that no other region would take the "fast route", but all would establish a parliamentary system with all institutions of government. This opened a phase that was dubbed as café para todos, "coffee for all". This agreement was eventually put into writing in July 1981 in what has been called the "first autonomic pacts", (Spanish: pactos autonómicos or acuerdos autónomicos).
These "autonomic pacts" filled in the gap left by the open character of the constitution. Among other things:
- they described final outline of the territorial division of Spain, with the specific number and name of the autonomous communities to be created;
- they restricted the "fast-route" to the "historical nationalities" and Andalusia; all the rest had to take the "slow-route";
- they established that all autonomous communities would have institutions of government within a parliamentary system; and
- they set up a deadline for all the remaining communities to be constituted: 1 February 1983.
In the end, 17 autonomous communities were created:
- Andalusia, and the three "historical nationalities"—the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia—took the "fast-route" and assumed the maximum level of competences immediately; the rest took the "slow route";
- Aragon, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and León, Extremadura and the Valencian Community acceded to autonomy as communities integrated by two or more provinces with common historical, economic and cultural characteristics;
- the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands acceded to autonomy as insular territories, the latter integrated by two provinces;
- Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja and Murcia acceded to autonomy as single provinces with historical identity (also called "uniprovincial" autonomous communities);
- Navarre, as a single province, acceded to autonomy through the recognition, update and improvement of its historical "charters" (Spanish: fueros), and as such, it is known as a "chartered community"; and
- the province of Madrid was removed from Castile-La Mancha, to which it naturally belonged, and constituted as a uniprovincial autonomous community in the nation's interest as the capital of the nation with the name "Community of Madrid".
Special provisions were made for the Valencian Community and the Canary Islands in that, although they took the "slow route", through the subsequent approval of specific organic laws, they were to assume the maximum level of competences in less than 5 years, since they had started a process towards the "fast route" prior to the approval of the "autonomic pacts". Cantabria and La Rioja, although originally part of Old Castile—and both originally included in the "pre-autonomic regime" of Castile and León—were granted autonomy as single provinces with historical identity, a move supported by the majority of their populations.
The "autonomic pacts" give them the option of being incorporated into Castile and León in the future, and required that the Statutes of Autonomy of all three include such a provision. León, a historical kingdom and historical region of Spain, once joined to Old Castile to form Castile and León, was denied secession to be constituted as an autonomous community on its own right.
During the second half of the 1980s, the central government seemed reluctant to transfer all competences to the "slow route" communities. After the five years set up by the constitution, all "slow route" communities demanded the maximum transfer guaranteed by the constitution. This led to what has been called the "second autonomic pacts" of 1992, between the then prime minister of Spain Felipe González from PSOE and the leader of the opposition, José María Aznar from the newly created People's Party (PP) successor of the People's Alliance party. Through these agreements new competences were transferred, with the reforms to many Statutes of Autonomy of the "slow-route" communities with the aim of "equalizing" them to the "fast route" communities. In 1995, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla were constituted as "autonomous cities" without legislative powers, but with an autonomous assembly not subordinated to any other province or community.
The creation of the autonomous communities was a diverse process, that started with the constitution, was normalized with the autonomic pacts and was completed with the Statutes of Autonomy. It is, however, an ongoing process; further devolution—or even the return of transferred competences—is always a possibility. This has been evidenced in the 2000s, at the beginning with a wave of approval of new Statutes of Autonomy for many communities, and more recently with many considering the recentralization of some competences in the wake of the economic and financial crisis of 2008. Nonetheless Spain is now a highly decentralized country with a structure unlike any other, similar but not equal to a federation, in what has been called a "State of autonomies".
Current state of affairs
By means of the State of Autonomies implemented after the Spanish Constitution of 1978, Spain has been quoted to be "remarkable for the extent of the powers peacefully devolved over the past 30 years" and "an extraordinarily decentralised country", with the central government accounting for just 18% of public spending; the regional governments 38%, the local councils 13%, and the social-security system the rest.
