The Spanish constitution assumes the unity of Spain and recognises the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that comprise it. The Constitution also recognises the autonomy of the institutions that comprise the local administrations.
The Spanish constitutional system establishes a system to recognise the regional autonomy that is legally and administratively materialised in a deep-seated decentralisation, to such a point that the State's actual functioning resembles that of federal states in many respects. On a regional level, the system of decentralisation is organised into 17 autonomous communities; 2 cities with statutes of autonomy - Ceuta and Melilla -; and 8125 local institutions.
Among the unique features of autonomous communities, the ones with their own and co-official languages merit mention, which are Catalonia, the Valencian Community, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Navarra and Galicia. The financing system for Navarra and the Basque Country are also unique, and also to a good measure that of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
Autonomous communities have political and financial autonomy. This entails the attribution of powers to approve laws on the matters recognised in their statutes, as well as undertaking executive tasks assigned in their statutes.
They have two main self-governing institutions: legislative assemblies and governing councils. In most autonomous communities, this institutional framework is completed with their own institutions similar to those of the State, including the Ombudsman, the Court of Auditors, the corresponding legal advisory body and the Economic and Social Council. Depending on their governments, autonomous communities have their pertinent administrative bodies, which can be central and regional. Like the structure of the State, the autonomous communities have their own administrations, organised into councils or departments, along with institutions with their own legal personality that are assigned to the different departments, acting under a functional decentralisation system. This is the case of the autonomous institutions, agencies, public organisations, foundations, consortia, trading companies and companies. In addition, most autonomous communities also have delegations in Brussels and even in some cities of other especially relevant countries.
Autonomous communities have legislative and executive powers, according to subjects. In a strict sense, autonomous communities have four types of powers that empower them to take these actions:
- exclusive legislative and executive powers. This is the case for social services, agriculture and livestock, inland fishing, industry, trade, tourism, youth and sports, among others.
- Powers to develop basic State legislation, as well as implementing this legislation. This is the case for the environment, economic policy, consumer protection, education, health assistance and public health.
- Powers to execute legislation approved exclusively by the State. this is especially the case for employment and vocational training.
- Legislative and executive powers, although indistinct from State powers on the same subjects, so that both administrative levels can execute the same actions and initiatives. This is the special case of culture.
Autonomous communities have financial autonomy, although their revenue depends partly on the State and partly on its own resources, its own taxes and part of those obtained by State tax in the autonomous community. This system is mediated via a system of participation in State revenues collected from the main taxes. Would you like more information? Autonomous financing system .
Autonomous communities work with the State through these bodies and instruments:
- The Conference of Presidents, of which the Spanish prime minister and presidents of the autonomous communities are members
- Sectoral conferences on specific matters, in which the State and all autonomous communities participate
- Bilateral cooperation commissions, between the State and a specific autonomous community
- Sectoral commissions, working groups and technical presentations largely assigned to sectoral conferences, which ensure the system of permanent inter-administrative cooperation required by the decentralised system.
- State financing, plans and programmes adopted jointly with other administrations. For example, through the Autonomous Financing Fund.
Conflicts on the exercise of powers are resolved through dialogue and the cooperation system, although as a last resort disputes may require the participation of jurisdictional bodies and, especially, of the Constitutional Court, which resolves disputes on powers and supervises the constitutionality of laws.
Courts guarantee the legality of the autonomous communities' actions and those of the State. The State can contest acts or laws made by the autonomous communities when it deems that they violate the Constitution or the division of powers, by filing an appeal or taking the dispute to the Constitutional Court. Autonomous communities also have similar mechanisms to protect their powers in the event of State abuse of power.