In terms of personnel, by 2010 almost 1,350,000 people or 50.3% of the total civil servants in Spain were employed by the autonomous communities; city councils and provincial diputaciones accounted for 23.6% and those employees working for the central administration (police and military included) represented 22.2% of the total.
Tensions within the system
Pro catalan independence and pro spanish pertenence demonstrations in Barcelona.
Peripheral nationalism continues to play a key role in Spanish politics. Some peripheral nationalists view that there is a vanishing practical distinction between the terms "nationalities" and "regions", as more competences are transferred to all communities in roughly the same degree and as other communities have chosen to identify themselves as "nationalities". In fact, it has been argued that the establishment of the State of autonomies "has led to the creation of "new regional identities", and "invented communities".
Many in the Basque Country and Catalonia still view their communities as "nations", not just "nationalities", and Spain as a "plurinational State" or a "nation of nations", and they have made more demands for further devolution. In 2004 the Basque Parliament approved the Ibarretxe Plan, whereby the Basque Country would approve a new Statute of Autonomy containing key provisions such as shared sovereignty with Spain, full independence of the judiciary, and the right to self-determination, and assuming all competences except that of the Spanish nationality law, defense, and monetary policy. The Plan was rejected by the Spanish Parliament in 2005.
In 2006 the Catalan Parliament approved a new Statute of Autonomy which included an article that defined Catalonia as a "nation". The Spanish Parliament made revisions to the final approved version, removing the article, but making a reference in the preamble of the document to the fact that the Catalan Parliament had voted by a large majority to define Catalonia as a nation, but that the constitution recognizes its "national reality" as a "nationality".
The severe economic crisis in Spain that started in 2008 has produced different reactions in the different communities. On one hand, politicians in some of the communities that are not "nationalities" and governed by the People's Party (PP) are considering a return of some responsibilities to the central government. On the other hand, in Catalonia, the party in power, Convergence and Union (CiU), views the "unfairness" of the large fiscal deficit—Catalonia, being one of the largest net contributors in taxes—as one of the main causes of the strenuous fiscal situation that has allegedly forced the government to enact severe austerity measures and defer payments to workers.
This, in turn, has led many who are not necessarily separatist but who are enraged by the financial deficit to support secession. Artur Mas, Catalonia's president, requested from the central government a new "fiscal agreement" in September 2012, with the possibility of giving his community powers equal to those of the communities of chartered regime, but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused. Mas dissolved the Catalan Parliament, called for new elections, and promised to celebrate a referendum on independence within the next four years.
Rajoy's government declared that they will use all "legal instruments"—current legislation requires the central executive government or the Congress of Deputies to call for or sanction a binding referendum— to block any such attempt. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and its counterpart in Catalonia propose to reopen the debate on the territorial organization of Spain, changing the constitution to create a true federal system, to "better reflect the singularities" of Catalonia, as well as to modify the current taxation system.
Constitutional and statutory framework
The State of Autonomies, as established in Article 2 of the constitution, has been argued to be based on four principles: willingness to accede to autonomy, unity in diversity, autonomy but not sovereignty of the communities, and solidarity among them all. The structure of the autonomous communities is determined both by the devolution allowed by the constitution and the competences assumed in their respective Statutes of Autonomy. While the autonomic agreements and other laws have allowed for an "equalization" of all communities, differences still remain.
The Statute of Autonomy
Main article: Statute of Autonomy
The Statute of Autonomy is the basic institutional law of the autonomous community or city, recognized by the Spanish constitution in article 147. It is approved by a parliamentary assembly representing the community, and then approved by the Cortes Generales, the Spanish Parliament, through an "Organic Law", requiring the favorable vote of the absolute majority of the Congress of Deputies.
For communities that acceded to autonomy through the "fast route", a referendum is required before it can be sanctioned by the Parliament. The Statutes of Autonomy must contain, at least, the name of the community, its territorial limits, the names, organization and seat of the institutions of government, the competences they assume and the principles for their bilingual policy, if applicable.
The constitution establishes that all competences not explicitly assumed by the State—the central government—in the constitution, can be assumed by the autonomous community in their Statutes of Autonomy; but also, all competences not explicitly assumed by the autonomous community in their Statutes of Autonomy are automatically assumed by the State. In case of conflict, the constitution prevails. In case of disagreement, any administration can bring the case before the Constitutional Court of Spain.
All autonomous communities have a parliamentary system based on a division of powers comprising:
- A Legislative Assembly, whose members are elected by universal suffrage according to a system of proportional representation, in which all areas that integrate the territory are fairly represented
- A Council of Government, with executive and administrative powers, headed by a prime minister, whose official title is "president", elected by the Legislative Assembly—usually the leader of the party or coalition with a majority in the Assembly—and nominated by the King of Spain
- A Supreme Court of Justice, hierarchically under the Supreme Court of Justice of Spain
General Junta, the Parliament of Asturias.
The majority of the communities have approved regional electoral laws within the limits set up by the laws for the entire country. Despite minor differences, all communities use proportional representation following D'Hondt method; all members of regional parliaments are elected for four-year terms, but the president of the community has the faculty to dissolve the legislature and call for early elections. Nonetheless in all communities, with the exception of the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, and Andalusia, elections are celebrated the last Sunday of May every four years, concurrent with municipal elections in all Spain.
The names of the Council of Government and the Legislative Assembly vary between communities. In some autonomous communities, these institutions are restored historical bodies of government or representation of the previous kingdoms or regional entities within the Spanish crown—like the Generalitat of Catalonia— while others are entirely new creations.
In some, both the executive and the legislature, though constituting two separate institutions, are collectively identified with a single specific name. It should be noted, though, that a specific denomination may not refer to the same branch of government in all communities; for example, junta may refer to the executive office in some communities, to the legislature in others, or to the collective name of all branches of government in others.
Given the ambiguity in the constitution that did not specify which territories were nationalities and which were regions, other territories, besides the implicit three "historical nationalities", have also chosen to identify themselves as nationalities, in accordance to their historical regional identity, such as Andalusia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, and the Valencian Community.
The two autonomous cities have more limited competences than autonomous communities, but more than other municipalities. The executive is exercised by a president, which is also the major of the city. In the same way, limited legislative power is vested in a local assembly in which the deputies are also the city councilors.
|Ceuta||Council of Government||Juan Jesús Vivas||Assembly of Ceuta|
|Melilla||Council of Government||Juan José Imbroda||Assembly of Melilla|
The autonomic agreements of 1982 and 1992 tried to equalize powers (competences) devolved to the 17 autonomous communities, within the limits of the constitution and the differences guaranteed by it. This has led to an "asymmetrical homogeneity". In the words of the Constitutional Court of Spain in its ruling of August 5, 1983, the autonomous communities are characterized by their "homogeneity and diversity...equal in their subordination to the constitutional order, in the principles of their representation in the Senate, in their legitimation before the Constitutional Court, and in that the differences between the distinct Statutes [of Autonomy] cannot imply economic or social privileges; however, they can be unequal with respect to the process to accede to autonomy and the concrete determination of the autonomic content of their Statute, and therefore, in their scope of competences. The autonomic regime is characterized by an equilibrium between homogeneity and diversity [...] Without the former there will be no unity or integration in the State's ensemble; without the latter, there would not be [a] true plurality and the capacity of self-government".
Ertzaintza police car in the Basque Country.
The asymmetrical devolution is a unique characteristic of the territorial structure of Spain, in that the autonomous communities have a different range of devolved competences. These were based on what has been called in Spanish as hechos diferenciales, "differential facts" or "differential traits".
This expression refers to the idea that some communities have particular traits, with respect to Spain as a whole. In practice these traits are a native "language proper to their own territories" separate from Spanish, a particular financial regime or special civil rights expressed in a code, which generate a distinct political personality. These hechos diferenciales of their distinct political and historical personality are constitutionally and statutorily (i.e., in their Statutes of Autonomy) recognized in the exceptions granted to some of them and the additional competences they assume.
Competences can be divided into three groups: exclusive to the central State or central government, shared competences, and devolved competences exclusive to the communities. Article 149 states which powers are exclusive to the central government: international relations, defense, administration of justice, commercial, criminal, civil, and labor legislation, customs, general finances and State debt, public health, basic legislation, and general coordination. All autonomous communities have the power to manage their own finances in the way they see fit, and are responsible for the administration of education—school and universities—health and social services and cultural and urban development. Yet there are differences as stipulated in their Statutes and the constitution:
- Aragon, the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia and the Valencian Community have a regional civil code
- Basque Country, Catalonia, and Navarre have their own police corps—the Ertzaintza, the Mossos d'Esquadra and the Nafarroako Foruzainoga, respectively
- The Canary Islands have a special financial regime in virtue of its location as an overseas territories, while the Basque Country and Navarre have a distinct financial regime called "chartered regime"
- The Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Navarre, and the Valencian Community have a co-official language and therefore a distinct linguistic regime
Degree of financial autonomy
See also: Communities of chartered regime
How the communities are financed has been one of the most contentious aspects in their relationship with the central government. The constitution gave all communities significant control over spending, but the central government retained effective control of their revenue supply. That is, the central government is still charge of levying and collecting most taxes, which it then redistributes to the autonomous communities with the aim of producing "fiscal equalization". This applies to all communities, with the exception of the Basque Country and Navarre.
This financial scheme is known as the "common regime". In essence, fiscal equalization implies that richer communities become net contributors to the system, while poorer communities become net recipients. The two largest net contributors to the system are the Balearic Islands and the Community of Madrid, in percentage terms, or the Community of Madrid and Catalonia in absolute terms.
Central government funding is the main source of revenue for the communities of "common regime". Redistribution, or transfer payments, are given to the communities of common regime to manage the responsibilities they have assumed. The amount they receive is based upon several calculations which include a consideration for population, land area, administrative units, dispersal of population, relative poverty, fiscal pressure and insularity. The central government is committed to returning a specific percentage of taxes to all communities with common regime, within the differences allowed for fiscal equalization. The communities of common regime have the ability to add a surcharge to the so-called "ceded taxes"—taxes set at the central level, but collected locally—and they can lower or raise personal income taxes up to a limit.
The Basque Country and Navarre were granted an exception in the fiscal and financial system through the first additional disposition of the constitution that recognizes their historical "charters" (in Spanish: fueros) —hence they are known as "communities of chartered regime" or "foral regime". Through their "chartered regime", these communities are allowed to levy and collect all so-called "contracted taxes", including income tax and corporate tax, and they have much more flexibility to lower or raise them. This "chartered" or "foral" contract entails true financial autonomy.
Since they collect almost all taxes, they send to the central government a pre-arranged amount known as cupo, "quota" or aportación, "contribution", and the treaty whereby this system is recognized is known as concierto, "treaty", or convenio, "pact". Hence they are also said to have concierto económico, an "economic treaty". Since they collect all taxes themselves and only send a prearranged amount to the central government for the competences exclusive to the State, they do not participate in "fiscal equalization", in that they do not receive any money back.
As more responsibilities have been assumed by the autonomous communities in areas such as social welfare, health, and education, public expenditure patterns have seen a shift from the central government towards the communities since the 1980s. In the late 2000s, autonomous communities accounted for 35% of all public expenditure in Spain, a percentage that is even higher than that of states within a federation. With no legal constraints to balance budgets, and since the central government retains control over fiscal revenue in the communities of common regime, these are in a way encouraged to build up debt.
The Council on Fiscal and Financial Policy, which includes representatives of the central government and of the autonomous communities, has become one of the most efficient institutions of coordination in matters of public expenditures and revenue. Through the Council several agreements of financing have been agreed, as well as limits to the communities' public debt. The Organic Law of the Financing of Autonomous Communities of 1988 requires that the communities obtain the authorization of the central Ministry of Finance to issue public debt.
The Preamble to the constitution explicitly stated that it is the nation's will to protect "all Spaniards and the peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages and institutions". This is a significant recognition not only in that it differed drastically from the restrictive linguistic policies during the Franco era, but also because part of the distinctiveness of the "historical nationalities" lies on their own regional languages. The nation is thus openly multilingual, in which Castilian—that is, Spanish—is the official language in all territories, but the "other Spanish languages" can also be official in their respective communities, in accordance to their Statutes of Autonomy.
Article 3 of the constitution ends up declaring that the "richness of the distinct linguistic modalities of Spain represents a patrimony which will be the object of special respect and protection." Spanish remains the only official language of the State; other languages are only co-official with Spanish in the communities that have so regulated. In addition, knowledge of the Spanish language was declared a right and an obligation of all Spaniards.
Spanish legislation, most notably in the Statutes of Autonomy of the bilingual communities, use the term "language proper to a community" (Spanish: lengua propia, or "own language") to refer to a language other than Spanish that originated or had historical roots in that particular territory. The Statutes of Autonomy of the respective autonomous communities have declared Basque the language proper to the Basque Country and Navarre, Catalan the language proper to Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian Community—where it is historically, traditionally and officially known as Valencian—and Galician to be the language proper to Galicia. There are other protected regional languages in other autonomous communities. As a percentage of total population in Spain, Basque is spoken by 2%, Catalan by 17%, and Galician by 7% of all Spaniards.
|Language||Status||Speakers in Spain|
|Aragonese||Protected in Aragon||11,000|
|Asturian||Protected in Asturias and in Castile and León||100,000|
|Basque||Official in the Basque Country and Navarre||580,000|
|Catalan||Official in Catalonia, Balearic Islands and the Valencian Community; protected in Aragon||11 million|
|Galician||Official in Galicia, protected in Castile and León||3 million|
The Spanish constitution recognizes the municipalities and guarantees their autonomy. Town halls (in Spanish: ayuntamientos) are in charge of the municipalities' government and administration, and they are integrated by a major (in Spanish alcalde) and councilors (in Spanish: concejales), the latter elected by universal suffrage, and the former elected either by the councilor or by suffrage.
Provinces are groups of municipalities and recognized by the constitution. Their competences and institutions of government vary greatly among communities. In all communities integrated by more than province, provinces are governed by "Provincial Deputations" (Spanish: Diputaciones Provinciales), with a limited scope administrative competences.
In the Basque Country, the provinces, renamed as "historical territories" (Spanish: territorios históricos, in Basque: lurralde historiko), are governed by "Chartered Deputations" (in Spanish: Diputaciones Forales, in Basque: Foru Aldundi)—with assume the competences of a provincial deputation as well as the fiscal powers of their "chartered regime—and by "General Juntas" (in Spanish: Juntas Generales, in Basque: Biltzar Nagusiak)—parliaments with legislative powers.
In the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, each major island is governed by an "Insular Council" (Spanish: Consejo Insular or Cabildo Insular, Catalan: Consell Insular). In Catalonia, the "Provincial Deputations" have very little power, as other territorial subdivisions have been created.
In those seven autonomous communities formed by a single province, the Provincial Deputations have been replaced by the communities' institutions of government; in fact, the provinces themselves are not only coterminous with the communities, but correspond in essence to the communities themselves. The two-tier territorial organization common to most communities—first province, then municipalities—is therefore non-existent in these "uniprovincial" communities.
The constitution also allows the creation of other territorial entities formed by groups of municipalities. One of such territorial subdivision is the comarca (equivalent of a "shire" or "county"). While all communities have unofficial historical, cultural or "natural" comarcas, only in Aragon and Catalonia they have been legally recognized as territorial entities with administrative powers.